By: Clay Wirestone
Life never stops. It’s a truism that people with diabetes of all types know too well. Your responsibilities change. Your duties at your job shift. The people around you change. And you have to make the best you can of it all, racing to keep up and adjusting your treatment plan as best you can. It’s exhausting.
Now try adding a two-year-old child to the mix.
Welcome to my life these days. It’s a jumble of feelings and obligations, deadlines and silliness. The early days of caring for an infant have faded, turning into picking up after a whirling dervish. While every moment back then was full of epic emotion, these days are slightly more predictable, if much messier.
And yet, in terms of my diabetes, they’re some of the most challenging times so far. When you’re dealing with an incredibly heightened experience every day, in some ways it’s easier to incorporate the intensive control that type 1 diabetes requires. When you’re simply trying to manage an active little guy, it can be all too easy to forget what needs to be done.
I’ve watched my control fluctuate in recent months. While there are many reasons for it, I’ve also come to the realization that I have to protect my son. I can’t allow a hypoglycemic episode to put him at risk. If that means I run higher blood sugars than I might otherwise, so be it.
It’s hard to acknowledge that feeling. It runs counter to so many years of my experience and instinct. And yet I also know that I would do anything to protect my son. My heart and mind and conscience all demand it.
Here are a handful of changes I’ve experienced and lessons I’ve learned over the past few months.
Each step of my son’s development has resulted in me saying: “This changes everything!” When he started to roll over. When he started to crawl. When he started to walk. When he started to run.
Each one of those stages did change everything. But when a child reaches the two-years mark, what becomes important isn’t necessarily an individual breakthrough as much as combinations of them. For example, my son enjoyed playing in the park from about the time he started walking. Yet it’s only been within the last couple of months that he learned to express his intense, burning desire for us to take him to that park. Right now. This instant. What am I waiting for?
Hearing someone yelling: “Go park! Go park! Go park!’ has a way of changing your plans for the afternoon.
And chasing him around the park, and then wrangling him back into the car, and then putting together his dinner, and then reading him storybooks, and then carting him off the bed-that all takes real energy. Physical and mental. At the end of a day taking care of my son, one word suffices to describe me: exhausted.
Expending that energy also raises concerns about my diabetes control. This is where my recent fretting about low blood sugars began.
I used to accept lows as part of the business of having diabetes. I had fairly good awareness of hypoglycemia, and I was always alert enough to be able to grab a piece of fruit or a gulp of soda. But these days I can all too easily get wrapped up in playing with my son or the simply business of carrying him around. The mind drifts. Blood sugar checks sometimes contain complete surprises-low and high.
So I’ve found myself trending higher. Not because I want to necessarily, but because I don’t want to risk a low blood sugar episode on the road, or in the park, or when I’m doing some other crucial parental job. I’m sure there’s a way to balance this with tight control-I’m just working on it day by day. For now.
The Importance of Sleep
Perhaps my biggest revelation over the past year has been learning the importance of sleep to my everyday functioning. I never thought of myself as a particularly lazy person, but I definitely functioned best on about nine hours of sleep a night.
I cannot recall the last time I actually slept nine hours, certainly not continuously. While I manage to break seven hours most days, even that can be a challenge, requiring naps to cross the finish line. And as worthy as those naps might be, it’s nearly impossible to duplicate the restorative effects of nine hours of continuous sleep in a perfectly dark and quiet room.
Pardon me while I take a snooze. That last paragraph sounded amazing.
In other words, I’m constantly managing my fatigue level. Sometimes, when I’ve managed my sleep schedule well, it recedes into the background. At other times, when I’ve been especially busy or caffeinated, it roars to the forefront, making me feel shaky and weak, confused and out of sorts.
Do those symptoms sound familiar, diabetics? They should, because that’s also what a low blood sugar feels like. So I also have to distinguish, more frequently than I would like, between regular tiredness and blood sugar dipping into the 60s or 50s or 40s.
Time for another truism: Life is all about trade-offs. More time spent sleeping means less time for relaxing with loved ones or time at work. More time doing those things means adding to your fatigue level. Ultimately you have to find a balance that works for you, and allows you to manage your diabetes in a level-headed way.
No person exists in isolation. And for people with diabetes, it’s especially important to have a network of supportive family and friends. They keep your spirits up. They keep your treatment on track. They offer a sympathetic ear when you’re so frustrated that you can barely keep it together.
But in the world of parenting, keeping up those relationships can sometimes be difficult. My prime connections these days are with my spouse and my son. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but it can be important to reach beyond your family. Find the time to have coffee with a friend. Invite someone over after the toddler has toddled off to bed. Do whatever you can to maintain (or repair) that network of adult connections that can too easily fray.
That includes your health care team, too. Doctors’ appointments can seem more theoretical than required when you’re running around most hours of the day. But those visits offer grounding and crucial advice. And if you’re frustrated with your level of control-and believe me, I can sympathize-they will offer you a better way to handle that frustration than banging your head against the nearest wall.
Not that head-banging can’t be fun on its own. Just ask if some other folks want to join in.
And then there’s you. Or rather, then there’s me. At the center of this whirl of activity is a diabetic parent, tending to others while trying to stay focused.
And that parent can’t do any of the things mentioned earlier-keep up with a rambunctious child, stay rested and sane, and maintain a network of friends–without taking care of himself or herself. If you can’t stay together and healthy, nothing else will get done.
So have a glass of wine after dinner. Go see a movie. Take an evening walk. Whatever appeals to you, take a bit of time to do it yourself.
For me, after an especially hectic week or two, I always find it invigorating to simply take a couple of evenings for myself. I may go out to a restaurant. I may read a book. I may watch a few episodes of something funny on TV. Whatever I do, I’m recharging my batteries and finding myself amidst the commotion.
It’s important, after all, to simply relax.
Stress causes blood sugar levels to rise and damages your health in myriad ways. And while stress can add some pep to your daily routines, it ultimately causes you to become a different person-someone snappy and irritable, someone slow to adapt to all the changes needed in life as a parent.
So find that time for yourself. Take a minute to breath. And in doing that, every single diabetic parent does himself or herself a favor. And by doing so, they do favors to their loved ones and children as well.