This week, over at Diabetes Daily, founders David and Elizabeth Edelman are running Newly Diagnosed Week, where the contributing bloggers are posting their tips. I thought it was a great idea — we need to talk a lot more about that free-fall we all experience when our diabetes begins — so I've asked friend and fellow blogger Allison Blass to share some of her tips on how to handle your new diabetes diagnosis:
A Guest Post by Allison Blass
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes nearly 16 years ago at the tender age of 8. At such a young age, my diabetes diagnosis was not just my own. It was also a diagnosis for my parents, who would be my caretakers for many years to come. Young children are not mature or responsible enough to handle such a complex disease on their own (and some would argue neither are teens or adults!), but a diagnosis of a child affects the entire family. So while I have my own tips to share about being a newly diagnosed diabetic, I thought I would bring a couple of people who know what it was like the best: my parents.
The Blass Family's Tips for Succeeding with Diabetes
When I decided to write this guest post, I called my parents and told them about this writing assignment. My dad put me on speaker phone and my parents and I spent a few minutes going over some of important tips for handling a diabetes diagnosis.
My dad, David, started off with three main points:
1) Embrace it. Don't go into denial. There's no way around it.
2) Normalize it.
3) Get disciplined.
I asked my dad what he meant by "normalize it." He replied, "It's part of your normal life now, just as any other hygienic thing you do in your life." He emphasized that establishing a routine was key for dealing with the "800 pound gorilla" that had just moved into our house. We ate dinner at the same time; we had a routine for meals and activities. "As boring as it may sound, that's how you embrace it." This isn't to say you can't be frustrated, angry, confused and the myriad of emotions that come with diabetes. But day-to-day, you have to integrate it into your life and make it as "normal" as possible because it is your new normal.
My mom, Caren, recalled the biggest challenge at the beginning was preparedness. She said, "Often times because it wasn't normalized and routined, we often expected everybody else to remember. We often forgot to pack supplies. But the family has to be a team. You can't blame each other for not being there. Often times parents don't have their act together. It isn't a routine yet. It does take awhile so you have to make the effort."
Another challenge (and which many of us still struggle with) is the ever-present Diabetes Scorecard.
"One of our biggest downfalls was we 'scorecarded'," my dad said. "We FAILED. You were 220, my God, what did we do wrong? And these days, you know, 'stuff happens, we'll do better next time.' You cannot beat yourself down, or the team, or the diabetic, for what is clearly a short term aberration. And for children, good numbers are darn near impossible day in and day out." Emotions can run very deep with diabetes, which is why it's important, especially in the beginning, not to get in the habit of judging how good or bad you are as a parent or a patient by what your blood glucose numbers are.
One thing I always appreciated my parents doing for me was letting me still be a kid! I participated in all my Girl Scout activities, I went on school field trips, I even went on sleep-overs with my best friends.
Mom says, "Don't shelter your children. Don't be a helicopter parent. It doesn't help the helicopter children, and you're not going to be there to protect them for every minute. You have to let your kid be part of the team. You have to empower your kid."
Mom also emphasized personal diabetes education: "You have to educate yourself on what diabetes is because you will come across doctors and nurses who don't know anything about it. You have to be your child's advocate. If you don't know enough about it, you won't know if you're being given misinformation. You have to become a doctor, scientist, dietitian. You have to start wearing all these hats." It's also important to keep a thick skin around people who aren't as educated as you are.
"Don't take what other people say to heart. Because people are going to say insensitive things unbeknownst to them," Mom added.
Best tip of the conversation? Keep a positive attitude. Everyday is different, but, as my dad says, "You do your best but results may vary." (I think my dad and Bennett would get along...)
I also recommend a solid support network, whether that's in the shape of camp, support groups, Children with Diabetes conference, meet-ups or whatever. There is nothing more valuable, in my opinion, than the experience of someone else and the familiar sight of an insulin pump or a glucose meter. Some of my best friends are people with diabetes, and they are a constant, yet in some cases subtle, reminder that I'm not alone, that I'm not the only one who feels sick or frustrated or blah about the whole diabetes thing.
Diabetes does not make your child (or you) breakable, my dad reminded me. They have to be normal. So many parents I know worry about their child's happiness, their success in life, college, work, relationships. I can confidently say that your child will be great. Not just fine. Great.
Don't let diabetes defeat you.