Do what you can, with what you have, where you are

Living with diabetes can be a hard slog and sometimes we are simply ‘over it’. We just want it to go away. There is a part of us that believes if we ignore our limitations and shame ourselves for having them in the first place, we’ll be able to just breeze past them.

However, this approach generally doesn’t yield good results and only leads to feelings of anger, more shame, and a sense of helplessness.

Limitations in our ability to manage our diabetes are real. It is also common for us to ignore or downplay them.

Limitations are, in part, defined by resources. Resources are things such as time, mental clarity, energy, motivation, money, support, information, access to services. Being aware of our personal resources, and how they affect our ability to cope, not just with diabetes, but with life in general, is important.

When we are tired, stressed, or in pain, we cannot do as much as we usually do, and things don’t come as fast or as easily as they usually may. It is very common to then feel like a failure. We might ask ourselves “What is wrong with me? I should be able to handle this.”

But there is nothing wrong with us per se. Apart from the usual demands life places on us, we also live with diabetes. This is an added responsibility, and our resources are not static. A sudden change, or even a gradual one, can dramatically impact our ability to handle our condition. This does not make us a failure in any sense of the word. It means we need to learn when to adjust the expectations we have or ourselves and to practice kindness and patience instead.  

Signs our usual ability to function is compromised can include:

  • Short temper with outbursts of anger and irritability
  • Sadness
  • Tearfulness
  • Low mood
  • Feeling tense and/or anxious
  • Physical exhaustion
  • Trouble falling asleep/fractured sleep
  • Having trouble focusing, prioritising, problem-solving and making decisions
  • A lack of motivation
  • Reduced interest in previously enjoyed activities

It is important to recognise that our resources can vary from day to day, and therefore what we are able to deal with on any given day can also fluctuate. When resources are limited, we need to prioritise how we spend our time and energy. Some days taking care of the basics is all we are able to manage.

Put some extra fuel in the tank

It is also useful to know what can help us put some extra fuel in our tank. Try some of the examples when you need a little boost.

  • Keep track of gratitude and achievements with a journal. Write down a couple of things you are grateful for and a couple of things you are able to accomplish each day
  • Take a nap
  • Stay hydrated
  • Take time to laugh. Hang out with a funny friend, watch a comedy, or check out funny videos on YouTube
  • Go offline. Leave your mobile phone at home for a day and disconnect from constant emails, notifications, and other interruptions
  • Play music you enjoy and dance around while doing housework. Not only will you get chores done, but dancing reduces stress levels and increases the body’s feel-good chemicals
  • Yawning helps cool the brain and improves alertness and mental efficiency
  • Relax in a warm bath or take a warm shower
  • Spend some time with a pet. Time with animals lowers stress and stimulates feelings of happiness. If you don’t have a pet, hang out with a friend who does or go to the local dog park
  • Take 30 minutes to go for a walk in the park/in nature
  • Try and get 15 minutes of sunshine (don’t foget sunscreen). Sun light synthesises vitamin D, which elevates mood

Knowing our limitations means admitting to ourselves that we are human and giving ourselves permission to do our best with the resources we have available, without pushing ourselves over the edge. This sentiment is also expressed in a famous quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”


By Flin Samson, Psychologist

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