Learning a New Normal
Diabetes diagnosis can send whole family into tailspin.
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!
October 2006 — My name is Karen Hargrave-Nykaza, and this is my first column with dLife. It is my pleasure to have the opportunity to share my experiences as the mother of a son with type 1 diabetes. Our son Joel was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes on October 16, 2003. It has been amazing to discover that not all of the changes our family has gone through since that time have been negative. As a family, we have all learned, become stronger, and grown so much closer to each other in that time. And of course, during that three years, we have also experienced panic, frustration, and the overwhelming question of why Joel? Why us?
Prior to Joel being diagnosed with diabetes, I think we were a pretty "normal" family. We enjoyed the things that most families do and had a great life. The day he was diagnosed, it felt like all of that was just caving in on us and there was no way we would ever get it back. We had all of these new things to learn and do, things we HAD to learn just to keep him alive. Nothing had ever been more frightening to us, or any further from normal. How were we going to learn and assimilate all of this new medical information, while learning to function as a happy family again? One of the biggest things I have learned about diabetes is how it can separate you from other people. Because of diabetes, suddenly you and your child are different from most people and families. Like it or not, there is a huge list of things you must do to maintain a healthy life with diabetes, and most of those things are totally unknown to families who are not affected by diabetes. Most of us might try to explain to our friends and family all the things you have to do to care for your child with diabetes, but it may be impossible for them to understand what it is like. It also may be impossible for you to be pleased with their response to what you are telling them. Maybe they don't understand the magnitude of what you are saying…how could they unless they are also living it? Maybe you feel they aren't interested enough in what you are going through. Maybe you resent them for not asking you how you or your child are doing, or you feel like they are asking stupid questions….or even worse, they are asking no questions at all. Maybe you are just angry that it is you who is going through all of this in the first place. Any and all of these things can serve to separate you from the people who you should feel the closest to…..the ones you now need to lean on the most.
So after diabetes turns your life upside down, how and when do you get back to normal? After three years since our lives got turned upside down, I can say that for us, you don't. You create A New Normal. You learn all the medical aspects of diabetes that you can, and then you teach them to your family, or a close friend so you don't feel so alone. You reach out to other families who are affected by diabetes, because they get it. You meet other families at the doctor's office where you go for medical appointments, at diabetes camps, or at support groups. You take part in a support group for families affected by diabetes to help you focus on the issues you need to deal with without having to spend all of your time explaining it to someone who doesn't have the same issues you do. The other people at a diabetes support group will have those same issues. A big part of your new normal has to be integrating diabetes into your life without allowing it to define or take over your life. That has to include a balance between events and people that focus on diabetes, and those who don't. Maintaining the friendships and activities you had before diabetes is even more important now than it was before diabetes. Your new normal is a balancing act, just like diabetes itself.
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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