Mental Health and T1D

in ,

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed so much about the world, adding new stressors and challenges to our day-to-day lives, especially those impacted by T1D. The good news is you are not alone! In this op-ed, Georgia Community Board Member and T1D mom, Ania Caruso, shared her family’s story including the struggles they have faced during COVID and how they’ve learned to cope & improve their mental health.

“Parenting during the pandemic has not been easy for anyone across the globe.  Overnight my husband Steve and I had to become teachers for our then 5- and 9-year-olds while juggling ever-shifting demands of our jobs and trying to manage our household. In addition, being a primary caregiver to our daughter Natalia who has type 1 diabetes (T1D) brings a new level of complexity along with stress and anxiety which can lead to caregiver burnout any time of year especially during global pandemic.  Do we have enough medical supplies on hand? Can a pharmacy deliver medication or we need to go in? And the list goes on…

Just as Natalia does not get a break from managing her T1D, we as parents do not get a break either – it is 24/7 job!  With Natalia returning to a face-to-face school setting in late October of 2020, we welcomed that opportunity with excitement as she is a very social girl and she was missing her friends dearly but also with much anxiety associated with “putting her at risk.” Feeling as no decision was the right decision.

While all parents have been struggling, the pandemic has taken a toll on caregivers of kids with medical conditions like T1D.  As a T1D parent you worry about your child when they are not physically with you – Is Natalia safe?  Is her blood sugar in range? Did we give her too much or too little insulin for breakfast, as each day it seems her body utilizes the insulin at a different rate? My husband and I realized early on during the pandemic that our own mental health, as well as Natalia’s and her little brother Milo, is of the utmost importance and we need to take care of ourselves.

As caregivers we are on duty all the time as of course no parent will stop carrying for their child’s health. Speaking from experience we have done a few things during the pandemic to alleviate the mental burden and model a healthy way to cope with stress that we know will further benefit Natalia and build the much-needed resilience in her to manage her life with T1D:

Talking about feelings: Being honest with Natalia how it can be overwhelming and that we don’t have all the answers all the time. It lets her open about how she feels, what worries her, what makes her sad etc.  Sometimes we forget she is only 10 now as she is very mature for her age partially due to being diagnosed at the age of 2… it has matured her a lot and we see that… but she is still a 5th grader after all 😊

Reach out to friends, family & T1D community (virtually): Like with anything in life – “it takes a village” and the asking for help is not a sign of weakness but of courage and strength. Being able to compare notes and share what works or does not with other parents who have kids with T1D or not is always a relief.  It can be a very lonely journey managing not only a pre-teen but one with T1D.

Practice self-care: Taking care of yourself as a T1D caregiver can be hard – you simply cannot “drop off” your kid as one might not feel comfortable with the responsibility that comes along with watching over our child. However, carving that time for self-care is crucial and it does not mean that by doing it you are not taking care of your child (speaking from experience about the caregiver guilt). Small acts of care like going for a walk alone or with a friend, reading a book or listening to a podcast, meditate for 10-15 minutes, order food in so you don’t cook that night even if that is not in budget or not as healthy as you would like to, phone a friend to hear a friendly voice, watch comedy show on TV to laugh a little and the list goes on…”

– Ania Caruso, JDRF Georgia Community Board Member & T1D Mom