What About Me?
How diabetes can affect the child who doesnt have it.
Editor's Note: While this columnist is no longer writing for dLife.com and we have ceased to update the information contained herein, there is much to be read here that is still applicable to the lives of people with diabetes. If you wish to act on anything you learn here, be sure to consult your doctor first. Please enjoy the column!
August 2008 — When I think about how having a child with diabetes affects our family, my thoughts usually go to Joel, our child with diabetes, or to my husband and I who have most of the responsibility that goes along with diabetes. But what about Joel's brother Casey? When Joel was first diagnosed, we could see the immediate effects of the diagnosis on Casey. He acted out, he created ways to get our attention, and even created a way to test his stuffed animals' blood sugar. It was clear from the beginning that this disease was going to have a huge impact on how both of our children grew up. No matter how unfair it was, it was a simple fact that Joel got most of our attention during that first month. There was nothing we could do about it. We were struggling to learn diabetes basics and administer the proper amounts of food and insulin to Joel to keep him healthy. Add to that learning how to count carbs, testing Joel's blood sugar around the clock, and getting the school educated about what he needed, and there was usually very little left for Casey. It was something we felt terrible about, but at the time it was also something we couldn't help.
Of course, that is only how things were immediately following the diagnosis. Since Casey was only three when Joel was diagnosed, there wasn't a lot of talking about how he felt about having a brother with diabetes at that point. But now that he is all of nine, I decided to sit down with him and ask him what it is like for him to have a brother with diabetes. He said that a lot of kids see Joel's pump and instead of asking Joel what it is they ask Casey. "And that gets really annoying", Casey said. He added that Joel gets a lot of our attention, and that is hard sometimes. He mentioned Joel taking his anger out on him sometimes when he is really mad at his diabetes, especially when he is having a low blood sugar. Recently, when Joel was having a particularly bad day with his diabetes, Casey made a sign that said diabetes and attached it to his punching bag for he and Joel to hit. Casey also mentioned some of the "presents" that Joel gets that he doesn't - things like a pump pal, bags for his supplies, etc.
When I asked Casey about some of the more positive things he could think of (not that there is anything positive about diabetes), he was able to think of a few things pretty quickly. He mentioned the fun family education weekends we have gone on, some prizes he has won at those events, and a special vacation we went on to attend a diabetes conference where we also swam with the dolphins. We also talked about us giving him more responsibility than a lot of kids his age get. It is quite often that Joel is low and we ask Casey to help us by getting him a juice, or keeping an eye on Joel until he is feeling better if we are tied up with something else. Casey has talked to me before about feeling lucky that he isn't the one who has diabetes. And Joel has said that it is good that Casey isn't the one who has it because his personality is far less easy going than Joel's. It occurs to me that the lessons that the sibling of someone with diabetes learn are ones that are very important in later life. For example, sometimes you have to understand that it can't always be you getting all the attention, and sometimes the reason someone else gets attention is to help them deal with pretty crappy stuff. It is important to develop empathy for others. And the big one, the one that some adults go through life without ever learning: LIFE ISN'T FAIR.
There are also good things that come along with almost anything bad in life, in the form of more positive lessons. Learning to deal with difficult aspects of life helps us to become more self-aware and patient, and helps us to develop empathy. Adversity also helps us become more understanding of others and what they are going through. Not only that, it makes us more flexible and resourceful when dealing with our own present and future misfortunes. Having a sibling with diabetes or having diabetes yourself puts one in the unfortunate position of having to deal with a lot of the negative, difficult situations early in life, but it paves the way for learning important lessons that will serve one well through childhood and into adulthood.
dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.
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Years before I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, The Other Half came out of a doctor's appointment with a diagnosis of "borderline diabetes" and an ADA exchange diet sheet. His health insurance agency followed up on the diagnosis with a glucometer and test strips. After a year or so of trying to follow the diet plan and test his glucose levels, things appeared to be back in "normal" range, and stood there until a couple of years after my own diagnosis. Shortly...