Back when I had a 9-5 job, I'd hit the gym after work, and pick up my daughter Sarah from after-school care. On one such day when she was 10, neither of us could have predicted the emotional trauma we'd experience during our typically routine drive home.
On this particular day, my blood sugar was trending down after the gym and picking her up. I ate glucose tabs trying to get it up, but it wasn't enough. All I remember is seeing that bridge causeway I was about to drive over when my daughter noticed I wasn't responding back to her, and she knew something was wrong.
I heard her say, "Mom! You need to pull over and stop." Luckily, I was coherent enough to do that.
As I pulled off the road, she dug into my purse looking for something sweet. With resistance, I ate, but after trying to help me, she knew she had to call 911.
It all happened so fast.
My daughter was my hero that day. She recognized the situation and did what she could but knew to call 911 for help. Rescue came and gave me a glucagon shot. We waited until I was at a safe level to drive us home.
I was thankful we were both safe, but I felt ashamed and disappointed in myself. These feelings of shame and guilt can linger on for days and weeks, and not enough words or apologies can justify what happened. As a mom, my job is to protect my child and not bring harm.
Forgiving myself was hard, but I knew God had placed an angel in the car with me that day, guiding Sarah on how to help us. I know now how diabetes presents circumstances that can test our will to overcome the emotional trauma of diabetes. These circumstances teach us to be kinder to ourselves and forgive the mistakes that this disease comes with.
The Dangers of Low Blood Sugar
Hypoglycemia is when blood sugar is very low, you're sweaty, confused, pale, combative, and you can't think straight. Me, I experience hypoglycemia like an out-of-body experience. It's as if I'm on a cloud above the situation, looking down on what's happening, but unable to help myself. Just like in my story, low blood sugar can lead to dangers to ourselves and others.
It took me too many years to understand the seriousness of my strict blood sugar control and how it was affecting me physically, and emotionally, and how it impacted my family.
It stemmed from a diabetic retinopathy diagnosis in my mid-twenties when I was told I could go blind if I didn't get my blood sugar under control. So, out of fear of high blood sugar and more health complications, I toed the line way too close trying to keep my glucose levels lower.
However, tight blood sugar control, or in my case very strict control can lead to other problems. I avoided certain foods, as my goal was to not go over 150 mg/dl following a meal, so I dosed generously for the carbohydrates I ate.
The Emotional Trauma of Diabetes
Unfortunately, this was not my only low blood sugar episode, and sadly 911 was called a few more times over the years. My pride told me to keep the struggles to myself and not to burden others.
Diabetes isn't something we wear on our sleeve and most people don't even know what we deal with every day, so it can be easy to hide. In dangerous low blood sugar situations as I experienced, it opens the door for others to see our vulnerability. This can be scary and threatens our ability to manage diabetes on our own terms.
We often say, "I'm okay." Or, "I don't need any help, I got this."
Clearly, how I was managing diabetes was not working, I was in denial and too afraid of health complications to make changes.
But, to save relationships and my own emotional health I had to learn how to let go and allow others to help me and to see my flaws.
The Effect of Emotional Trauma on Others
Anger, resentment, and even avoidance are common reactions that those close to us can feel. This is normal and okay as they too are adjusting to how and when to help you.
Our family and friends understand this with a learning curve. Helping you through the highs and lows can be a challenge. They see the attention diabetes needs from you and want to discover what their role will be.
Witnessing the good and the not-so-good sides of diabetes, your family and friends are the heroes who love you and want to be there for you.
This process takes time. It takes time to learn to let go, allow others to get closer, and take their feelings into consideration. The first step is to not feel like you or your diabetes is a burden. Communicate with your family and set expectations on how they can help you and this will help to lessen their worries.
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Overcoming the Emotional Trauma of Diabetes and Moving Forward
A few years later, realizing I needed to take a closer look at how to better manage my diabetes, I started on a CGM, (continuous glucose monitor) giving me a visual reminder that my control was too tight for comfort. I saw the stress I was putting on others and this needed to stop. This helped me stay closer to my numbers, alerting me when to treat glucose if it was trending too low.
Annual visits to my eye doctor and endocrinologist all confirmed that my eyes were stable, and I had no other health complications to be concerned about. Yes, 20 years of tight control did keep me free of complications, but it was not worth my safety, and it was time to lift this worry from the people around me.
Thirty years after my diabetic retinopathy diagnosis, I am now able to reach time-in-range goals that I can sustain safely. I am happier, thankful for good health, and trust in my future managing this disease.
It's difficult to recover from the emotional trauma of diabetes that low blood sugar episodes can cause, but with time, you can believe in yourself and move forward. Overcoming the emotional trauma of diabetes means you stop feeling guilty and ashamed and instead, you rebuild confidence to take care of yourself.