Type 1 Diabetes: Relationships and Flatmates

Daron and diabetes nurse, Joanna Naylor, discuss healthy relationships and the importance of educating family, friends, and flatmates on diabetes so they can provide extra support. They also talk about the transition period from parents managing your blood sugars to taking care of yourself.

This episode is part of a 5-part series focusing on a different aspects of managing life with type 1 or type 2 diabetes and is kindly supported by Diabetes New Zealand and sponsored by Sanofi New Zealand.

Disclaimer: These episodes are intended for a non-US audience. Units of measurement for blood glucose are referred to in mmol/L rather than the standard US mg/dL.

May 29, 2019

Rebecca: Hi there and welcome to In My Words, Jumo’s podcast series that brings the experiences of real patients directly to you. At Jumo we provide resources for children and families to understand, manage, and own their health.

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Lee: Hello everybody! Lee here, and we’re back in Auckland, New Zealand for our next episode on diabetes. If you’ve tuned into the previous episodes, it’s great to have you back! If you’re joining us for the first time—welcome! This episode is all about relationships. We’re speaking again with diabetes nurse, Joanna Naylor, and Daron McCarthy, a vibrant 21-year old who doesn’t let type 1 diabetes hold him back.

Relationships surround you and connect you with the people in your lives. If you’re lucky enough to have supportive relationships in your life, it can make a big difference in the way you understand, manage, and own your health. For Daron, strong and healthy relationships have helped him deal with his diabetes.

Daron: My family was absolutely super, super important in how I dealt with my diabetes and without them I definitely wouldn't be the person that I am today and I maybe even would say that my diabetes would be shockingly handled. I am a very firm believer in your home environment and how you are brought up - it literally shapes who you are when you're older.

Lee: A diagnosis of type 1 diabetes can be a big change for a family, and it impacts everyone, even siblings. Daron has two older brothers who had to learn what diabetes meant to them and how they could best support Daron.  

Daron: I do remember they were quite, I guess you could call it, salty. Like a bit, “Why is Daron here getting all this attention?” And I feel for them, because like Mum was so preoccupied with me she had to learn diabetes and all the stuff and they went unnoticed for probably like three months. Like literally no attention and I got all these juice boxes like I got my own little shelf on the pantry. Well I don't know what Mum and Dad told them but it worked because they were really respectful of me.

I know it's hard to teach teenagers what diabetes is, but they had to be aware that it was very serious and they couldn't interfere with that. So yeah, like I really applaud them for being so understanding during my time of need, really.

Lee: A supportive family can make a big difference when it comes to managing your diabetes. How a family copes with a diagnosis like diabetes depends on the person’s age at diagnosis.

Joanna: Certainly if you're a child and diagnosed with diabetes, then a lot of emphasis is on the parents to manage it and to look at the safety of their child. And every parent knows that their paramount concern is that their kids are well and healthy, and suddenly they've got a condition which is really hard to manage sometimes and is very difficult to be perfectly managed (and can't be managed perfectly). So I think it can add quite a lot of stress to a family. When you're older and you've got type 1 diabetes again it does have an impact on the family and for different reasons, but I think it's just being open with your family members about what diabetes is so that they know how to help as much as they can to reduce the stress of it.

Lee: No matter your age, open communication in your family can help make things easier. The typical relationship between parents and a child with type 1 diabetes changes over time. In the beginning, parents will take more control over their child’s eating habits and their insulin doses, but as the child gets older and becomes more independent, they take on more responsibility to learn about their diabetes and help manage it under the supervision of their parents. Through the teen years, this can be a trying time for some families.

Joanna: There's always a bit of a battle, I think, when it comes to that transition time when the young person's entering teenage years and they want to become more independent and they don't want their parents to help out at all, and then the parents go to try and pass over the diabetes management. And the parents can get quite frustrated that the child isn't doing things the way that they think that they should be done, and it is a bit of a tricky time sometimes to try and move into managing your diabetes yourself when you're young person.

Lee: Through his teens, Daron’s parents showed him how to control his diabetes on his own while still being there to support him when he needed it.

Daron: I'm 21 now, so I go to the pharmacy and I get my own insulin, and my mum and dad have really helped me take charge of my diabetes, if you will. So, I can tell that they're trying to get me to do this regime, again, of being self-sufficient so I don't need to rely on them. So Mum, from the age of about 16, got me going down to the pharmacy and sorting out my prescriptions.

Lee: Daron was lucky to be raised in a supportive and structured household that helped him deal with his diabetes. Young people ready to gain more independence can do many things to help them through this transition. Often, gaining more independence comes down to identifying how you can get better control of your diabetes and understanding the barriers to proper management.

Joanna: To gain more independence with your type 1 management, it's about learning how your body works with diabetes; the kind of challenges that you put on your body - how does that affect your diabetes; and then just learning how to manage it properly. Quite often we go back to the basics when a young person comes to our clinic, we'll go back to the beginning and say that this is what it's all about, do you actually understand what this means and how you can manage it. But also it's exploring some of the more psychological things that you have to cope with, with diabetes and what are some of the things that stop you doing things with your diabetes which is expected from health professionals.

Lee: When coming to terms with your diabetes and when figuring out who you are, your family can be a great source of support, like it has been for Daron. But equally—if not more— important during adolescence is having supportive friendships.

Daron: You get to an age where you don't even want to look at your parents you just want to avoid them and hang with your boys and stuff.

I didn't have millions of friends like I had a small group of mates that I always hung out with and all of them knew that I had diabetes, but only my closest, closest mates knew the ins and outs of it, if you will.

So only Jack, my closest best friend that I've known for like 10-15 years, would always say like “Check your diabetes.” He was the only one to say that and I, heaps of times, I would get mad at him like “What are you doing? Like diabetes is mine.” But thinking about it now, I really appreciate that he did that because heaps of times that I wouldn't have tested or taken my insulin, I did because Jack just kept hounding me.

Lee: Having a friend by your side supporting you to stay healthy can be a really big help in your life. Even though you may hang out with your best friend a lot, there may be times when they aren’t around. You may be starting a new job, or on different sports teams, and there could be times when you make new friends or hang out with people that don’t know you have diabetes.

Daron: I think it's always super important that you have at least one person around you - no matter where you are, whether it be work or family or your sporting team - at least one person who can say, “Hold on. I remember he has diabetes and he's doing something funny. We need to do something about that”. Because if you don't tell anyone, no one is going to know, they're not going to just get that information out of nowhere. So super important to let people know that you have diabetes whether you like it or not. You have to kind of swallow that pill and tell them.

Lee: Joanna echoes this sentiment and explains why it is important for someone to tell their sports team or manager about their diabetes.

Joanna: Certainly [a] playing sport has an effect on your blood glucose levels and if you need to go off and get treatment for your blood sugars, say drink extra sugar, then you need your team to know this, as well. And say, for example, you were knocked out playing rugby, you know you'd want people to know that you've got type 1 diabetes, so it's really important that you let people know that you've got diabetes.

Lee: Telling people that you have diabetes and asking for help can be hard, but it’s really important. Looking back, Daron wishes he had done things differently when he was younger.

Daron: I definitely wish I did more to let people know that I was diabetic because you end up creating challenges for yourself. I've been in heaps of situations where I did need help, but I was too afraid to kind of ask for it. So I'd be at a party or I'd be in a situation where I was starting to feel a bit low. I was a bit shaky or I knew that I needed a bit of sugar, but I didn't have any on me, or I'd start to kind of panic. It's just that extra bit of anxiety that you don't need as a kid that kind of evolves from nothing because you've decided to let it get there.

Lee: Now Daron doesn’t think twice about letting the people around him know how they can help if he needs it. His approach to telling them is simple:

Daron: Don't kind of shove it in their throat because, they again, they don't need to know that you have diabetes. You're trying to let them know that you could potentially be in harm. So just be like, “Hey, man, I have type 1 diabetes and if I'm ever looking weird or feeling odd, would you be able to do so-and-so?” Like call the ambulance or let them know that you've got a little medic alert bracelet on your wrist that if you are feeling weird that they can call that number or give a contact person their number or something, anything. Anything is better than nothing. So you want to take that precaution and save yourself in the long run.  

Lee: When it comes to opening up about your diabetes, talking to friends may seem easy compared to a new romantic partner. It may seem daunting at first, but you can try and take a relaxed approach and let the conversation start naturally. Daron shared with us how he told his girlfriend, Emma, that he has diabetes.

Daron: I didn't bring it up first off, because I just didn't want to bring anything abnormal to the table. And then once I think we were on a date one time and I just, I pricked my finger and she noticed that I always had my little black wallety looking kind of thing, which held my tester, and she asked me, she's like, “Is that a wallet or something like that? Like, you always seem to have with you?” and then I saw that as a really natural opportunity to just let her know that I was diabetic. And she just took it super normal, she didn’t kind of go, “Whaaat?” She had someone in her family with diabetes so 9 times out of 10, if you're telling someone, diabetes is so common these days, that they can say like, “Oh, my uncle is type 1 diabetic”, and then boom you can talk from there.

Lee: Being open and honest about your diabetes will let the people close to you in so that they can help you if you need it.

Daron: I know that if I ever, on the off chance, need some help from Emma, I can easily just say like, “Hey, can you help me out?” So yeah I think that's very important to have.

Lee: Over time, your relationships and the people in your life change. Daron is at an age where he is starting to think about moving out and he shared with us his thoughts on being open with his flatmates about his needs with his type 1 diabetes.   

Daron: I think depending on your situation where you're going to live, get the flat out message out that you are diabetic and you need some things. Some things are more important than others. So sugar is one thing that's really important and also your insulin, so just get that message across that, just kind of “keep your hands to yourself”, put a note on it, maybe, “Back off - this is my stuff”.

Lee: When living with others, there’s a risk that your flatmates might eat your sugar supply that you’re storing for when you have lows. What might be some ways you could handle this?

Joanna: So if you’re at university and somebody has taken your supply of treatments for “hypo”, so say some juice boxes and some muesli bars I would talk to that person and say, “Hey look, this is really important. I need this for my health”, and explain why it's important and that's your medical treatment really. And if they understand that then hopefully they'll respect that and then not to raid your stores again. And if it's an issue, put your store somewhere where they can't get it, but then you just have to just educate people so they understand why it's so important.

Lee: We’ve heard a lot about the best kinds of relationships—supportive ones. But at one time or another, it can happen that you find yourself in a one-sided, unsupportive relationship.

Daron: In that case—good riddance, I say, is my advice. If you've got someone who is unsupportive of your diabetes, you need to find someone who will be, because diabetes is always trying to beat you anyway and you're trying all these steps to kind of stay on top and manage it. You don't need any more negativity in your diabetes lifestyle as is. So do what you can, choose who you hang out with a lot of thought, and hopefully if you choose the right people your diabetes will only get better and better from there, I think.

Lee: Healthy relationships can help you cope with your type 1 diabetes, stay on top of it, keep you safe, and of course, fill you with love and companionship. When it comes to all these things, what ties them together, what helps make a relationship a healthy one, is communication. It can be scary to open up to the people in your life, but as we heard from Daron and Joanna, the people in your life can make a big difference in how you own your health and live your life well.

Thank you, Daron, for speaking with us openly about your relationships and what they mean to you. And, thank you Joanna, your insight, guidance and suggestions on diabetes and relationships.

Next time on In My Words: our final episode on diabetes with Daron. We’ll be talking about university, work, and travel. Stay tuned!

This episode was created using excerpts from our interviews with Daron McCarthy and Joanna Naylor.

This episode has kindly been supported by Diabetes New Zealand and sponsored by Sanofi New Zealand.

Rebecca: Thanks for listening! Interested in hearing something special - or want us to help share your story? Reach out to us, we’d love to hear from you! See you next time!

The health information contained in this Podcast is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace discussions with a health care provider.

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