On December 4, 2010, my life changed forever. I went from being a happy and energetic 8-year-old girl to being completely drained, so much so that I would pass out on the floor of the mudroom after school because I didn’t have the energy to make it to my bed. I had no idea what was going on, but I knew something was wrong. I was tired all of the time, I stopped eating, and I always needed to pee because I was constantly drinking water. I remember getting pricked in the finger and then seeing my parents immediately freak out. I remember asking, “What’s wrong?” and “What did I do wrong?” I remember my father saying my blood sugar was in the 500s, which I had a feeling wasn’t good. December 4, 2010, was the day I was officially diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Nearly 13 years later, I have accepted my health condition, and I have come to terms with the fact that there is no cure and that there may never be one in my lifetime. After taking some time to reflect on how diabetes has impacted me throughout the last decade, I came to realize just how much this disease has influenced my mental health.
Growing up, I was always told how mature I was for my age. I had always attributed this to me just being me, but I think anyone who has a chronic health condition from a young age is forced to grow up a little faster. I absolutely dreaded going to the nurse’s office three times a day at school; I hated being pricked with needles all day; and I hated that I felt different from my friends. I remember crying over not being able to eat when my sugar was too high or drink my favorite soda like I used to. All I wanted to do was feel like a normal kid again.
As I grew into adolescence, I became increasingly anxious over my diabetes. I never talked about it with my friends because I wanted to seem as though I didn’t have it when I was around them. I became increasingly anxious over my blood sugar levels. Whether I was playing a sport, sitting in class, or spending time with friends, I was extremely worried about what my blood sugar level was and how it would make me feel. When I’m running high, I feel tired, moody, and typically have to pee very frequently. When I’m running low, I feel completely out of it. I am shaking, sweating, and scared, and all I can think about is getting carbs into my system. I was terrified of going to the doctor’s and being told that I was doing a bad job of managing my diabetes and that my A1C was too high. I lived my life in a constant state of fear.
According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, type 1 diabetes has some pretty substantial effects on children and adolescents (van Duinkerken et al., 2019). Furthermore, the CDC shares that “people with diabetes are 2 to 3 times more likely to have depression than people without diabetes.” Additionally, “only 25% to 50% of people with diabetes who have depression get diagnosed and treated. But treatment—therapy, medicine, or both—is usually very effective. And without treatment, depression often gets worse, not better” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2023).
I think it is pretty evident that for people of all ages, diabetes can have an immense impact on mental health. I can’t speak for the experiences of others, but I can say that this has been true for me. I let diabetes control me and lower my quality of life. What I’ve learned over the past thirteen years, though, is that it doesn’t have to be this way. I don’t need to let diabetes define me, control me, or dictate my life. I can still be myself and live my life exactly how I want. I hope the scared 8-year-old girl inside me knows that now. If you are struggling with type 1 diabetes, there is help and support available. Never forget, you are not alone.
Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s (JDRF) Online Diabetes Support Team: https://www.jdrf.org/t1d-resources/online-diabetes-support-team/
American Diabetes Association: 1-800-DIABETES
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, May 15). Diabetes and mental health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. cdc.gov/diabetes/managing/mental-health.html#:~:text=People%20with%20diabetes%20are%202,often%20gets%20worse%2C%20not%20better.
Van Duinkerken E, Snoek FJ, de Wit M. The cognitive and psychological effects of living with type 1 diabetes: a narrative review. Diabet Med. 2020 Apr;37(4):555-563. doi: 10.1111/dme.14216. Epub 2019 Dec 27. PMID: 31850538; PMCID: PMC7154747.