As a person with type 1 diabetes, I’m usually the vulnerable person in my family. At home with my husband and two kids, if someone needs medical help, it’s usually me. Recently, however, my husband had a series of accidents all within a few months of each other. This opened my eyes to what it must feel like to live with someone who sometimes has to play the role of a caregiver. I learned just how challenging being on the other end of a diabetes partnership can be.
It doesn’t surprise me that I married someone very healthy. When I met my husband, there was a subconscious, invisible string that pulled me towards his strong physical condition. My husband says my strength and perseverance in the face of diabetes drew him to me. Since I often felt weak in my struggle with diabetes, I appreciated that he admired the way I coped.
Less than a year after we married, my husband and I had twins. We were stressed, exhausted, and entirely overwhelmed. I could barely manage my diabetes care while taking care of newborn twins. Getting through a single hour with normal blood sugar levels felt like a giant victory. So did getting a single hour of uninterrupted sleep. At that time, I couldn’t articulate what I wanted my husband to do for me. I was desperate for more diabetes support, but who has time to ask for that when you need to ask for help just so you can take a five minute shower? I didn’t want to add my needs to our joyous, but weary, situation. I didn’t want to be a burden, and I didn’t want my husband to feel like he had to help me all the time. When I did need immediate help because of a shaky low or a high that wiped me out, I wanted him to be happy to help, the way I imagined someone should feel if they were lucky enough to feel perfectly fine most of the time. Usually he was happy to help me, and like it or not, I counted on that help.
Then in the span of one year, my strong and healthy husband suffered several work injuries. He almost lost a finger, an eye, and badly strained his neck. All of a sudden, the tables had turned. I was the lucky one, the one who needed to be the “helper.” When my husband couldn’t do something, it affected me. When he was in a bad mood because of pain or immobility, it affected me. I felt frazzled as I juggled to take care of the twins, myself, and my husband. It didn’t take long to think “Oh, I’m in his shoes for a change.” It’s notable that when my husband hurt his eye and we thought he might lose it, my thoughts, at first, gravitated away from compassion and towards selfishness. I worried about how his injuries would affect me.
The extra tasks I had to take on because of my husband’s injuries made me that much more tired. I was frustrated when his mood changed quickly from happy go lucky to cranky. He was feeling the way I have often felt over the years because of my diabetes. He was angry, in pain, worried about money, upset about letting the kids down, and he needed my help. For the first time I understood just how much diabetes strains our daily lives. Being the partner of a person with diabetes takes its toll.
Since that accident filled year, I’ve spent more time managing my feelings about diabetes. I try to take responsibility for my actions and my feelings and deal with them in ways that don’t require me to involve others. I try to own my diabetes and let my husband figure out how he can support me, and how he can take care of himself when the stress from my diabetes is getting to him. The result so far has been that he replenishes his mental health and can then better support me when I need it.
After having swapped roles, we rarely take each other for granted, and we’ve developed strong compassion for one another. One night, not long after an injury, and while in a lot of pain, my husband blurted out, “I don’t know how you handle having diabetes all the time.”