On January 2020, I got the dreaded call: You have Type 1 diabetes. The rest is a blur. I went into a global pandemic, one of the highest risk categories, a red lab value that stared at me “HgbA1c > 15.”
As a family physician, I was supposed to manage patients and ease their fears. I was supposed to know all about the disease management of a “bread and butter condition” of my specialty. All I could manage was fear, denial, and confusion. I didn’t have a sense of self or community, and I was barely staying afloat in 2020.
Then in 2021, I was introduced to life coaching, and my world started to shift. This was a way to take back some control, empower me and learn to manage my thoughts when I felt out of control in a disease I couldn’t cure. Despite having attentive physicians and care teams, I realized how many others felt utterly alone. There is something about having the time to listen and hold space for people that allowed me to grieve, process, and decide what I wanted for my future. This is a process that our current medical system doesn’t often embrace. It is a process that I believe saved me. I could speak my evolving emotions, have thoughts and feelings that were heard aloud by another individual, and then decipher them for myself to decide how I wanted to feel about facts and circumstances. I wasn’t given a list of things to do, medications to take, or items to avoid eating. I was given space. I was allowed to feel emotions. I was encouraged to see how those feelings resonated in my body and make a choice every day if that was a feeling I wanted to continue or if I wanted to enact change to move towards feeling something different.
Ultimately I decided that being stuck in “why me” wasn’t a helpful thought, and so I chose to abandon that thought. I decided that I would live on my own terms, even with a chronic disease. I got to decide how I would feel when I saw my next blood sugar, my next A1c, my next Endo appointment. I got to choose me for me.
Western medicine is a lot of things, but it rarely holds space and allows patients to figure out what they need. Life coaching is about not passing judgment; it is about listening to facts and circumstances and teasing out what is truth and what is thought. It is mental clarity that allows the patient to slow down and process and then move forward intentionally. A process that ultimately leads to better patient satisfaction and better patient outcomes.
I encourage everyone to explore the other facets of the human experience that are impacting their patients. Are we ever truly “non-compliant,” or are we ill-equipped at a particular moment in time? The grace that my own chronic disease has given me, in turn, allows me to be more gracious with my time and energy towards my patients, meeting them where they are and helping them towards where they’d like to go. And that is ultimately something that still makes me proud to practice the art of medicine and also identify myself as a woman now living with diabetes.
Kimberly Jackson-Bekemeier is a board-certified family physician and founder, Coaching Chronic Disease, LLC. She can be reached on Facebook and Instagram.