Q: I used to be an avid runner but stopped after my son’s diagnosis; I was too tired, and I didn’t want to run while he was at school in case I got a frantic phone call and needed to be there right away. As a result, I’ve put on a solid 10 pounds. My New Year’s resolution is to get back to ME, but how exactly do I do this without neglecting my family?
A: To address the easy part first, a big part of getting back into your normal exercise routine may simply be a matter of logistics. Think about sticking pretty close to home by walking or running around the block on your first few outings and keeping your cell phone on you at all times. If it gives you greater peace of mind, break up physical activity into 10- or 20-minute chunks so you’re never away from home (and your car) for too long. If you’re still too worried, try exercising at night after your child is asleep and your spouse or another caregiver is at home. Believe me, as a mom, I have clocked many miles around the block using this method! As your confidence grows, you can lengthen your route and switch up the time of day you exercise.
Since you’re already a runner, you probably don’t need much advice on the how-to part of exercising. And if you dig beneath the surface a bit, you will probably find that it’s not just difficulties with mapping out your jogging route, or even fatigue, that are stopping you from getting back out there.
From the parents I work with, I know that a real barrier to carving out time for exercise — or a favorite hobby or even just self-care — is frequently guilt. Feeling guilty or sad over a child’s diagnosis is common and a normal part of the grieving process families go through after finding out their child has type 1 diabetes. What’s more, these feelings can still flare up years after diagnosis. What parents typically share with me is that somehow the act of doing something they like feels selfish or even wrong because of all their child must endure and because doing so takes time away from caring for their child.
However, there is another way to spin it: By engaging in an activity that brings you happiness and improves your overall wellbeing, you are acting as a powerful role model for your child, teaching them that taking care of yourself — mentally, emotionally, and physically — is a non-negotiable part of life. Resuming your normal activities, like going running again, also teaches your child the important lesson that our passions and interests don’t need to disappear in the face of diabetes.
The fact that it’s a form of exercise that you’re modeling makes it even better. Exercise can improve your emotional and physical health, and it can give your energy levels a much-needed boost. And who knows? Maybe one day you’ll have a new running partner by your side.
–Valerie Macy-Hurley, L.C.S.W., is a medical social worker at the Endocrine & Diabetes Center at Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach in California.
How Other Parents Deal
“I liked to knit, but then I stopped for a long time after my son’s diagnosis, because I honestly thought, who am I to sit here enjoying myself when my little boy has diabetes? One day, my son asked me why I always looked so sad. I decided right then and there to change things. And the first thing that popped in my head to do? Start knitting again. Sure enough, sitting on the couch with my needles and yarn really is my happy place.”
–Jennifer, mom of Evan
Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.