Meet Hadea Fisher, a thirty-something from the Pacific Northwest who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 7. She has some tumultuous teen years behind her, and now has important wisdom to share about the challenges of juggling adolescence with T1D, depression and anxiety.
These days, Hadea works as a life coach, helping teens and families with their diabetes journeys. Earlier this summer, she published a new e-book that’s meant to be a resource for frustrated for D-parents who need help dealing with teenage diabetes drama. Hadea shares her personal journey with us today, along with a special offer for one lucky reader to win a free copy of her new Kindle book released in June 2019.
(Read through to the end to enter our exclusive D’Mine giveaway!)
I ended up in the hospital with diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) on Labor Day weekend of 2001. I was 17 years old and I was supposed to be at a Dave Matthews concert, not hooked up to an IV machine, having some stranger monitor my urine and staring out at the beautiful summer day I was missing. I was exhausted. I felt ashamed. And the shame made me feel more exhausted.
This is where you might expect me to say that was the summer I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. But it wasn’t. I was diagnosed 10 years prior, at just 7 years old. Maybe you think that summer hospitalization was the moment I realized I needed to take better care of myself. Maybe you thought it was the first time I had been hospitalized with DKA. You’d be wrong on both counts.
What can be said about that event is that it lit the fire inside of me that has carved out the work I do today with teens and their parents around type 1 diabetes. It would take decades for me to recognize that my experience as a teen with diabetes was something that could be mined for value I could provide the Diabetes Community. It took me until I was well into my twenties before I realized what kind of help I needed, which was long after I could have asked for help from my parents.
The biggest hurdle of being a young diabetic was not, actually, the diabetes. I didn’t suffer from feeling weird or less-than my fellow students. My autonomy kept me from caring too much about what other people thought about my diabetes. It never occurred to me that someone would think less of me; in that I have been blessed.
The biggest hurdle back then was, and continues to be, my sense of shame over not getting it “right.” I was a smart kid, sharp as a whip, studious and curious — and I knew it. I was also stubborn, compassionate and self-reliant. I prided myself in my burgeoning self awareness on being able to read the mood of my family members (my mother especially) and anticipate her needs before she voiced them. This skill set is worth its weight in gold in my profession as a healthcare provider and now as a coach, though it must absolutely be tended to carefully, or you simply become an exhausted people-pleaser.
I did not know any of that, of course, when I was a little girl or even a teen. What I did know by the age of 10 was that some of my blood sugar numbers were upsetting for my mother, and some were soothing. My juvenile mind also believed that blood sugars could be controlled. The conclusion to that equation was that when my blood sugars did not behave, it was because I had done something wrong.
Sometimes I had blatantly done something that negatively affected my blood sugar (most notorious was overcorrecting lows with too much candy). Other times it would go wrong on its own accord, but I would assume it was backlash from a previous mistake or worse yet, that I was too stupid to keep my numbers in line. In short order I was wrapped up in twines of shame and frustration.
I wanted to be a kid, but I also wanted to be adult like my parents, and have them be proud of me. I wanted to be a good diabetic, and I didn’t want to be a diabetic at all. I wanted to take care of my blood sugar on my own time, not on some arbitrary schedule dictated by adults. I wanted to be in charge. I didn’t want to be ashamed of myself. And I didn’t want to admit to anyhow how much I was messing it all up. I didn’t want to admit that I needed help.
Good kid that I was, I began to lie about my blood sugars. It kept my mom happy. She trusted me implicitly, and why not? I was not a liar. In fact I am a horrible liar. But I lied to keep her calm, to avoid the tsunami of emotions that was at my back door every time I tested my blood sugar and they were not “good.” I couldn’t shake the sense that it meant I was not “good” either. My mantra was that it should be doable, it’s just a math problem, and if I really applied myself I would get it all right.
I told myself that I would only lie until I figured it out and then I could go back to being honest.
That moment never arrived, Folks. I never got good enough at it. And whether that’s because I was a kid with other motives, whether it’s because diabetes is not something we can perfect, but rather an evolving part of who we are and how we interact in this life, or whether it’s because the scariness of my emotions about it and what it might imply about my worthiness as a daughter or student or human being had me shying away from even testing by the time I was in high school — it all equaled a recipe for disaster.
To be clear: I did get caught lying. I broke down and cried about it. I dealt with the first few layers of emotions around my diabetes, but I didn’t know then the underlying relationship between my family’s well-being, and my unwillingness to mess it up by being honest about the mess that I was inside. I didn’t understand my complex emotions. I continued to lie long after I was caught, and that shame, of being a liar, swallowed me whole until I just wouldn’t touch my diabetes until I absolutely had too.
I spent my teen years chasing my numbers, avoiding my numbers and getting sick. That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy my friends and school, just that I found a way to compartmentalize my diabetes so it only got attention when it was truly dire.
In January of this year, 28 years after diagnosis, I began to write a book about my journey, and how I could have been helped as a kid. What could my parents have said to me to disarm my fear? What did I need to hear to be willing to talk about my disease? What did my diabetes management need to look like in order for me to get behind it and stay with it? What would have kept me from landing in the hospital? And more than that, in my opinion, what would have kept me from shaming myself?
My opinion these days is that parents of diabetic teens are getting the raw end of the deal. They are so often overworked, overwhelmed and worried. They are frustrated that their previously agreeable kid isn’t listening, and worst of all their child’s life is at stake. My personal belief is that the parents need help helping their kids. The kids need to know about diabetes burnout, and know that it is a real thing that will happen.
I wrote “Help! My Teen Has Diabetes: The Resource for Frustrated Parents” because I now know what I needed from my parents in order to face my diabetes. I wrote this book to help parents find a way to inspire organic cooperation from their type 1 kids and to help both kid and parent find a common ground that allows the kid to feel heard and safe — and willing to share the ugly thoughts that come in their adolescence, especially around their diabetes. I wrote it for parents who want to feel sane, and like their kid is listening and capable of self care, so the parent can breathe, really breathe for the first time in a long time.
These days, on top of working one-on-one with families navigating type 1 adolescence, I also travel and speak to parents and kids (both separately and together) to help them get on the same page and feel inspired as a team. A lot of my work is dismantling what and how we are told to manage our diabetes and finding out what the family needs in order to be willing to face the disease, squarely. It is immensely gratifying work.
I haven’t been in DKA for well over a decade now. My blood sugar is spectacularly level sometimes, and sometimes it isn’t. I’m pretty proud of my A1c. But more than anything I am proud that I have learned to let myself be human first, totally faliable, totally awesome before being an amazing diabetic. Turns out when I have my priorities in order like that, my blood sugars seem to fall in line way more often. I can live with this disease. In fact, with a softer perspective and a whole lot of compassion, I have learned to really thrive.
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Thanks, Hadea, for sharing your story and for penning this book to help.
You can find Hadea’s book on Amazon in e-format for only $7.99. But before you do that, consider entering our giveaway below…
Interested in winning your own copy of Hadea Fisher’s new e-book? Here’s how to enter:
Send us a social media comment including the codeword “DM TEENS“or email us directly using that subject header to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You have until Friday, August 16, 2019, at 7pm PST to enter.
Winners will be chosen using Random.org, and announced via Facebook and Twitter on Monday, Aug. 19, so make sure you’re following us. Please also be sure to keep tabs on your Facebook messages or emails, as that’s our only way to contact winners.
Good luck, D-Friends and Parents!