We recently marked our son’s 2nd ‘diabirthday’. I never dreamt I would find myself writing on positive attributes to this disease, but I do feel I have reached a point where it is a good time to reflect, and if possible, find a silver lining.
I won’t lie. I needed to dig VERY deep to find 5 positive things to say. But nevertheless, I have (#5 is my personal favourite). They are in no particular order. Let me know what you think in the comments section below!
1. I am a wizard at counting carbohydrates.
This came as a shock to me when Noah was first diagnosed: a diabetic doesn’t count the sugar levels in their food. In fact, it’s the carbohydrate volume that is counted before a meal or drink and subsequent insulin doses are calculated.
As a result of needing to make calculations for every meal, snack or drink that Noah has, I can take a look at any food type on a plate, portion it in my head by grams or milliliters etc., figure out what the carbohydrate ratio is, add it to the rest of the food types on the plate and make an overall calculation as to how much insulin my son needs. I can also do it just by looking at a photo of a plate of food. That is kinda cool. I know the amount of carbohydrates off the top of my head for at least 25 different kinds of daily food types. I know the difference between a slice of brown bread vs. white bread vs. bread roll vs. croissant and more. Parents of T1D kids know exactly what sits on every plate of food, in every snack or every drink that goes into their kids mouths…that has to be a good thing.
2. I have a much deeper understanding of the true meaning to ‘a balanced and healthy diet’.
Because I have to treat diabetes on account of what my son eats, I have become very aware of what constitutes a balanced and healthy diet. Carbohydrates are one of the main nutrients found in food and drinks. Protein and fat are the other main nutrients but carbohydrates include sugars, starches and fiber. As a result carbohydrates affect the blood glucose levels more than other nutrients.
I check every packet of food before I buy it to understand what the carbohydrate level is per portion. Inevitably, I am usually not surprised to discover that the vast amount of food on our supermarket shelves is loaded with carbs, sugar and salt. To get a kid to eat a healthy diet – I need to be very creative sometimes.
And then of course there is a difference between ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ working carbohydrates. This was new to me too! Fast working carbohydrates like white bread, white rice and regular pasta don’t contain significantly less carbohydrates. However, as the body processes them, they boost the blood glucose levels more rapidly than slow working carbohydrates. As a consequence, the glucose levels drop rapidly also, meaning is it far harder to maintain a stable glucose level in the blood. Slow working carbohydrates like brown bread, brown rice and wholemeal pasta slowly release the sugars into the body and therefore drop slowly too. So it’s not a case that white rice is unhealthy for a diabetic per se; it simply means life is a lot more stable when you opt for brown or wholemeal food products.
3. I have a greater empathy for those who live with chronic diseases.
It wasn’t that I didn’t have any empathy for those who live with chronic diseases before my son’s diagnosis. I think if I am honest, it is more that I simply didn’t understand the impact the word ‘chronic’ can have on the patient and those around them.
The WHO defines a chronic disease as: Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), also known as chronic diseases, are not passed from person to person. They are of long duration and generally slow progression. The four main types of noncommunicable diseases are cardiovascular diseases (like heart attacks and stroke), cancers, chronic respiratory diseases (such as chronic obstructed pulmonary disease and asthma) and diabetes.
Before I had any experience in chronic diseases, ‘chronic’ was just a word to me. Now it means so many different things for Noah and us as a family. I think this deeper understanding of the complexities associated to chronic disease has helped me to empathise much more with families and individuals in similar circumstances.
4. I use my new-found knowledge to raise awareness and support others.
I don’t consider myself a philanthropist but I do take raising awareness of Type 1 Diabetes in young children seriously. I expect this stems from the number of times my eyeballs popped in the first few months following Noah’s diagnosis. It felt like being bombarded with a stream of jaw-dropping facts – and not in a good way. I very often found myself wondering ‘how have I gone through life misunderstanding this wide spread disease to such an extent?’.
18 months later I find I have now mentally come to terms with Noah’s T1D. It is as much a cathartic process for me to write down my stories as it is to share our experiences with others. I don’t let it consume me, that would be dangerously unhealthy, but I do put effort into helping others understand how T1D affects families, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
I have also started a WhatsApp group for other parents of T1D kids in my local community. We will soon meet for coffee and, I hope, share tips and tricks, but also begin to build a support network that we can all rely on. The simple act of arranging a babysitter is a nightmare for most T1D parents – wouldn’t it be great if we can help each other out from time to time?
5. I couldn’t give a rats arse about the ‘small stuff’ when it comes to parenting.
Everything pales in comparison to Type 1 Diabetes. In this respect, it has probably made me a better parent than I was before. I don’t sweat the small stuff that can too easily consume us when given enough room to do so.
Who cares if my kids have shop-bought cakes for their birthday instead of home-baked? Who cares if my kids were on the iPad a little too long yesterday just so I could sit down, recharge my batteries and have a cup of tea? Who cares if they missed their bath time once last week because I wanted to meet a deadline for my work? I never miss the big stuff, the stuff that really matters, the stuff that shapes their lives and sticks in their memories. That’s the stuff I decided to have kids for anyway 🙂