I don’t have diabetes, but it has played a major role throughout my life. My dad had Type 1 diabetes and had it before I was born. Some of my earliest memories are of him playfully spraying alcohol across the room before he would fill his glass syringe with insulin. That was 20 plus years before disposable syringes, blood glucose meters, and insulin pumps. Those days were also long before anyone was focused on their feelings about diabetes, so like everyone else in my family, I stayed silent.
I didn’t talk about my terror when my dad would be nearly unconscious and my mom and I would pour orange juice on his face trying to hit his mouth. I didn’t talk about the anger I felt when the need to treat his insulin reactions would interfere with getting to my baseball games. I didn’t talk about my embarrassment when my friends would see him act “drunk” from lows and not understand what was happening.
I didn’t talk about diabetes or feelings about diabetes until 25 years later. I had been working with individuals and families with diabetes for a few years, and my dad attended a class I was teaching about emotions and diabetes. Following the class, I worked up the courage to ask him how he felt about diabetes. My dad had always been stoic and rarely shared feelings other than anger. He also dutifully did what he was supposed to to treat his diabetes, so I was surprised when he started talking about his feelings.
He told me how much he hated the disease. He talked about how frustrated he would get with the lows and how crummy he would feel with the highs. He also talked about how scared he was of developing complications. I was amazed and quite touched.
Then he asked me how I felt, so I told him about all of those feelings I’d kept to myself all those years. He was really surprised by my feelings, but still respectful and accepting.
During that conversation we became much closer, no longer needing to ignore the elephant in our living room, connected by our honesty and openness and willing to accept each other’s emotions.