Growing up with diabetes has always been a good conversation piece for me. Whenever people hear that I’m a diabetic they usually have at least a few questions to ask. “Does that mean you can’t have any sugar at all?”, “When were you diagnosed?” and the dreaded, “Don’t you have to be fat to have diabetes?” are among the most common, with the date of my diagnosis topping the leaderboard.
People seem surprised to find out that I was only nine months old when diagnosed. Generally, people with type one diabetes are diagnosed at a relatively young age, hence the former name “juvenile diabetes”, however, nine months is fairly young to be diagnosed.
The thing most people say after hearing how young I was when diagnosed is “That must have been so hard!” and to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t. My childhood, even with type one diabetes, was great! Sure, it was scary at times. I’ve spent far too much time inside of hospitals and have been through some seriously close calls in terms of my health. That doesn’t mean it was all bad, the good in my life far outweighs the bad.
Growing up with type one diabetes for me was, just growing up. I was diagnosed at such a young age that it’s all I know. I didn’t have to make any big changes in my life or learn a whole new way to live like other diabetics diagnosed at an older age. I lived my life, and diabetes was just a part of it.
I had a very similar childhood to most Gen Z kids. Staying up late on weekends playing video games like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto, skateboarding whenever and wherever I could, playing sports, and just enjoying being young. Unlike my friends who played the usual small-town hockey, baseball, and soccer, I took the martial arts route. Kickboxing was my art of choice, mainly because it was the only martial arts gym in town.
My childhood did differ in some ways though. As my friends were snacking on candy and chugging back pop during game nights, I was eating a sugar-free alternative and drinking some diet pop or water instead. While my friends were jumping on their skateboards and heading to the skatepark without a second thought, I was double-checking that I had enough food and juice boxes for a day full of activity, checking my blood sugar, having either a shot of insulin or a quick snack before I left.
While my training partners in kickboxing jumped from drill to drill, technique to technique, I would occasionally have to stop to check my blood sugar, have a snack, and rest a minute. No matter how badly I wanted to continue training.
When I was really young, before the age of ten or so, anytime I stayed for dinner at a friend’s house one of my parents would have to come over and figure out how much insulin I would need for my meal, draw it up and give me my needle. Needless to say, sleepovers were a rare occurrence when I was young.
As I got older, I started becoming more independent with my diabetes and could manage it on my own, and once I switched to the insulin pump, it was significantly easier.
Being prepared as a type one diabetic is paramount. Making sure I have my emergency kit and glucose meter on me, AAA batteries for my pump, some fast-acting sugar to treat lows, checking my blood sugar regularly, the list could go on forever. It can be a lot to cope with as a kid. I know it was for me. Thankfully I have some of the most caring and loving parents anyone could dream of, who made living with diabetes much easier on me.
My parents did everything in their power to make my childhood as normal as possible. And given the cards they were dealt, they did a damn good job. They always made sure I was prepared for whatever the day had to offer and always did their best to make diabetes less of a burden for me. Whether it was bringing sugar-free cake to a friend’s birthday party so I didn’t feel left out, taking me out to lunch after every endocrinologist appointment to make a day of it, or you know, saving my life on multiple occasions.
I really couldn’t be more thankful.
Believe it or not, there were quite a few pros to growing up with diabetes, those endo appointments being a big one.
Some other pros of growing up diabetic include:
- Always having a reason to have snacks anywhere I want!
- Learning the importance of staying healthy, and the dangers of eating too much sugar. (even for non-diabetics!)
- Always having an excuse to leave an awkward situation or boring school presentation.
- A sense of confidence in my ability to take care of myself from a young age.
- Free medical check-ups for life! (at least in Canada)
I always looked forward to my quarterly diabetic check-up as a kid. They were almost always in the morning, which meant a get-out-of-school free card, and what kid doesn’t love that?
My appointments never took more than a few hours but I always got the rest of the day off school. Thank you, mom and dad!
Whichever of my parents took me that day would pick me up from school, and head straight to the nearest Tim Hortons for a snack, and then it was off to London (Ontario). After my appointment, we always grabbed lunch somewhere, usually something that I didn’t have very often like Mcdonalds or BurgerKing, and then we were homebound.
Aside from the day off and tasty pit stops along the way, some of my favourite memories from growing up were just the drives there and back; rocking out to some AC/DC with my dad, or the long talks with my mom were always a highlight of my week.
Growing up as a type one diabetic can be challenging at times, but I’ve never known anything different, and I’m thankful for that. All of the scary ups and downs were just everyday things for me, and I believe I’m better for it.
With a little care and planning, it’s more than possible to live a long healthy life with diabetes!
Take it from me! A life-long diabetic, and proud of it.
Type 1 Diabetes.