How Diabetes Has Impacted My Family

Francesca Davis is an aspiring journalist, currently living in Barnsley. Having lived most of her life in London, she is slowly adapting to life in the countryside with her parents and her cat, Tribble.She has grown up with her father’s Type 1 Diabetes, which has given her first hand experience around how to help someone manage a chronic health condition. 

Having someone in your immediate family who has a chronic physical health condition can take a toll on their mental health, but it can also impact on yours. Fears and worries about them cloud your mind, and you may even have to put your life on hold to help them manage.

At times, living with my Dad’s condition has been challenging. Anxiety has spiralled helping him when his blood sugar levels have been low in the middle of the night, and sometimes there have been tears, like when I found out he had fallen off of his bike because again, low blood sugar had caused him to crash it. Thoughts of him in such a vulnerable state make my heart sink but I do everything I can to assist him, even when my hands are shaking with fear.

Luckily for me, most of the time my Dad has his diabetes under control. He is now 57 years old, and has been living with his condition for 40 years. He has had lots of time to learn about what he has to do to manage it both physically and mentally. Even so, at times it has been tricky for both him and our family, but together, we have dealt with it as best we can.

My Dad’s emotional journey through diabetes:

“How am I going to get through this?” That was the thought that first went through my Dad’s head when he got diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.  He also said that being diagnosed at just 17 years old was “crushing.” Like a lot of people, he started off confused and anxious, with a lot of misconceptions about what it would be like to live as a diabetic. “I didn’t know anything about diabetes really and I just assumed I would be doing injections with great big long needles and it was quite daunting really. It was a life changing thing and for a while I was afraid to go out and do stuff.”

As life went on, my Dad found ways of dealing with his condition effectively, but things still weren’t perfect. He told me about many issues he has encountered along the way. “Work has always been tricky. If I’m doing something and I’m in a situation and I start going low, I have to stop what I’m doing immediately and eat, which is never a good thing.”

Another thing he has really struggled with is judgement from people, particularly regarding having to do his injections in public when eating out. “There is a lack of information that means that people would look over at me with a needle in my hand, injecting, and assume that I am a drug addict.” This has made him feel sad and at times, worried to go out and enjoy himself.

Life significantly changed for my Dad when he was 17, but into something he manages to control and live with, through constant monitoring and being sensible and “taking each day as it comes,” which is his biggest piece of advice for anyone with a chronic physical health condition.

How his condition has impacted me:

Living with someone who has diabetes has had a huge impact on my own mental state. Throughout my life I’ve had a little fear tingling in the back of my mind that I might develop diabetes too. I feel sick every time I feel unexplainably thirsty and my heart beats faster if I lose a bit of weight. Because of my fear of needles, being diabetic would be incredibly scary for me and the thought of having to do four injections a day fills me with dread.

My Dad’s diabetes has also been challenging to live with just because I know that sometimes my involvement in a situation can save his life, which is a lot of pressure. When I am helping him bring his sugar levels up by forcing him to drink an energy drink, I know that I am essentially stopping him from falling into a coma. His diabetes has been an emotional rollercoaster for me in many ways.

Who else has been impacted by his diabetes:

My parents have been together for almost 30 years, and during that time, my Dad’s condition has of course seeped into my Mum’s life as well. Her biggest concern has always been the effect diabetes will have on other aspects of my Dad’s life. “My concern is not so much the diabetes but the things that go with the diabetes. Complications. I worry every time the doctor says he needs to have a test. I worry sometimes that I’m not going to be here and he’s going to pass out.”

In addition to her anxieties, she has become such a support system for my Dad, with my Dad citing her as a huge help in his life as a diabetic. Often she has to put any doubts and worries she has to the back of her mind in order to help my Dad whenever he may need it. This has had a big impact on her life.

How useful resources and support can be:

Talking to someone, whether that be through therapy, or just with people you know can be a great tool for helping you manage a chronic physical health condition. My family and I know from experience that discussing our experiences with diabetes and trying to learn as much as we can about the condition has really helped us remain more positive about the situation.

My Dad highlighted this point by saying that family and friends can be a huge help to a person with a chronic physical health condition, as he knows from experience how important having people around can be. “Sometimes it can get to you and sometimes just talking to someone and being there for someone and saying ‘you’re going to be alright’ is a big thing.”

Smile is a mental health app for people managing chronic physical health conditions. Download now from Google Play or ​Apple App store