Caring for the Carers


Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in Diabetes Wellness magazine, published by Diabetes NZ. Beyond Type 1 is partnering with Diabetes NZ for the Kiwi Takeover week!

The constant monitoring of blood sugar levels, calculating carbs and injecting insulin while safely navigating the endless list of factors that affect blood glucose, is simply part of living with diabetes.

Every diabetes warrior I know is doing their best to juggle the many diabetes variables to ensure they live long, full and healthy lives.

After 18 years of trying to keep my blood sugars in range, it can often feel like I move two steps forward and then one step back. But with every hurdle I learn more, adjust, grow and carry on.

However I must admit there are definitely moments where I’m exhausted, snappy, emotional and fed up with it all.

It’s moments like these I’m truly grateful for my family and friends—my diabetes support team. They pick me up when I’m crumbling, become my pancreas when I’ve had enough, encourage me to be strong and celebrate every time I’m able to shout “take that diabetes, I won this round.”

A diabetes diagnosis affects the entire family, not just the person living with it. We’re all in this together, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, trying to mimic a fully functioning pancreas.

I recently asked my husband Hayden (my #1 support person) how he felt about living and caring for someone with diabetes.

“It is what it is, we can’t change it but at times it’s crap,” he told me.

“The broken sleep because of night-time hypos is hard. I worry about you when your blood sugars are out of whack and it takes hours to get prepared for something simple like a family bushwalk.”

He laughs as he remembers how he’s had to learn the difference between an angry wife and one with low blood sugars, directing me to the closest juice box rather than arguing back. (He’s a keeper, is Hayden!)

Refusing to let type 1 diabetes define our family life, we choose to simply get on with it and muddle through together.

But, over the years, I’ve realised I need to keep a close eye on my support crew to make sure they don’t get overwhelmed by the demands of caring for someone with diabetes.

It’s so important that Hayden and I are both mentally and physically fit, able to handle anything diabetes throws at us.

“You can’t pour from an empty cup. You must take care of yourself first,” as the saying goes.

How to Support Your Supporters

Here are Ruby’s top tips for looking after the diabetes support person in your life, whether they are your parent, partner, family member, friend, or close neighbour.

  1. Time Out – Make sure your carer has time to do something they enjoy on their own to recharge their batteries. Hayden disappears to the garage and tinkers on his 4×4.
  2. Seek Help – Asking someone else to help with child care, cleaning or cooking can take the pressure off your support person, even if it’s just for a short respite from the daily grind.
  3. Keep Talking – A problem shared is a problem halved. Rather than bottling it up share frustrations with one other. It will make everyone feel better and it feels good to be on the same page.
  4. Recognize Highs and Lows – Episodes of hypo and hyperglycaemia can have a direct effect on your emotions. Being able to quickly recognise the symptoms, and knowing how to treat them, will help bring your mood back to normal and make you easier to live with!
  5. Be Mindful – Five simple daily actions have been proven to improve wellbeing—connect, give, take notice, keep learning and be active.

Read Guides for Teaching others Type 1 and about being a caregiver for a person with type 1 diabetes (T1D) here. For more from the #KiwiTakeover, click here.

WRITTEN BY Ruby McGill, POSTED 08/07/18, UPDATED 10/28/22

Ruby McGill is the diabetes NZ director of youth. She lives with type 1 diabetes.