Candy Day: Life With Type 1 Diabetes

My favorite kinds of candy are Butterfinger bars, jawbreakers, candy corn, and Tootsie Rolls — the vanilla kind. Our house is a goldmine of candy. With three kids under 15, we have candy year-round, between Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and end-of-the-school-year parties. Of course I don’t eat the candy because I have Type 1 diabetes (except when my hands are shaking and my eyes are blurry and I’m out of glucose tabs, and then I’ll chew and swallow candy without tasting).

I didn’t grow up in a house full of candy. When I tell my kids stories about “Candy Day,” they laugh and think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. I grew up in a small town, a village really, in Brownsville, Vermont. It was the seventies and my parents were vegetarian hippies who did not allow sugar in the house. We had one store in the village, a general store, that was owned by a man named Rodney. The post office was inside the store, and every Friday after school, Mom took my sister and me to Rodney’s to get the mail and to buy each of us one piece of candy. Rodney had one of those triangle shaped, freestanding displays that had shelves of candy on both sides, and my sister and I would stand on either side and stare at the brightly colored candy. Would it be a Charleston Chew or a bag of Skittles? A pack of baseball cards with the gum inside or a Butterfinger? I rarely tried anything new because I was worried that I wouldn’t like it, and then I’d have to wait a whole week for another chance.

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Once, in a desperate search for candy when my parents weren’t home, I discovered a bar of chocolate in the kitchen, tucked behind bags of whole wheat flour and granola. I looked around furtively to make sure my sister wouldn’t see me, and then I peeled the wrapper carefully so I could put it back together when I was done. I broke off a piece of the dark brown chocolate, closed my eyes, and took a bite. Gagging, I ran to the sink and spit out the disgusting, bitter, dry-tasting chocolate. Retrieving the bar, I looked closely at the wrapper and sighed when I saw the words “baking chocolate.” I should have known better.

“You guys have it good,” I tell my kids as I hand them cookies, or chocolate-covered granola bars, or fruit snacks, or any of the various processed “food” from our pantry. They nod and smile even though they have a hard time imagining their grandparents, who long ago abandoned the hippie lifestyle and don’t think twice about buying candy or fast food for my kids, as anti-sugar revolutionaries. The ironic part of the story is that after all those years of being denied candy I ended up with Type 1 diabetes, a disease that is all about sugar. Or a denial of sugar and then an indulgence of sugar. A no, but sometimes a yes.

There’s a memory that sticks out in my mind from college. I’d been at a party with friends and stopped at the mini-mart on my way home. It was late and I was drunk, but I could tell that my blood sugar was low. I remember stopping in front of one of those freestanding, triangle-shaped candy displays, just like the one at Rodney’s, trying to decide what candy to buy to bring my blood sugar up. I was at that point of a low when you’re not thinking clearly, and so I stood, staring, just like I’d done as a child, transfixed. A friend walked up to me and tapped me on the arm and said, “Hey, you can’t have that stuff, you’re diabetic.” And I turned and looked at him and said “Yes, except when I need it.” Suddenly decisive, I reached for a pack of Starburst, peeled back the bright yellow wrapper, and popped that candy, that blessed candy, into my mouth.

How can you make sure your needs are met at your next doctor’s appointment? Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to get strategies and tricks from nurse David Spero.