A Patient’s Story: Contagious Confidence, Endless Possibilities

In a recent post on Healthin30 I wrote why patients are the most important part of the medical team, and my colleagues, Elizabeth Cohen, Kevin Pho, MD, Donna Cryer, JD, and Carl R. Sullivan, MD, shared their insights as well.

Today, Ginger Vieira, a patient, living with Type 1 diabetes and Celiac disease for 12 years says,

“You, as the patient, are the most important part of the medical team because you are the one who makes the daily decisions, who balances your disease around dinners, soccer games, long hours at work without enough time to check your blood sugar and eat lunch. You are the one who takes the knowledge you learn from your doctor and fits it into your everyday life. That’s a huge role, and it’s never easy.”

Ginger Vieira shares her story about the challenges and how her positive attitude is allowing her to lead a life she thought was off limits.

Contagious Confidence, Endless Possibilities

By Ginger Vieira

“Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.” My twin brother, Pete, said this to me several months ago. I wrote it down on an index card and taped it to my bathroom mirror. Funny thing is, it’s never been other people telling me I can or cannot do something. The loudest voice I hear is my own.

When I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in the seventh grade over eleven years ago, the first list that ran through my head was the list of things I probably couldn’t do anymore. I couldn’t eat ice cream without first counting the grams of carbohydrates in the bowl and determining how much insulin I needed. I couldn’t play basketball anymore (at least, that’s what I thought). I couldn’t buy candy and popcorn with my friends when we go to the movies without feeling overwhelmingly guilty about eating such diabetic-off-limits food. The list of foods, activities, dreams and goals I thought were off-limits seemed endless.

With or without diabetes, we allow ourselves to fill our minds with everything we’re sure we cannot do, or cannot have, or cannot ever become. As I grew older, I realized how many things were still within my reach. I used to think I could never become much of an athlete, but today, I’m a health coach, personal trainer, yoga instructor and I’ve set 15 records in drug-tested powerlifting. Clearly, what I needed at my diagnosis, and simply as a young girl growing up in this society, was someone or something to help me learn that my dreams were all still possibilities.

In my work as a cognitive health coach and personal trainer, I am often overwhelmed by how easy it is for both my female clients and friends to express how certain they are of their own shortcomings. They will never be beautiful enough. Skinny enough. Smart enough. Good enough.

Her hair is too shiny. Butt too big. Butt too small. Hair too curly. Too straight. Too much boob. Too flat. Too short. Too tall. It’s endless. Their inadequacies, their lack of qualifications. The reasons they are never good enough. The reasons they’ll probably never succeed. Endless.

I had had enough of it. I wanted to believe that I can do anything. That I am beautiful. That I am smart and competent and capable.

I remember my grandfather never failed to exclaim with open arms, “Oh, Ginger, you gorgeous doll!” and it was not until three years ago after his death when I realized I never did quite believe him.

Gorgeous. Me? He thought I was gorgeous? It didn’t matter what he said, it mattered how I allowed it to translate through my own thoughts. “Of course he thinks I’m gorgeous, he has to! I’m his granddaughter!

And I had tried to tell myself several months after my diagnosis with diabetes that I wouldn’t allow any of this to hold me back, that I could do anything, but somewhere in my mind I know I was thinking, “Well, doing this or that is going to be much harder…close to impossible.”

Simply saying, “Oh, yeah, I know, I know. I’m beautiful,” isn’t enough.
Simply saying, “Diabetes won’t stop me! I can do anything!” isn’t enough.

I wanted to actively believe I could take on these challenges. Actively believe in myself. I realized I control the thoughts in my own mind about myself. I realized that the most important ideas I allow to settle in my mind are the ones I put there myself.

Before trying to encourage those around me to change the way they judge themselves, I went to work on myself. I knew I had to genuinely embody the kind of confidence and relentless perseverance I was hoping to inspire in other women and people with diabetes in order to be effective.

I started writing, “I am beautiful” on post-It notes, taping them to my bathroom mirror next to my brother’s index card. I created my own mantras, “I can. I can. I can,” as I drove to work in the morning. “Deep breath. Slow down. Deep breath. Slow down.” When my blood sugar was having one of those days where it’s up, then down, then up, then down, instead of telling myself, “You are not doing a very good job today!” I started telling myself, “You’re not supposed to be perfect. It’s okay. Let’s try again.”

Today, I believe these things. No, not all the time, but I know that when I put negative thoughts in, I can smother them with positive ones before they settle in too deeply. If there are ever days when diabetes makes me angry, I can remind myself, “Hold on, this isn’t about being angry. This is about being scared of complications, of not doing it well enough, of hoping you’re doing the best you can. And that’s okay. Take a deep freaking breath.”

Spreading this to other people was a different kind of challenge. At work, I started telling my clients about my new rule: they aren’t allowed to say negative things about themselves while they’re working out. Eventually, the ones who most often declared they were “too fat” that week began correcting themselves or covering their mouths with their hands after letting it slip. “Sorry, sorry. No negative things, I remember.”

I realized simply reminding some of my friends that they are indeed beautiful can go a long way. Somehow, the idea of a woman claiming how beautiful she knows she is has become incredibly taboo.

In living with diabetes, instead of questioning our appearance, we question our ability and strength to take on the everyday challenge of the disease.

In the end, it comes to down acceptance. I don’t want to waste any energy wishing I looked like someone I am not, or wishing I had a body that does everything I thought it was supposed to do. This is who I am and this is what I have. Blue eyes. Curly hair. Diabetes. Inappropriately loud cackle. Way more opinions than necessary. A curvy Italian body. Not too great with math. A big fan of chocolate. Always on the verge of a smile. Beautiful and totally qualified for anything, just the way I am.

About the author

Ginger Vieira has lived with Type 1 diabetes and Celiac disease for 12 years. She is a cognitive health coach, competitive powerlifter, and diabetes advocate at Living-in-Progress. Her book, “Your Diabetes Science Experiment” will be available in January 2011. Find Ginger on Facebook and Twitter, and YouTube.

Your turn

We would love for you to share your story.  What challenges do you face and how do you overcome them?  As always, thank you for your time.

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  1. 1

    Ginger, another “hit the nail on the head” blog written by someone who knows of what she speaks, This is why you shine with beauty – you accept yourself and override any “perceived” flaws. I am going to take a page from your book (hurry up with that will ya 🙂
    and start writing positive affirmations to myself (I put my gym dates in my calendar to stop myself from creating last-minute excuses). You have no idea how valuable your insight and knowledge is. Moste women when complimented will counteract it with a negativie recording – one that has probably been playing in their head forever and a day, I know self-sabatoge can damage the pysche of anyone – diabetes just makes it easier, It is a really good excuse – “Oh I can’t go – I have diabetes and may go low.” I have actually used that one! One can be empowered with or without a chronic condition – though if you have help you can stop the tape, ma

  2. 2

    Thank you, MaryAnn! Im glad the blog spoke to you! I love how purposefully you’ve created a system to help you get to the gym. The book is being designed as we speak! January! I promise!

    Keep going!

  3. 3

    Self-esteem is a problem for many people and it’s hard to fix after many years of ingrained thoughts and feelings.

    My approach is similar and different. I have broken down self-esteem into compartments. I think that sometimes, for some people, it’s too big to fix all at once.

    For example: work, friends, family, children, body-image, health-image, money, trust issues, victim issues, history (and forgiveness) and so on. Then work on the easy ones first. Am I the friend I want to be to people? Am I good at my work? Work on those issues if you need to and it filters through to the rest or take the bits you like about yourself and keep going. Often the hardest issues simply disappear. The goal is to accept or change.

    How you feel about yourself doesn’t stay static for most people, but with this method, you learn to pick the bit that’s out of sync and work with that. It’s a much smaller and easier job. Then, when you’re ready, more things will fall into place – taking good care of your diabetes, for example, but also giving yourself permission not to be perfect at it (an impossible task).

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