I often wonder what my 4 year old daughter Cici thinks when she sees me testing my blood glucose levels or changing my insulin pump infusion set each day. It’s not something that any of her peers have to experience, but it’s been the norm for her ever since she was born. Does she wonder why it’s only me that has to prick my fingers and make them bleed, and not her, or her Gran or her friends? She rarely questions me about the why’s and how’s of what I do, it’s as though she’s just accepted that this is what Mummy does.
I question myself sometimes. Should I be explaining things more clearly to her, in more detail? Or should I just go with the flow and answer her questions as she grows and becomes naturally curious? I want to teach her all about carb counting, and treating hypos, but it’s difficult to find the words to explain it all in a way that a 4 year old would understand. And even if I could, would I want to burden her at such a young age?
I recently got chatting to fellow blogger Kimberley, creator of lifestyle blog Kinsey’s. Kim’s mum is also a Type 1 Diabetic, so she’s grown up with it, as Cici will. I invited her to write a guest post about her experience as part of my Type 1 Takeover series, to try and help me to understand how it feels to be on the outside looking in, and she’s done a great job! Here’s Kim’s story:
It’s funny thinking about my life from the perspective of being a child of a diabetic, since it’s all I’ve ever known. My mum has been a Type 1 diabetic since she was a toddler – that’s over six decades now. My cousin on my dad’s side is also Type 1. I’ve been surrounded by it my whole life so it’s completely normal to me. But it doesn’t mean I’m not aware of the challenges it brings.
I grew up with my mum being diabetic in the 1990s. It’s not that long ago, but you’d be amazed by how much the treatment process has progressed in that time. This was before home digital blood testing. It was before injection pens.
While technology has updated, because of her age it was decided to keep her on the old-fashioned way of doing things; it might be risky to try to change her ways now. My mum uses syringes and bottles of insulin kept in the fridge. She has to inject at specific times, rather than when she’s eating. To this day, we’re dictated by meal times to fit my mum’s schedule. Every day out involves a couple of tea breaks.
But it doesn’t feel like a problem. My mum always got me and my brother involved. It was our job to get her syringe out of the box in my parent’s bedroom before she had her insulin at dinnertime. She used to ask us to check the colours on her blood tests to see if we agreed with what she said. I don’t know if she consciously turned it into something fun for us, but it made it all very normal in our household. It was only when friends visited and saw hypodermic syringes on the side in the kitchen that you’d remember it wasn’t the same everywhere. We were so used to them she would stick them in the corner before she disposed of them, so there was always a little pile building up.
I know my mum worried, and still worries, that it’s a burden on us that she can take ill. But I’ve never felt that, I’ve just accepted it. I think growing up around this illness teaches you to be responsible from a young age. You learn to recognise the signs early on, and my dad always taught us that if she wasn’t well to get a cup of milk in a plastic cup and tell a grown up straight away. It was just another thing you learned, like looking before you crossed the road.
I think my mum was also worried about the change of temperament it causes. I’ve often heard it said diabetics behave like they’re drunk. This is true, but they also get nasty. My mum is the least nasty person ever, so when she starts snapping or being harsh you know what’s happening. They also refused to believe anything is wrong, and will protest this loudly, which makes the nastiness worse. You learn to know this is the illness talking and not the person. The words don’t upset you.
Having these experiences means I know how to recognise it when it happens to someone else. I now have a diabetic colleague, and he took ill a few weeks ago. He turned down all offers from people to get him something to eat, insisting he was fine. I knew this was part of it, diabetics always deny there is anything wrong. It took me talking to him like he was a naughty child to force him to eat some Mars Bar Celebrations to sort his sugar levels out.
My mum has always said that if it’s managed well there’s no reason why diabetes should impact your life, and I think that’s true of the people around them.
And there’s a bit of black humour in it too –there’s something funny in demanding that a fully-grown man sits and eats chocolate until he stops being grumpy. And odd perks from my mum’s strict meal times – it means we nearly always get the good early evening deals in restaurants!
Thanks for sharing your experience Kim! Your explanation about Diabetics becoming grumpy during a hypo made me chuckle; I know too well from experience just how true this is.
Reading about how Kim’s mum turned her daily routine into a game for her children has inspired me to do the same with Cici. I’m also going to encourage her to become more involved in testing my blood sugar levels, for her to get to know the importance of the numbers and what to do if they’re too high or too low.
Are you a Type 1 Diabetic parent? How do you encourage your children to get involved, if at all? Answers on a postcard please… or just in the comment box below will work too!