All the stories I’ve shared are unexaggerated in order to accurately portray what I’ve gone through with diabetes. For you what may be a scary story is quite horrifying to my own parents who might be hearing it for the first time. I wonder if readers ask themselves questions such as when I wasn’t testing my sugar, were my parents aware? When I was a child, feeling ill all the time, did my parents notice? And when I had blood sugar so high and ketones and thought I might die, where were my parents?
For you the reader and especially for my parents, some extra details should be shared. If you can picture a household of 4 kids (and eventually 5) you see two busy parents. Two of those kids have diabetes. So you imagine doubly busy parents.
Despite all this I wasn’t neglected. I remember feeling like I had the most strict and supervising parents in the world. I didn’t see a PG-13 movie until I was 14, I couldn’t stay over at someone’s house unless my parents knew the other family well (and had fully explained to them about my diabetes), and I was constantly being asked about how I was feeling, what every blood sugar reading was, and if I had given my insulin. My parents eventually requested to see the blood sugar reading on the screen (which is why I eventually outsmarted the meter) and they checked my syringe to make sure I was giving the right amount of insulin. When my A1c came up high, everyone was confused because my meter’s average told a different story. And how does a parent yell at their kid for lying when they know their child is suffering so much? So rather than yelling at me mine called the doctor. The doctor said, “Maybe her blood sugars are going way up at night and then coming back down in the morning, let’s check her blood sugar in the middle of the night.” So my parent’s set an alarm and we did just that. I was usually high anyway so this time I let them test me as I was half asleep and gee what do you know, sounds like the doc was on to something. We adjusted my insulin. I went on to binge on cookies or granola bars or anything I could get my hands on in secret because with blood sugar high, I was always hungry. Also, I had a growth spurt at age 12-13 and I suppose this also made me hungry. Eating too much eventually became a habit I didn’t know how to break, too.
The doctors were always confused, my parents were frustrated with me, and I-the only one who could really control the situation felt I couldn’t. The thing is…I didn’t show it. I played sports well (a sick kid can’t really do that right?) and I made good grades and remember even being student of the month in high school. I was no teacher or fellow student’s enemy-in fact everyone liked me and it seemed I had a pretty bright future. I wanted a break from playing sports while feeling sick at one point so when I felt a tiny bit of knee pain, I faked big knee pain. Soon I was on crutches for what the doctor called growing pains. Then I was sent to a therapist who had me doing expensive exercises in a pool. Looking back I feel so guilty for fooling so many people.
You may be thinking, “what a terrible child you where!” But, you see…there is a reason one has a childhood. It is a time when you shouldn’t have big responsibilities placed on your shoulders. You should be allowed to learn and play and not deal with high or low blood sugars. When they study a child’s and a teenager’s brain they can literally notice a difference in the area of the brain which controls decision-making. This area changes dramatically when one reaches adulthood leading scientists to believe that children and teens cannot follow their parents orders and wishes all of the time because their brains lead them in curious directions and often away from logical decisions. I was extremely aware of the long term complications of diabetes but, I was a young person with too heavy a burden. I was aware that a simple human mistake could kill me and the only way I knew to deal with such a great task was to try to seem like a normal kid and aggressively cover my tracks so my parents wouldn’t worry so much. How were my parents supposed to combat this situation? What more could they have done? I can’t think of anything.
I remember my parents, feeling at their wits end asking me how they could help me and I remember feeling so hopeless because I couldn’t answer them. I just wanted a cure for diabetes, I wanted to not feel depressed, and I wanted to be in control again.
In the end what got me back on track many years later were things that very much had to do with my parents. For example, something that has really helped me was discovering books my dad had bought such as Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Og Mandino’s The Greatest Salesman in the World. I took inspiration from my dad’s wise philosophical views and our long conversations have provided me guidance that has really kicked in the last few years. From my mom I learned the magic of doing and having initiative. I have never been a big doer. I have often felt like I’m more a thinker/writer type and that is ok. But, the truth is, nothing in this world happens if we don’t have people that can act without hesitation and without being asked. Thanks to my mom, I survived my twin pregnancy and the difficult months after they were born. And I didn’t have to ask for any help, she just showed up and saved the day.
My parents don’t know how much they’ve helped me regain my health-probably because I don’t tell them. But, I tell them now, that without all those years of good teachings and good examples my recovery may never have happened. Parenting is funny. You give it your all for years and years and often do not see the fruit of your labor until you’ve almost given up on seeing it. You think your kid has found the way without your help and you may feel hurt thinking that you worked so hard and it didn’t help them. That isn’t true…in my case, my parents helped me just as they had intended, only the help came in a delayed time capsule. But, it wasn’t too late. The help arrived just in time and for that I am eternally grateful :)
For other parents out there with diabetic children I’d like to give you permission to be as nosy as you want to be. Obviously you will have a tough time when your child is a teenager but you may want to try trading your child doses of independence for doses of proof they are managing their diabetes well, such as an A1c within good range. I don’t know of another way to do it. Some children will be much easier to work with than others. In the end, I feel your kid would prefer you nag them to death than allow their health to slip through their fingers. Think of all the mistakes you made growing up and how that all happened without the stress of diabetes. Tell your child you know this. They don’t want to hear that you know what they’re going through because you don’t know and you will never know. Give them love and support and forgiveness and give them your fight for their health. If they lose their way this will help get them back.
To my parents and all parents of diabetic children, I think you have one of the most difficult jobs imaginable and I’m willing to bet there is a special place reserved for you in heaven. (Especially if your child is anything like me). Hang in there…and Thank You!