“Diabetes destroyed my relationship with my mother”
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The one thing that truly bothers me about diabetes
I’ve had Type 1 diabetes for most of my life, 27 years to be exact.
I’m fortunate enough to not have any complications and I’ve never found my diabetes to be a setback or an obstacle in my life. I’ve always taken pride in myself, I’ve faced the world head on and have been quite successful – I’ve achieved many things that my small, terrified ten-year-old self would never have dreamed possible. Everything seems to be pretty good as far as things go, but are they really?
I was sitting in the waiting room at my doctor’s office, bored, and picked up one of the many old magazines that are always associated with the stuffy surroundings of a doctor’s office. It was an older issue of the CDE magazine. I hesitantly flipped through it, too stubborn to admit to myself that I have a condition that affects my life.
Then, there it was. One page that listed do’s and don’ts for parents with diabetic children.
I skimmed through the list, still not willing to fully commit to reading and understanding the words. Then I really read it, and the one thing that truly bothers me about diabetes jumped right from the page into my heart. Diabetes inadvertently destroyed my relationship with my parents, especially my mother.
Do not become obsessed with the diabetes
Sometimes a condition, a disease, whatever you want to call it, brings a family closer together; but at times, the opposite happens.
“Remember that your child is still a human, do not become obsessed with the diabetes.” The quote isn’t exact, but in my head, that’s what it said.
I can distinctly remember myself crying as a young fifteen- or sixteen-year-old, telling my mother that I have feelings, that everything is not always connected to my diabetes. I also had my heart crushed by the handsome, popular boy in class, I also felt the pressure of fitting in and being a “cool kid”, I was a normal teenager, with normal problems. To my mother though, I was a condition, the only thing she was concerned about was my blood sugar levels and why they weren’t perfect. A 6.5 blood sugar level wasn’t good enough, even a 6 wouldn’t do, she wanted a 5.8 and only then would it ever be good enough.
A rollercoaster ride of highs and lows
Now if you’ve gone through puberty as a diabetic, you will know that the war inside your body with a million hormones practically makes a perfect blood sugar reading impossible. Your body does strange things at that age, even if you don’t have a chronic condition. When you add diabetes in the mix, it’s just a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows, most of the time not explainable.
I can’t wholly blame my mother though, it was very different back then.
Diabetes was rare, Type 1 diabetes even rarer, and no-one really knew what it was. The last 30 years have seen a massive leap in our knowledge and treatment of the condition. In 1992, diabetes was practically a death sentence. There were no epipens, the glucometers were larger than bricks and cost a fortune, the tests took ages and weren’t necessarily very accurate, I used a normal syringe and vial for ages before I got my first pen to use. Sugar was the devil, and I came out of my first three months after diagnosis believing that I would go into hyperglycemic shock if I even looked at sugar.
My mother was afraid that I would die. It’s something I only came to understand many years later, and surely not something I can hold against her: she loves me. Her desire was to not let me die, but right there she lost something very valuable: we both lost our relationship as mother and daughter. My mom became my police officer and prison guard, someone that did not care for things like feelings and aspirations, she only cared about that perfect score.
We fought, a lot, and even today I often have to remind my mother that I’m not a disease. I felt like a disease for too long and the silent rebellion that came from that feeling is not something I am proud of.
No matter how hard I tried, I always failed
I started smoking at a very young age, not for the same reason many other teenagers do. Someone once told me that it suppressed your appetite. I’ve always had an appetite like a bear, I’m always hungry. In later years I found out that I have a very fast metabolism and that’s the reason I have an unending hunger, but my 15-year-old self knew nothing about metabolisms and believed that if I could eat less my blood sugar would surely be more controllable. It worked, for about 3 months until I was addicted and it was too late to just stop.
When I realised I could get away with occasionally having sugar, the rebel dial went in the complete opposite direction, and I remember sneaking off to the shop to buy handfuls of sweets and sitting in the large tree in our front yard gorging on chocolates and ice-cream.
I felt isolated and scared a lot of time, terrified of disappointing my mother, terrified of dying or losing a leg. My mother, unknowingly, had threatened me many times with those outcomes. “If your blood sugar is high you will lose a leg.”
Mostly I felt like a failure. I couldn’t live up to the standards that were expected of me and no matter how hard I tried, I always failed. Inadvertently that feeling affected my whole life and I spent years not believing in myself: if I couldn’t do something as easy as control my diabetes, how could I succeed at anything else?
We are all different
It took me years, stubbornness and a lot of growing up to realise that, actually, I can do anything and controlling diabetes is not an easy task with set rules. We are all different, our bodies weren’t created out of a mould and we can’t treat any condition with a mentality like that.
I learnt to understand my mother’s way of showing her love and concern, and that her words were harsh out of love. I mourn the fact that we never built a relationship that so many other mothers and daughters share, we never built trust or a way to communicate that showed that we were interested in each other’s lives.
I hope that other parents with diabetic children will read this article and not make the same mistakes we made. Your child might be diabetic, but that should never overshadow the fact that they are human, with human feelings and experiences, dreams to become more and be their best.
Encourage and praise them for their efforts and never distance yourself from their lives.