Partner’s Corner

How to deal with a diabetes diagnosis

“My son has just been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and we all feel like our world has been turned upside down. But he’s really struggling to talk to us (and his extended family) about his diagnosis. Any tips on how to begin?” Razan Naransamy

Dear Razan,

When a child is diagnosed with diabetes, both parent and child feel different emotions. In the beginning, parents are inclined to spend time worrying about the physical effects and the day to day management of a condition they don’t yet know anything about. The child goes through different feelings, like sadness and hopelessness, even anger and frustration.

It might help to find someone your son will confide in – even if it’s just to find out why he doesn’t want to talk about his diagnosis. It could be a diabetes nurse he trusts or a psychologist or even a family member or friend. Don’t feel bad about getting help. There are many reasons he might not want to share: he might feel isolated, depressed, afraid or even angry at you. Because you are the one in charge of the tests and shots and the policeman of what he eats or does, it might be easier to blame you. He could even be feeling embarrassed because of the sudden overload of attention.

Helping your child involves acknowledging his feelings and listening to what he says. This communication does not always have to be verbal. Writing or drawing or even making music can get your child to share his feelings.

Encourage him to actively participate in his health care management. Help him to be independent. Once he starts feeling more confident and independent, he will be more likely to share his feelings of living with diabetes. Encourage him to have fun with friends and if he starts going on outings and camps with friends and other children with diabetes he will learn from them that it is okay to talk about it.

  • Tell your son that he did nothing to deserve diabetes – it just happens. If he feels that the condition is troublesome for you or your family, reassure him that there’s no reason to feel guilty.
  • Remember that children are likely to copy the way that their parents cope with something.   Also remember that expecting a child to deal with things quickly and practically isn’t helpful to you or him. You need to set the example.
  • Build a support network that you and your family can fall back on. Be informed parents.
  • Make the most out of every day.

You and your son are on a lifelong journey with diabetes.

A good journey requires lots of planning, flexibility, curiosity, frequent course corrections, and an occasional attitude adjustment.

Make it a good one.

– Jeannie Berg, Diabetes Educator

 

Diabetes and children’s parties

My son was just diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and I want to know what to do about children’s parties and play dates? I don’t want him to feel ‘different’ but I also want to make sure his blood sugar won’t get out of control.” Linda van der Merwe.

Dear Linda,

I’m not sure how old your son is, but diabetes at any age can be difficult. Rest assured, what seems overwhelming now will eventually become routine.

Diabetes affects a child’s emotions, and badly controlled blood sugar can make diabetics feel irritable. If your son forgets to take insulin for a piece of cake at a birthday party, for example, he could end up fighting with his friends. Talk to him about the kind of food that will be at the party and help him to make decisions about which foods to choose, and which to avoid. Make sure he has something sweet on him in case he goes low, and chat with him about what to do if he feels funny. Most importantly, let him know that you are only a phone call away.

Yes! The thought of your child going off to a party at someone else’s home may make you scared. Away from your control, over-excited by all the fun and surrounded by delicious high sugar and high carb treats. A parent’s worst diabetic nightmare. But just remember: a child with diabetes is still a child. And children LOVE birthday parties!

It’s a good idea to call the host parent and find out what sort of food and drinks are planned for the party. You can even offer to provide a platter of your child’s favourite (diabetic-friendly) snacks, so that he can share them with his friends. Let the host know that you will have your phone on you the whole time.

Lastly, try to relax. With careful planning, your son can safely enjoy birthday parties as part of his childhood.

– Jeannie Berg, Diabetes Educator

 

How to help a friend with diabetes

I would like to know to help and support a friend who has diabetes. My friend is a Type 1 diabetic and I’m not always sure how to help him in the tough times.” Markus Vorster

Hi Markus,

You have not said how old your friend is, but much of the basics stay the same. Here are 7 ways to support your friend with diabetes.

  1. First of all, treat your friend like anyone else. It is important for him to realise that his diabetes makes absolutely no difference to your friendship. If your friend is having trouble accepting his condition, be supportive and understanding.
  2. Try not to ‘mother’ him, but do encourage him to look after himself.
  3. Understand that people with diabetes are more prone to mood swings and depression than those who do not have diabetes.
  4. Learn to be able to recognise when his blood sugar goes too low, and know what to do in case he needs help.
  5. Remember, really tough times for diabetics are when they are sick. Blood glucose levels bounce up and down and this makes them feel more ill.
  6. Give him all your support by understanding his condition to the best of your ability.
  7. Get the facts and go beyond the myths and misinformation by talking to your friend, your doctor, or relatives who have diabetes.

As a friend, your understanding and acceptance are very important. The more you understand his circumstances, the less alone your friend is likely to feel.

Empathise, but never sympathise.

Good luck!

– Jeannie Berg, Diabetes Educator

Teens with Type 1

Teenagers with Type 1 diabetes feel especially isolated and alone. It’s bad enough dealing with body changes and hormonal issues, but add to that testing blood sugar, keeping tabs on what you eat and injecting yourself, as well as mood swings, and you can see why teens with Type 1 have a lot to deal with. Understanding what goes into diabetes means you can help your teen feel less self-conscious and different from everyone else.

Photo by Asaf R on Unsplash

Mood swings in people with diabetes

What can you guys tell me about mood swings in Type 1s? Happy the one day, negative the next? What advice do you have for partners of diabetics on how to handle these mood changes?” Lynne van der Spuy

Dear Lynne,

Mood swings are common in people with diabetes for both emotional and physical reasons. Anger and anxiety are normal reactions when someone has a chronic condition: it’s a lot to cope with, and at times overwhelming. Problems with poor control can cause stress levels to climb, leading to a vicious cycle of high glucose levels and fear about managing the condition. In fact, the emotional impact of diabetes is so vast that the risk of depression is doubled.

Physically, when someone’s sugar spikes or drops, it can actually produce feelings of anger and anxiety that are really out of their control. It can also make it harder to concentrate and cause fatigue, which would make anyone feel down. Stressful situations alter the body’s management of glucose, which can result in unstable blood sugar, so you may notice that mood swings worsen.

How to handle a mood swing:

  • Communication is vital. Address the issue when your partner is in a good frame of mind.
  • Explain your frustration and say that you understand mood swings are part of diabetes, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Make sure you feel heard; that’s important for your emotional well-being!
  • Ask your partner to check blood sugar during a mood swing, and correct if necessary.
  • Try to stay calm and avoid getting drawn into a fight; walk away if you need to.
  • Long term: encourage good diabetic control, and think about seeing a counsellor if the emotional issues remain difficult.

– Jeannie Berg, Diabetes Educator