“A sound mind in a sound body,” was something my father regularly emphasized to me. My father and I understood that this Latin aphorism, originally “Mens sana in corpore sano,” means that only a healthy body can produce or sustain a healthy mind.
Many years later I still think what my father taught me is true. Like many people who manage their diabetes, I now have both a healthy body and a healthy mind.
Before I learned in 1994 that I have diabetes, I paid little attention to my health. I learned the hard way that I have to get off my butt and outside for the exercise that we all need. After my wake-up call, I took control of what I ate, turned away from the Standard American Diet, and lost a lot of weight.
One result is that I am happier and have a better memory than ever. Even though I recently celebrated my 76th birthday, my mind seems to function as well as it did years ago, if not better.
But we can also understand “A sound mind in a sound body” the other way around. Only a healthy mind can produce a healthy body.
This is an even harder lesson for many people to learn and can result in even more severe consequences. Many of us learn this from our personal introduction to diabetes when typically we go into denial. When we deny the importance of the diagnosis, our mind betrays our body.
Over the years, hundreds of wives or mothers have written me that their husbands or children were doing little or nothing to control their diabetes. I reply as positively as I can, suggesting that the husband or child contact me directly. I don’t remember a single followup message or call. Their minds betrayed their bodies.
But this week I have directly tried to help two people
whose minds stop them from getting well. I failed.
One person (who shall remain nameless and genderless here) persists in telling me -- and everyone -- about all of his or her ailments, which prevent him or her from getting any exercise. By telling me what stops him or her, this person is repeatedly telling himself or herself, “No, I can’t do it.”
The other person wrote me a couple of times but never took up my offer to call. This person tells me that he or she suffers from depression, doesn’t have a doctor, and is a self-diagnosed person with diabetes.
“My life is as bad now as it was the day I was born,” this person writes in part, “and I am a miserable individual. The best that I do is to generally relate to people on superficial terms so that I don’t infect them with my misery.”
The message continues: “Can stress and despair be a causative factor in acquiring diabetes? When your life is run over with depression and regret, it is substantially difficult to exercise. I’m not lazy...I’m depressed. You say that the motivation is the positive, happy outlook with peace of mind that comes from improving health, but it’s the very lack of these things that block motivation.”
I know, of course, how hard it is to start exercising. That’s why I wrote, “Overcoming Exercise Inertia.” And I also know that when you are hurting, you will hurt even more later if you don’t exercise now.
I also know that when we are motivated to eat a good diet and we reduce our stress level with techniques like meditation we become happier. But some people seem to prefer sympathy to wellness.
We seem to have a choice of two opposite mindsets, a negative one where we ask for sympathy, and a positive one, where we don’t want anyone to feel sorry for us. We may well learn our mindset in childhood when it rewards us.
Can we change our mindset? Is it possible for an unsound mind to become healthy? I don’t know. Do you? How?