Growing up, I LOVED to swim. Loved every second of it. I liked jumping in, diving deep for rings, pretending to be a mermaid, and even just racing — maybe especially racing! I was fast, too. So naturally I pursued swim team when I was in high school. And I was pretty successful in some of my early races.

Which was especially surprising, because the truth is, I could hardly make it through swim practice. Yes, the girl who loved swimming was humbled by our simple swim practice regimens. I was absolutely exhausted and felt completely out of breath the entire time.

You see, I had never learned to breathe correctly. When you swim at practice or really any race longer than 50 meters, you NEED to breathe right. I was holding all of my air in while I was under the water and then taking that split second that my mouth and nose left the water to spit it all it out and take back in a massive gulp of air. I felt like I was drowning whenever I swam for any duration beyond my racing length. My coaches were completely baffled until they figured it out. It was tough to see, because my strokes were beautiful and everything looked right from the outside. But they did finally see it, and once I learned how to breathe, swimming practice was fun again! Oh, it was still challenging, but now it was a matter of improving my form and strengthening my muscles, rather than trying not to pass out!

Type 1 diabetes is a little like this. When James was first diagnosed, we had excellent training, and for that I am SO grateful. We learned how to check blood sugar, how to count carbs, how to inject insulin, how to watch for signs of high and low blood sugar. We became proficient at these tasks in short order. From the outside, we looked like we were swimming along just fine. But we weren’t. Not at the beginning. We hadn’t mastered “breathing” yet. And the days were a lot like each lap of swim practice — contests of endurance, utterly exhausting.

Of course, diabetes isn’t exactly like swimming, and the analogy isn’t perfect. But there are a few ways that they relate. First, just like in swimming, from the outside my diabetes management LOOKED good. We were doing things right to almost any observer. Our skills, like my strokes, were following the correct pattern. It was only on the INSIDE that I could tell something was a little out of balance. Second, like a long swim practice of hundreds of laps, diabetes is a life-long thing. It doesn’t really matter if you’re an excellent sprinter; the other essential piece is managing to make each lap restorative — to improve technique, sure, but also to find the strength to continue on and to maintain!

I don’t pretend to be the voice for every parent who has had a child with type 1 diabetes, but I don’t think I’m alone in having felt completely overwhelmed by a new diagnosis of diabetes (or sometimes, even a not-so-new diagnosis). I will tell you that I HAVE found a way to breathe properly so that days and weeks and months and even years go by, and we’re still going strong. Like swim practice, it’s not that we aren’t being stretched or challenged in our process, but we can manage it, we can maintain, because we are breathing right!

How do we do it? Stay tuned for my next post on HOW to breathe through diabetes.

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. Jen and Kim are real moms of kids with type 1 diabetes and have been compensated for their contributions to this site.

Related topics:
Revisiting the Concept of “Fake It ‘Till You Make It”
How I Know You’ll Get Through This
In the Spotlight: Managing the Stress of a New Diagnosis

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