I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a little girl. There isn't much I remember about life before diabetes. I got diabetes as a kid and I handled it like a kid for a long time. I didn't have a lifetime of bad habits to break and I don't remember what it was like to not worry about bloodsugar. Not really, anyway.
My twin was eight when she was diagnosed, so diabetes existed in our household for years before I was diagnosed with it. I was recently asked what advice I'd give to a friend who was recently diagnosed with diabetes. At the time, I came up empty.
I'm not exactly a model patient or a role model for folks with diabetes. And because I probably don't have a lot of little kids reading my blog, I probably am speaking to the wrong audience anyway, when it comes to offering advice to those who are diagnosed with diabetes as children.
If kids or parents of kids were reading this, though, I'd tell them that we're all rooting for them and that they're not broken and that it isn't their fault. I'd give them a big hug and tell them they can do anything they put their mind to, and that it might require a little extra planning and strategizing--that's all.
I've made life an adventure. Before turning thirty, I had already lived in six countries and traveled, worked, studied, taught and volunteered everywhere from Prague to rural India to Germany to Taiwan to Italy and China and back home again. All while having diabetes and taking multiple injections daily. I've run a half-marathon through the lava pits of Kona's Hawaiian summer and climbed the Great Wall of China in the snow.
I'd guess I'd tell them honestly that they might have to grow up a little too fast sometimes, but that it will pay off down the line. They can still be kids and still have fun and to not let anyone tell them they can't do something or can never eat something just because they have diabetes.
I'd tell them everyone is happy they're here and doing well. As a girl, I felt guilty about having diabetes because it was a burden on my parents and family. My brother sometimes had it rough with two big sisters with "the big D," and I know how hard it was for my dad to give me my shots in the beginning. And it made me feel bad.
Don't feel bad. And really, no little kid should feel guilty for something outside their control. But kids have a way of filling in the missing bits of information about the world and their family and their lives to their own detriment and blaming themselves for things beyond their control. Diabetes has made me feel ashamed at times. Like when eating sweets. Yes, I can eat a donut, but I am always so keenly aware that I am eating a donut. I wish I could be nonchalant about it.
But I can't, and that's that. Instead, I ask myself how diabetes can help me to be of service, how I might be able to help in some small way. I read an old Good Housekeeping article on Michael J. Fox while I was waiting for the doctor the other day. As a celebrity living with chronic illness, he realized he was in a unique postion to help. Fox asked himself if there was something unique to his situation that he could use to help people--and he realized there was. He went on to admit, "At first, it was uncomfortable. Nobody likes to say, "Hey, look at me!" I got this thing, and I spent years and years hiding it. It was counter-intuitive for me to do that."