The Diabetes Rebellion - Who is in Control?

Patient Expert

I think it is safe to say that everyone living with diabetes has a time of rebellion. Many people think teens are the most vulnerable to suffer rebellion, however they are not alone.  Different ages have different kinds of rebellious behavior. No matter what age group you are in and suffering rebellion, the question is the same: who wins the rebellion, diabetes, the human spirit, or the parent/caregiver?

Recently, a parent started a conversation about her teen who was non compliant, which caused many parents to chime in, saying their teens were showing signs of "oppositional behavior". And some wanted to think about strategies for breaking the habit before it started. The parenting strategy among this group decided that a teen get together, where these kids could meet other kids with diabetes, would help.

All of this brought back memories of my own rebellious years and I cringed at the thought of what I did" or didn't do In my teen heyday, we did not have the management system that exists today for blood sugar testing and pump technology. The good and the bad is that caring for diabetes was not as involved as it is today. I took only two shots a day, one in the AM and one before dinner. My rebellion was testing, because every time my parents asked if I tested, I was vague or non compliant. I hated feeling like I was under a microscope with my parents peering thru the lens!

With my parents' blessing my siblings were free to roam the earth, leaving for trips to South America, Africa, the middle east, Asia and I was told to be careful going to summer camp in Maine! Mom often grew quiet when I would munch on a bag of potato chips and not feel concerned about where this would lead my blood sugar. Though, I was not compliant in many ways, I NEVER thought to neglect taking my insulin! Not feeling good was counter to my hope to be independent.

My mom was very good about not showing how much worry she felt and often encouraged me to try to spread my wings, but with the reminder I had to take into account my diabetes. At 13, I boarded a plane alone and flew from Pennsylvania to California to visit with my brother at UCLA. And when I called my mom  to let her know I had made it safely, she offered up her excite for the rest of my trip!

My moment of true rebellion came at age 19, when I packed my bags and moved to England to live on my own for a year. It was my protest to everyone who said I couldn't do it and there were plenty who thought they knew best! While very concerned, my mom gave her blessing and hid her fears. In the end, it was a test for both of us! I needed to figure out how to be on my own and she knew my rebellion was not about her, but my personal struggle with feeling confident I could survive on my own.

The day I left for England, I remember walking thru the airport looking as though I didn't care and wouldn't care. But as the plane lifted off the runway, I will never forget saying to myself, "Sink or swim kid." I was on my journey to learn how to live on my own with diabetes.

For almost the whole year, I remained aloof with my family and randomly called to say hi, but had little concern for routine check ins and no dialogue about my health. My mother, even with Alzheimer's, today remembers that she worried every hour that I was gone, but she knew that I had to do it. I was fortunate that my rebellion was not railing against diabetes, but instead it was about pushing forward into life and finding my limits.

I think the question of rebellious behavior isn't an argument about diabetes management, but the struggle reflected thru non compliance. When diabetes becomes the focus, the damage can become the loss of more than the human spirit, it becomes the loss of being healthy and complication free!

Below are some links to rebellion and it's challenges.

Academy of American Pediatrics: Unstable Diabetes and Unstable Families

Pediatric News: Quell Adolescents' Rebellion

Ginger Vieira on Parenting a type 1 teen

Children's Hospital of Wisconsin

Elisabeth Stouffer, type1 and authored a great piece on rebellion

Ginger Vieira, author: Your Diabetes Science Experiment

Bloggers on adult rebellion:

Scott Johnson:

George Simmons: