Diabetes Affects the Entire Family

WRITTEN BY: Klarece Grudzinski

Diabetes changed our world

Getting my daughter’s diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes came as a shock to my family. I was well versed on what diabetes looked like. I have had many patients who were Type 2 diabetics so there wasn’t much of a difference, right? Wrong!  The warning signs were missed. How could we imagine that our 14-year-old who was more active than anyone in the family was anything but healthy? A simple check of something else that was bothering her confirmed the fact that we were wrong. Her constant thirst was not because of her activity level or the fact we lived in a very hot climate area but because she had Type 1. The next 3 days in the hospital was a time for everyone to come together. There was no crying because as a parent we have to stay strong. We don’t want to appear weak in front of our children when they need us the most. 406. That is what we were looking at. Her blood sugar was so high, yet we didn’t see a sign. We had no idea about what was in store for us.

The guilt and the anger  

The first thought after being told that this was a autoimmune disorder and that more than likely one of us had passed this along to her was, What did I do? The feeling of wanting to fix it or take it away from her was immense. I have always been able to fix her hurts for her in the past and this I couldn’t. I was angry at myself, angry at my husband, at my higher power. How could we, they, the doctors let her suffer with this. This was no fix. Here is her medicine. Watch her diet. Are you kidding with a teenager?! These are normal reactions. Any parent who finds out that there is something happening to their child wants to fix it. We want to know the answers and when there isn’t a straightforward answer we struggle with the idea. Just know that you are not alone. As a therapist I even struggled with these thoughts. Depression hits everyone. Even those with great self-esteem and a support system. It is normal to have these feelings. When they last longer than normal that is when you need to talk to someone. 

Some of the warning signs of depression are:

  • Loss of interest in things that you previously enjoyed
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.  Not feeling rested when you wake up
  • Feeling tired
  • Feeling like you are sluggish or on high alert
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Trouble concentrating or making a decision
  • Thoughts of suicide or hurting yourself
  • Teens tend to act out or anger quickly

We think we understand but not fully

As a caregiver, parent, grandparent we think we know how the person with the diagnosis feels. We don’t. We think we know what it’s like to be in their shoes. We are there counting the carbohydrates. We are ordering all of that medicine and paying the bills. We are in the doctor’s office hearing about the highs and lows and A1C scores. We are helping or giving them their injections depending on their age. We are waking up with them at all hours of the night to make sure that their sugars are in the normal range. We have the doctor’s number on speed dial.  All of our family members and friends are aware of the situation. Still we only understand a tiny bit of what our loved one with T1D is feeling. Nonetheless, your feelings are valid and they are real. It is important to talk about these feelings. Most, if not all family members have to some degree the same feelings. This is happening to everyone in the family not just the person who received the diagnosis.

How it really feels for someone with Type 1

For some people getting this diagnosis changes everything. They are forever different. No one else has to have something attached to their body 24 hours a day. No one else has to prick their body 10+ times a day. They don’t have to watch what they have to eat. Some do because they are health conscious or are watching their weight or trying to lose a few pounds. We have to pay attention to everything, because if not, the next step can be the hospital or better yet more medical problems that we have to deal with. I think my daughter said it best when she called it “a life sentence for doing nothing wrong.” The pain that I have seen in her eyes when she says this hurts. We don’t want to see the people that we love hurting but they are. We get to go on with pretty normal lives. Acknowledging the hurt for some comes easy. For others it does not. Sometimes we don’t want to talk about how we feel. It can feel like no one will understand. How can you, if you don’t have Type 1? Instead of  using the word “disease,” we use “inconvenience” — upon my daughter’s insistence. Unfortunately, she just got stuck with this ugly thing called Type 1 diabetes. There is no cure YET! There is only maintenance medications. For a teenager this can feel like a death sentence, but it doesn’t have to be. Talk with someone. Your feelings are important and need to be heard and acknowledged. It can help the entire family.  

Read Caregiver Burnout by Mark Heyman, PhD, CDE and Depression and Its Relationship to Type 1.

Klarece Grudzinski

Klarece Grudzinski is a licensed Marriage Family Therapist in San Diego, LMFT 79276. She's a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional. She's worked with many people with Type 2 diabetes when she worked with the Native American Population in San Diego. Her daughter Alyssa Grudzinski has Type 1 diabetes. She's included Type 1 diabetes as her speciality as she believes that the connection to mental and physical health is often linked. You can learn more about her counseling services at klarececounseling.com.