No, this isn’t another corny November election pitch. I’m talking about hope during National Diabetes Awareness Month this November. What better way to foster hope than to write letters to the families of newly diagnosed T1Ds? You can learn more about @mumoftype1’s (Maureen’s) kindhearted project, Letters of Hope, by clicking here.
This is my Letter of Hope:
Firstly, I want you to know that whatever you are feeling- anger, sadness, fear, anxiety, exhaustion, cautious optimism, a mix of all of the above- is totally okay. Even many years removed from the hectic time of a type 1 diabetes diagnosis, you are still allowed to feel these things and to express them out loud, if you so choose. Not everyone will “get it,” but some good eggs will rise to the occasion and offer support. The aspect of diabetes that is not discussed enough is how you will see the light in others, and yourselves, more clearly now. Empathy is just as important of a prescription as insulin.
With empathy in mind, I would like to share some diabetes advice that I wish my family had received upfront:
Life will go on, with some adjustments intertwined to ensure safety. If your child was diagnosed with T1D, allow him/her to go to diabetes camp, or sleepovers, or field trips. Have a preparedness plan in place: extra diabetes supplies packed, phone numbers to be reached in case of emergency, teachers who are aware of the diagnosis and know the basics of how to help.
Freaky diabetes situations will pop up from time to time, but trust in your knowledge and abilities to take care of things and to move forward. Sometimes diabetes just has a mind of its own and you did not do anything wrong to deserve it; every new morning is a “reset button” where you have a clean slate to try again. Above all else, your child will still get to be a kid, to enjoy school and sports and playdates. If you are the type 1 diabetic of any age, you will continue to be the person you were before diagnosis. Your perspective will change for the better; suddenly you will understand just how strong and resilient you are.
Words matter. We “check” blood sugar, as “test” implies pass/fail. “Manage” rather than “control” diabetes. Remember that blood sugar numbers are not “good” or “bad”; they are a guide for making informed treatment decisions. The person’s character is never implicated by a wacky blood sugar value. It’s type 1 diabetes; wonky numbers will happen, and you will handle them- sometimes gracefully, other times not so much. Remember that your job as a person with diabetes, or as a caretaker, is more complex than most people would ever realize; go easy on yourself.
Offer guidance in a supportive manner, rather than lecture. The islet cells have misbehaved, leading to type 1 diabetes; but the person is never to blame. Even if there are days where diabetes management seems to slack, remember what it was like to be a teenager yourself. Be understanding. Do not try to rewrite the diabetes wheel all at once. Hone in on one time of the day that seems to need improvement- breakfast, perhaps- and start there to make the process manageable.
Diabetes discussions are inevitable, as you may collaborate on insulin dosing decisions, carb counting, and similar technical items. Yet once you sit down for a family meal, try to leave diabetes behind. T1D gets enough air time each day. Dinner is for enjoying one another’s company, laughing about the funny anecdotes from work or school, being a family that is so much more than the diagnosis of a health condition. Reserve that time for yourselves. Take vacations and splurge a little; added insulin will cover ice cream for dessert, and your kids will thank you for giving them that freedom one day.
If and when you want peer support, there is a large, engaged community online- from Facebook groups to blogs to the diabetic online community (#doc) on Twitter. These online interactions can lead to in-person meet-ups. The friendships are real and the bonds are solid, whether they are formed online or offline. We are here for you. Although we have not met you in person, we are thinking of you and praying for you during this time of transition after diagnosis.
Sending love, and extra coffee!