After almost 30 years with type 1 diabetes, I’ve heard the “fear pitch” from many medical professionals and family members—statements like, “You better take of yourself or else … ”

Well thanks, Sunshine.

What these folks fail to realize is that as soon as the fear factors of diabetes are highlighted, I start to tune out. I can’t invest myself in fear. Start talking about the long list of scary things that diabetes can do to my body, and my fingers go right into my ears. Because, really — you think I don’t know? I’m not emotionally and physically equipped to take care of myself when I feel like a ticking time bomb. It took me a long time of living with type 1 diabetes to come to this realization, and it’s one that I wished I had shared with my parents sooner. It may have made a difference in how we handled diabetes as a family.

I have a realistic view on how this disease may map out. Like it or not, I wholly understand the effects of unmanaged diabetes, and I know that complications don’t only strike those who aren’t hitting blood sugar goals. I work hard to manage diabetes. But I’m not so hot with managing the fear. When I’m scared, I have a tendency to hole up and hide. And hiding doesn’t motivate me to do anything other than remain hidden.

Fear is not the best motivator for me. Hope is far more effective. Hope makes me move, makes me fight, makes me feel like there’s more to work toward.

I remember going through a patch of diabetes burnout wherein I didn’t want to check my blood sugar because I knew the results would be way out of range. It was a very rough diabetes patch, and I needed help from my medical team and my family to pull me out. What did I need to hear?

This: “You need to know your number before you can make a healthy decision about insulin or food. Don’t tie your self-worth to that data point; just check your blood sugar and move on without judging yourself.”

Not this: “If you don’t keep your blood sugars in range all the time, you’ll regret it. Here’s an illustrated list of what could happen. That should scare you straight, right?”

Life with type 1 diabetes requires checking a lot of items off of a demanding “to do” list every single day. Having everyone I encounter start pitching fear at me as a method of motivation doesn’t do it for me, but inspiring me to take charge and control of my own disease and realizing I have the ability to impact my future health today does.

Tell your kids that they are not defined by their glucose meter results. Tell them that a number that’s out of range doesn’t mean that they are “bad” kids, but instead that their number is out of range and needs to be brought back into range. Glucose meters and A1C tests are often viewed as report cards, not just for diabetes control, but also for “how good of a parent am I?” or “how good of a T1D kid am I?”

Remove the emotional component, even if you have to sit on your hands to keep yourself from scrolling through your kids’ glucose meter and red-penning the computer print outs. Ask your kids, “How was school?” instead of “What’s your number?” when you see them walking off the bus.

And, if you can, ease up on the threats and start inserting hope instead. Don’t default to the threat of complications, but instead use the hope of maintaining good health as the motivator:

  • “Checking your blood sugar is the best way to stay healthy.”
  • “Going to your doctor’s appointments helps keep your healthcare team up to date on all the hard work you’re doing.”
  • “Being honest with me about your blood sugar numbers helps us both make smart decisions.”
  • “Even when you hate doing it, keep doing your best because every little bit helps.”

I hope to be healthy for a long time. And it’s hope that keeps me testing my blood sugar every morning, working with my doctor to best manage diabetes, and monitoring this disease closely. I don’t want images of complications flashing in front of my eyes every time I go to grab my meter. I’d rather think about blowing out the candles at my 95th birthday party, a strong and healthy old lady with plenty of fun in her past.

Fear? No thanks. Show me life after diagnosis. Show me people living well with diabetes, and all facets of it. Give me hope any day.

About the author: Kerri Sparling has been living with type 1 diabetes since 1986. She manages her diabetes and lives her life by the mantra, “Diabetes doesn’t define me, but it helps explain me.” She is the creator of the diabetes blog Six Until Me and author of Balancing Diabetes. She currently lives in Rhode Island with her husband, daughter, and several laptops.

Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.

Related topics:
People in the Know: Nagging About Numbers
Sky’s the Limit: Role Models With Type 1 Diabetes
SixUntilMe’s Kerri Sparling: What I Wish I Had Known as a Child Newly Diagnosed With Type 1