Age, weight, height, blood pressure, cholesterol, A1c, eye glass prescription, these are all numbers that in some way either reflect the health of an individual or give us clues about the person. However, we share some of these numbers much more freely than others. Most people don’t really think twice when answering how tall they are, but if asked how much they weigh, people are much more hesitant to answer. Why is it though that we tend to keep our weight and other numbers more private? Is it because we fear the judgement that may be attached to our answers? That somehow that number sends a message that we may not like?
I’ve talked about numbers and motivation in the context of diabetes before. But now I want to talk about something else related to those numbers.
During my teenage years with diabetes, my glucose numbers became a much more private matter, probably much to the displeasure of my parents. My parents, doing their due diligence, would ask me what my number was before meals, when I complained of not feeling well, and throughout the day. However, in my teenage mind, my numbers weren’t really any of their business. “How’s your number?” would either be responded with “fine”, “its high” or “it’s low” (no more details than that), “don’t worry about it”, or often silence. When I would poke my finger, I remember hiding the meter in my case so that my parents couldn’t see the number. At this point in my D-life, my numbers were probably running on the higher side. Lectures about testing more, being better about my boluses, and the like were common during this time. I’m not saying that I didn’t tell them at all or let them help me when I was struggling, it’s just that in general I remember this time as being more private about that information.
I’m sure that in my mind, keeping a number to myself was saving me from disapproval from my parents, but also from myself. Because you see, a reading of 250 isn’t just a number. It’s a high number, a number outside of the range where it should be. And while sometimes it goes high despite doing everything right, it usually was outside of that range because of something that I did or did not do. Something that I did wrong. For me, there was guilt and blame attached to that number, there was a sense of failure connected to that high number. Answering “How’s your number?” with 250 (or on the other end of the spectrum, 65) is essentially saying, “Yeah I messed up somewhere”.
Now think about this from the perspective of a teenager. Your teenage years are when you are trying to prove your independence from your parents. A time when you show that you can take care of yourself, have more freedom, and figure out who you are. Answering “How’s your number?” with a high blood sugar would in my teenage mind, completely defeat that purpose. I didn’t want my parents thinking that I couldn’t take care of myself or do things on my own. I did need help getting my numbers under control, and that would take years, but I didn’t want that lack of control to keep me from the other privileges of my teenage years. So I often hid that number or gave vague details. Clearly this didn’t help with getting better control, but that’s part of the struggle of diabetes and being a teenager.
Somewhere between then and now, I began to see those numbers less as a sign of doing something wrong, and more as a clue to help me have better control. If it’s high, why is it high? Did I not give enough insulin? Was my carb counting off? Is there something else that could be affecting my numbers? Am I normally high at this time of day? How’s my infusion set? I don’t hide my numbers the way I used to. Granted, I have way fewer highs than during those teenage years, but my glucose number isn’t quite as private anymore. However, I wonder if I will ever completely be able to dissociate a high number from the feeling of guilt. But on the other hand, without some emotion attached to the number, I might not care enough about it to take action.
I had my mom read this post prior to publishing it. Her first reaction was half jokingly saying, “Oh that explains a lot”. But my mom, while acknowledging the feelings of guilt, has bigger hopes for me. She wonders if I can shift my perspective on how I view those high numbers and replace the negative with the positive energy of taking action. That way, I can work to release myself from the negative feelings of guilt, but still have the positive drive and motivator to do my best for myself and for my health.
I know it won’t be easy, but I do hope one day to not have guilt associated at all with my diabetes.