Wilford Brimley is my spirit animal. You know Wilford Brimley. He does those commercials for diabetic supplies. Lest you think I’m being disrespectful of the illness, I will confide in you that I have Type II Diabetes.

The way Mr. Brimley says the word “diabetes” is enough to send me over the edge with laughter. Its truly magical (and somewhat hypnotic) to watch that word come out of his magnificently mustachioed face.

He is my spirit animal because he represents diabetes to me but also because he is unfailingly Wilford Brimley. If you’ve seen him once, you’ve seen him a thousand times. The man does not change. And that is reassuring to me.

But this post isn’t all about Wilford Brimley.

It’s about juggling multiple chronic illnesses (AKA multimorbidity) while maintaining an acceptable level of sanity. The Universe thought it would be a hoot to give me the following:

Bipolar Disorder II

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Diabetes Type II

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (yup, I get to sleep hooked up to a Darth Vader mask)

Growing up, I was terrified of needles. When I was 5, I crouched in the corner of my Pediatrician’s office, refusing to come out because I had to have a vaccination. Imagine my delight when, pregnant with my son, I learned I had Gestational Diabetes. It would only require that I check my blood via finger prick seven….yes, seven….times a day and give myself three insulin shots per day.

Women who have Gestational Diabetes have a 20 to 50 percent chance of developing Diabetes within 10 years of giving birth. Did I mention that my Grandma and Great Grandpa also had Diabetes? I was screwed. Nearly five years after giving birth, I developed Diabetes Type II.

So I added Endocrinologist to my list of specialists. My endocrinologist oversees the care and taming of my diabetes.

The rub is that a couple of my psychotropic medications can make diabetes worse. So I stay on the lowest dose possible.

There is also a link between diabetes and depression. Women taking anti-depressants are 25% more likely to develop diabetes. Women with diabetes were 29% more likely to develop depression. And get this: women who took insulin for their diabetes were 53% more likely to develop depression.

That’s why Wilford Brimley is my spirit animal. He isn’t freaking kidding around—he understands how dangerous diabetes is.

It is a juggling act to deal with Sleep Apnea, Diabetes Type II and assorted mental issues, Bipolar Disorder II being the anchor.

I have an alarm set on my phone because I take pills morning, noon and night. And with my crappy short term memory, I would never remember the noon pills. All of my pills for the week are separated out into 63 little compartments.

Every Sunday, I haul out all my medications (12, at last count) and carefully dole out a week’s worth of doses of each medication.

I would be lost without my medication box and I highly recommend one if you’re taking multiple medications.

At the same time I’m doling out meds, I write down which medications need to be refilled and when. This process involves a lot of post it notes

If you have trouble remembering to take medications, try a phone alarm. After a while, it will have become more of a habit for you and you may not need the reminder.

Keeping track of my prescriptions and getting them filled on time is like trying to herd cats. It never fails that I am out of least one of my medications at any given time. I can’t tell you how many times I have been driven into a panic over running out of a med only to be told that I’m out of refills. I’ve had to go days without pills that I need because of such mix-ups. I have begged pharmacists to give me enough to last until I can get a refill.

Another problem I have is staying awake. I turn into Goldilocks at least once a day and have to take a nap. I bet Wilford Brimley naps too. I also go to bed by 9:00 almost every night because this shit is exhausting. I strap on my Darth Vader mask and commence to breathing deeply. I love to say to my husband, “Luke, I am your Father,” while I dramatically intake my breath. Without the mask, I stopped breathing an average of 82 times an hour during my sleep study. I flunked that baby bigtime.

Having three plus chronic illnesses is a real drag, to say the least. There are days that I wish I could wear a button stating, “Chronically ill, treat gently”. But there isn’t such a button so I’ve come up with things that work for me and I hope will work for you.

To properly wrangle your multimorbidity (getting to use that word alone should make this all worth it. J/k, but it is a good word) I suggest the following:

*Always take notes at doctor’s appointments. They throw a lot of information at you in a short time about complicated subjects and medication directions.

*Ask your provider to give you written information and care plans to ensure you’re on the same page.

*Track your illness so you can see patterns developing. (I use an app called PatientsLikeMe, but there are plenty of other tracking apps.)

*Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Get plenty of rest. And practice good sleep hygiene by not using electronics in bed.

*Eat regular meals throughout the day. Some people feel better eating six small meals while others feel best eating three meals a day. Just make sure you’re getting protein and plenty of fruits and vegis.

*Don’t take on too much in terms of work or volunteer activities. I’m on disability and often feel pressure (most likely internal) to volunteer. But the reason I’m on disability in the first place is that I’m not that great with social situations (I get incredibly anxious).

*Get outside and get some sun and exercise. I can’t tell you how much I love the sun on my face and listening to the birds and the activity in the neighborhood.

*Use cognitive approaches (ie: reframing, compartmentalizing) to help you through rough spots. Email me at mentallyinteresting33@gmail.com if you want more information about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

*Practice Self Care. Do nice things for yourself. Do things you enjoy. Make a list of things you like to do and DO them.

*Write down some affirmations that mean something to you and repeat them a couple of times a day. Use those affirmations to replace any negative thoughts that pop into your head.

*Practice gratitude for the good things in your life. You can just list them in your mind while doing some deep breathing. Or you can list them in a notebook. Whatever feels right to you. This can help you see the positive aspects that you hadn’t considered.

*Develop a Support Network that can provide you with company or other types of help. (See http://www.mentallyinteresting.com/wanted:-support-network). This is something that is built over time. I have worked on my support network over ten years, slowly gathering people that build me up including friends, family and professionals.

A study done on multimorbidity found that many patients were quite resilient and determined to persevere. The study also found that people did not complain of lack of skill to manage medical tasks such as administering insulin. Instead, they had difficulty dealing with physical and emotional symptoms and suffered from depression, pain and fatigue.

We sometimes laugh about the “crazy” things we’ve done when one of our illnesses has us cornered. I talk to myself, reassuring myself that it’s going to be ok. Often done while pacing my kitchen with stops along the way just to, you know, dissociate for a bit. I know lots of rockers, headbangers and pacers. Having a mental illness ain’t for sissies. You have probably found yourself down the rabbit hole a time or two. I’m sorry for that. I know its very difficult and you have to be brave.

I hope you found this post helpful. I would love to hear from you in the comments below.

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SOURCES: Liddy, Clare; Blazkho, Valerie and Mill, Karina. “Challenges of self-management when living with multiple chronic conditions.” Dec. 2014: 60 (12) 1123-1133

WebMD.com/depression/news/20101122/new-links-seen-between-depression-and-diabetes

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