Monday, December 14, 2009

When Conflict Catches You By Surprise

In all honesty, things have been going pretty well with both my husband and with his diabetes. He recently had a check-up with his Endo, and even though he was afraid otherwise (due to high-levels of stress at his job and subsequent blood sugar highs every day) his A1c was great, all numbers fine. Phew. I was proud of him and his effort, because I know, and recognize how much work it takes him to make those numbers happen and keep himself in check. Kudos to him.

So how does it happen that you're going along, all is well, your spousal "diabetes-anxiety" is kept in check, you're happy with how things are... and then BAM!, diabetes-related issues once again raise their ugly head and create conflict in your relationship. I thought, after 12+ years of dealing with this that I would be an expert at not "letting it get to me"... but once again I am humbled by the power of the diabetes' effect on our lives and my reactivity to it.

So here's the story - see if any of this sounds "familiar" to you?: my husband went out on a Saturday evening to have a beer or two with his soccer buddies, a very important one of whom was leaving to move to Bali, so this was his goodbye. My husband left early - around 6pm - saying that he would be home "in a couple of hours". No problem, off he goes, all is well.

Here is the challenge - it was a Saturday. Every Saturday morning my husband goes and plays soccer for 2-3 hours, which is fantastic for both his mental and physical health. Since he's from Barcelona, Spain, this few hours is his "religion", and I don't mess with it! The challenge is that such a burst of physical endurance sets him up for blood sugar lows all weekend - but we're used to this, he's been playing for more than 10 years with this same group of guys, and he's very good at controlling the lows. However, they are something that we've come to expect ... particularly a few hours after he gets home on Saturday, Saturday evening, and then again Sunday mid-morning. He combats it by lowering his basal rate of insulin (he's on the Medtronic pump), bolusing less, and keeping a close eye on his numbers by checking often. I'm not as "vigilant" as I used to be around these lows, but I still carry some anxiety about it, particularly since the only real significant low episodes he's had (a couple as low as 29!! but most bad ones in the 40s and 50s) have been after he's played soccer.

So, back to Saturday night - Tony goes out, and my expectation is that he'll be home before 9pm sometime. So 9pm rolls by, 10pm rolls by ... I try to call him on his cell phone, but he doesn't answer ... and by now I'm starting to get that pit of "worry" in my stomach, the one I hate, the one I try to "talk out of myself" by rationalizing what he is probably fine, can't hear the phone, etc. By 11pm, and after the second voicemail I leave, I am starting to get very fearful, my diabetes-anxiety has kicked in full gear. It didn't help that it was crashing and storming outside (something that we don't get very often here in San Diego!), and in my head I was creating all kinds of stories for myself: that he had a low, that he got into an accident on the way home, that the beer mixed with not enough food mixed with soccer could have created a low that clouded his judgment and he drove when he shouldn't have ... oh, the stories go on.

Needless to say that by when Tony called me at 11:10pm saying "did you call me?", it wasn't pretty. It is incredible how quickly anxiety turns to anger when you know that person is fine. And when the key turned in the lock 1/2 hour later?...well, I'll save that for another post.

I'm lucky to say that my husband and I really don't have much conflict in our relationship. But this event, my reaction to it, and the consequent "discussion" that Tony and I had, really showed me how critical communication is when you live with someone with type 1. What it all came down to was this: had Tony called me at some point in the evening to let me know that he wasn't going to be only "a couple of hours", but in fact was going to stay longer, all of this would have been averted. The fact that I didn't know, that I was left to worry about all of the possibilities, was what was unfair. It highlighted to me a couple of things, and I wonder if these would be the same for you all:
  • It reminded me that living with type 1 is a partnership formed of mutual trust and mutual respect. I do my part by being attentive to Tony's needs around diabetes, by being supportive, by watching what I cook, what I shop for and bring into the house, by the choices we make every day. Tony's part (other than proactively trying to manage his diabetes the best he can, which is huge) is to check-in with me when he is out, especially if he is gone longer than expected. It is amazing how a quick "hey there" can ease my mind, and help me put my diabetes-anxiety back in its place. His being sensitive to this shows a great deal of respect for me and my feelings.

  • It reminded me how important it is to communicate to Tony my needs around his diabetes. I forget sometimes that I have them too! In this case, I had never really shared how important it is for me to have that check-in with him, especially in certain cases like him being out on a stormy night, a Saturday night where he was prone to lows, in a loud environment where he couldn't hear his phone. Had I communicated that to him ahead of time, in a "less heated" discussion, I think the message would have been better received. In the end Tony did listen, but it took us a while before either of us were open to hearing each others' needs. I think we could have done this much more painlessly had we done it ahead of time.
But you know what? Lesson learned! Even for those of us who feel we "have it all under control" that diabetes-related conflict can still rear its ugly head when you least expect it. I think the key is maintaining respect for each other by being proactive about it - communicate your needs with your partner, and listen to theirs. And do it before you're in the "middle of it"... for both your sakes!