My mother is a diabetic–something that shouldn’t be someone’s identifier, but unfortunately it has defined her life. This is my apology to her and to everyone struggling with un-understanding families. This is my account of what it is like from the outside looking in, knowing it is my potential future, and coming to terms with how I wasn’t there for my mother.
She was diagnosed with diabetes when she was a child. Her parents didn’t understand or didn’t seem to care to understand what that meant. She was overweight, and they decided that just meant she needed to go on a diet. When my mom had me she was 32, she’d had an entire life before I came around, and that life hadn’t shown her how to manage her diabetes; physically or psychologically.
I remember her going back and forth on ways to handle it. She tried every diet, every pill, every injection, pumps, etc. Nothing really seemed to work to keep things under control. She was on a constant roller coaster of emotions, energy levels, and sickness. There were even times when she would give up for a while and act like she didn’t have diabetes at all.
She has always had a sweet tooth, and back then they didn’t have the sugar-free options they do now. I try to imagine the internal struggles she had about everything. I imagine a young girl being told she isn’t like everyone else. She can’t enjoy life in the same way. She isn’t allowed to have sweets (high blood sugar) or go out playing for too long (low blood sugar). The reasons why she couldn’t were lost, she would just feel like she was being punished and want to rebel.
I love my mother and as a child I didn’t fully grasp the concept of what she was struggling with. I was told she had diabetes, but I didn’t really know what that meant. It hadn’t sunk in. Honestly I hated her for a long time, based on things I didn’t realize weren’t her fault. She was a great mother, but while in the moment I would find her uncommonly cruel, and as if she were two separate people.
We used to be on welfare. My father was going to school and working three jobs to support myself, my brother, and my mom. However, we were incredibly spoiled children. My mother made it her job to find every free activity out there. We took every class, tried every sport, joined every club, and went to every movie or theme park. She was a master of finding free or close to it. We would go on certain days and take advantage of every deal. I didn’t know we were poor. I got to do things as a child that some people still haven’t done in adulthood.
The bad thing about getting so much is that you grow used to always getting everything you want. You expect it. All of those great times just kind of blur together into nothing, and only the times when you didn’t get your way stand out. My mom would get sick. Sometimes it was in mid-adventure, and we would have to leave or take a break so she could eat something.
Sometimes the entire day was cancelled, because she just wasn’t feeling well that day. I remember her yelling at us sometimes, and we would be whipped. It always felt like a punishment on top of a punishment. First I wasn’t getting to go where we had planned, then I was being whipped for it. But really I had turned into a screaming fit of a brat not understanding why mom would want to hurt me by not getting out of bed that day.
As I got older I still didn’t understand. In high school it felt like her times of ‘not feeling well’ were too convenient, but actually they were just all the time. I just only seemed to notice when it conflicted with something I wanted-like her being able to make it to my soccer games. It is amazing how the body grows but the mind doesn’t always. The only difference then was a slight awareness that I needed to watch out, because I could end up with diabetes one day.
In college I started looking into it more, and it was for selfish reasons. I wanted to prevent myself from having a disease associated with being fat. Shallow, I know. It is the way of the teenager. Then this weird thing happened. I made new friends, and one of them had diabetes. And guess what? She wasn’t overweight. She actually was in the color guard with me. Prior to this I had a bitter resentment towards my mother that diabetes was her own fault, and that it only happened to fat, lazy people.
It made me put things into perspective seeing how different people have to deal with diabetes, and everyone’s diabetes is different. It also let me see how my life would be different if I had it, because here was this girl with diabetes living a parallel life to my own. She explained it to me in terms that were so much more understandable. Like having a low can feel like a really bad hangover that occurs any time of day, you can’t think straight, your whole body aches, and you are pasty all over.
Seeing people my age doing the same things as me but having diabetes, I was able to put myself into their shoes. Which lead to the rethinking of how I saw my mother. The stresses of college, the excitement of all the new, and having my first hangover (having my first highs and lows) all made me appreciate how I am stable without trying.
I still can’t imagine the effort behind having something like that constantly on my mind, and if it isn’t then you can’t function or might even die. It is like the passion of my mother’s life was chosen for her. She had to be a slave to her blood sugar levels instead of being able to have a long, good, active day with her children. If she forgot her blood sugar during a moment of enjoyment then it left her spiraling into sickness. Then worst of all, it left her subjected to the bitter un-understanding of spoiled children yelling hate.
I can never take back all of the horrible and stressful times I put my mother through. I just hope that this realization of how great of a mother she has always been, despite her own struggles, will help her forgive me. Honestly, she probably doesn’t even feel there is anything for me to apologize for, which only makes her more deserving of recognition. I love you, Mom.
Shela Killian is a Florida-based writer. This is her first article for Diabetes Health.