Before delving into this post, I feel the need for a mini-disclaimer about how amazing and wonderful my parents are! When it comes to diabetes, it can be easy to throw our parents under the bus for worrying too much, being too annoying about sugars, and overall being stifling when it comes to dealing with their child living with Type 1.
In retrospect, the stories I’m going to share, though quite funny, are a real indication of how much my parents care for me and how difficult it is having a child (especially a young teenager) with Type 1. I want to share some experiences that I’ve had and lessons I learned from them that eventually led to having really great communication with my parents.
A couple years ago I had one of the worst lows I’ve ever experienced. My blood sugar had dropped to the low 30’s, and rather than calling my parents to my room, I staggered down the stairs (after bumping my head against the door) to the living room, where my dad was watching a movie and my mom was asleep on the couch. I said something about being low as I made it into the kitchen and started eating whatever was in sight. My dad watched me as I was in the kitchen and said to let him know if I needed anything. Definitely the laid-back approach.
On the flip side, upon hearing that I was low, my mom literally JUMPED out of sleep and off the couch and ran into the kitchen. She demanded that I sit down in the living room (eating whatever was already in my hands) and began throwing food from the kitchen to the living room. I kid you not. My mother literally was throwing food across the room from the kitchen to the living room. (I don’t remember all of it, but there was definitely a yogurt and pear involved).
My dad and I were incredulous. We couldn’t believe the scene we were witnessing. I’m sure if there are any moms reading this, you can absolutely relate to what my mom was going through. I tried telling her something about how I already ate enough, that my blood sugar was definitely coming up, and that if I kept eating I my sugars would skyrocket. In response, my mom told me to be quiet and keep eating… so I did.
Later on, my blood sugar did end up being very high, and when I told my mother, I was quite smug about it. I thought she would admit that I had been right all along, but instead she responded by saying the classic, “I would much prefer you to have a high blood sugar than a low one.” I couldn’t win.
From that experience, I learned that I would just have to accept my mom’s emotional reactions to extreme low blood sugars. In my mind, once I got a hold of some food, I knew I would be fine. But my mom isn’t me. She can’t experience the feeling of a rising blood sugar, so until enough time had passed, and enough food was consumed, she would not be able to “calm down.” At 13 years old, I was incapable of comprehending such a notion. I was fixated on the fact that I had a crazy mother who wouldn’t get it.
At around the same age, 13 or so, I began going out with friends without parental supervision. We would go to the movies, to the mall, out to eat, etc. All the normal teenager things to do. Of course, having Type 1 diabetes meant I wasn’t the same as all the other normal teens.
Though I could do anything they did, I had to monitor my blood sugar levels, and be aware of what my body was telling me. Each time before I went out there were a series of questions/statements from my mom. “Don’t forget to monitor every half hour!” “Make sure to check before you eat.” “Make sure you bolus enough…but not too much!” “Do your friends have my number in case of an emergency?” “Remind them of what your glucagons‘s for!” “Do you have glucose tablets and extra supplies?”
This became a routine that I learned to accept. Initially it used to bother me to no end. Why was she always saying the same thing to me over and over? Did she think I couldn’t handle it? What did she think was going to happen? I had had diabetes for a couple years, clearly I could do it myself!
Looking back I can definitely see where my mom was coming from. I was so young, surrounded by a group of oblivious teenagers, and away from the protection of home. Anything could happen, so of course she was worried! (Plus my mom was an Oprah mom who saw way too many horror stories about what can happen to kids when they’re away from their parents. This fear was completely unrelated to diabetes but all became a part of the same stress I’m sure).
Similar to the previous story I shared, this experience of being bombarded with questions helped teach me to understand the parents’ side of Type 1. As the person with diabetes, it can get overwhelming when people keep worrying about you, asking question after question. You forget that it’s done out of love, and you start to become irritated by it. You want it to be left alone and not have diabetes be the main topic of conversation every time you go out.
After time and much adjusting, I worked out a really great system with my mom. She would give me all the reminders before leaving, and I would be the one to reach out to her while I was out instead of getting a million and a half phone calls. Additionally, rather than call every time, I would just shoot her a text saying what my blood sugars were. Something about texting her saying that I was 250, for instance, was better than calling her. That way I wouldn’t have to hear the worry or upset in her voice. She could just text back and say something simple like “OK, let me know how you are after your correction.”
It eliminated a lot of stress and tension from conversations and turned checking and communicating numbers to my mom into much less of an arduous process. Additionally, it forced me to be responsible for staying on top of my diabetes if I wanted to continue having the same freedom and flexibility. It built up a lot of trust between my parents and me, and ultimately paved the way for us to communicate well now that I’m in college and away from home for long stretches of time.