Don't panic — advice to the newly diagnosed

"In many of the more relaxed civilizations on the Outer Eastern Rim of the Galaxy, the Hitchhiker's Guide has already supplanted the great Encyclopaedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom, for though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, it scores over the older, more pedestrian work in two important respects.

First, it is slightly cheaper; and secondly it has the words DON'T PANIC inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover."

— Douglas Adams

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Arther C. Clarke, the renowned science fiction writer, once noted that the best advice given to humanity by sci-fi was Douglas Adams' admonition "Don't Panic," which was cheerfully inscribed on the cover of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Nowadays, this has been translated as "Keep Calm and Carry On" — advice that was inscribed on the cover of a notebook my former boss gave me after my former-former boss left the company unexpectedly, shocking and shaking those of us left behind. I like the first version better, of course. Because it's simpler. More direct. Easier to process. And "easy to process" is key, when you're dealing with a brand new diabetes diagnosis in your beloved child.

I had an occasion recently to remember this. It's been almost five years now since Eric was diagnosed, and the white-hot terror I felt then has faded a little into the mists of memory. But a couple of days ago, I got an email from a former coworker. We're Facebook friends, and I remember our days working together — 20 years ago, yikes — fondly, but we have busy lives and small children, and our only real interaction is the occasional comment on social media posts.

But the other day, she PM'd me to say she'd seen an article on that had my name on it, about parenting a child with T1D. Was this me? Did I have a child with diabetes? Because her daughter had just been diagnosed, exactly a month ago.

Don't Panic.

I was brought back to that first month after Eric's diagnosis just like that. The sleepless nights. The poorly suppressed terror as I read and re-read the instructions I'd been given when we brought him home from the hospital, understanding about half of it, remembering about a tenth. The wrenching in my gut every time I had to put an insulin needle into Eric's skin (did I mention I had a phobia of needles, then? Well, I did.) The foggy slowness of my brain as I tried to calculate carbs. The tears that came, frequently and unexpectedly, any time I so much as heard the word "diabetes" — which, of course, I heard a LOT that month. The crushing despondency that came with Eric's frequent highs as we tried to manage him with diluted insulin. The weep-fest that accompanied my first major dosing error (5 units of Lantus instead of 0.5 units). The sense of underlying panic that filled every minute of every day as I tried to sort out what to do next, accompanied by anger that I had to face this at all—did I sign up to parent a chronically ill child? NO!—accompanied by guilt that the imperfect control we had now could have long-term impacts, accompanied by [insert common parental demons here.]

My friend is going through that now.

I told her, of course, to come to TuDiabetes and make use of the wisdom that was my saving grace when I first came here, back when the total membership was under 2,000. I gave her the link to my page so she could look through my blog and see everything I'd experienced lo these many years (and I'm a little stunned when I realize just HOW many years "lo these many years" encompasses). I told her to get certain books; she said she already has Think Like a Pancreas but is suffering information overload. And then I told her the only thing I could think of that might actually help: "It does get easier."

Which is a slightly more involved way of saying, Don't Panic.

It's good advice, if hard to follow. Panic is the flight instinct on steroids; it clouds the mind, shuts down learning and thought, prevents reasoned action to avoid danger. Panic doesn't help. Panic harms. It beats you down and beats you up, leaving you curled in a fetal position under your chair, shaking and pathetic. It is the least effective action of any of your potential choices, when you're confronted with a diabetes diagnosis in your child.

But it is also one of the most attractive. Panic, after all, shuts down thinking. Panic spurs you to run like hell away from the thing causing you to, well, panic. It offers you the option — really, the illusion of an option — of escaping this overwhelming thing that confronts you and threatens what you love best. It means you don't have to contemplate the awful truth.

Put that way, panic sounds awfully good, doesn't it?

But it's a lie. Because after you're done panicking, the reality is still there, waiting patiently for its turn to be in charge, and all panic has done is tire you out. Panic only makes the reality bigger than it has to be, and gives the awful truth capital letters it doesn't deserve. Panic only makes normality come back more slowly. Panic, in other words, makes mountains of, if not molehills, then of speed bumps anyway; it turns field mice into Rodents of Unusual Size.

Don't Panic.

It does get better. You will learn. You will find a new normal, a new routine, a reality that (once you have some time under your belt) isn't all that bad. Attitude is everything, and if you make the decision not to panic, to accept and to learn and to put this diabetes diagnosis in its place, it will grow smaller as time passes. Yes, new things come along. My 6-year-old will be 16 someday, and probably will cease to be anywhere near as chipper about testing and bolusing and changing sites as he is now. But the changes of adolescence are inevitable; the effects it will have on his diabetes are just an added wrinkle to an already crinkly cloth. But with Don't Panic as your mantra, the mountain shrinks to a speed bump. The R.O.U.S. shrivels to a mere mouse. And diabetes becomes a fact of life, something that you deal with daily, just another something in an endless parade of somethings.

Wise, as usual Elizabeth. There are things for all of us to learn here, no matter how newly diagnosed. Thank you :)

Rodents of Unusual Size LOLOL Think I'll steal it, much more graphic than an elephant in the room :)

Nice! Good Advice.

Thank you. Good advice for us oldies too!

I take no credit for the ROUSs. That's from the movie The Princess Bride. If you've never seen it, rent it.

I saw myself in your wise words. My daughter was dianosed at 4 and is 8 now. two years after being diagnosed with diabetes she was diagnosed with Celiac. This January my husband (former type 2) went into the hospital and is now on dialysis. My life is in chaos and your simple words help "Don't Panic" I LOVE IT!!!! Thanks.

Aw, Holly. I'm sorry. Rough waters, no doubt, but even so, Don't Panic is good advice!

Yes, Cary Elwes (aka Dread Pirate Roberts) is nearly done in by a ROUS.

But he DIDN'T PANIC. And so lived to die another day. Or almost die. Mostly.

Thank you Elizabeth!! I'm only 6 months into this daignosis & your words could not have come at a better time. "DOn't panic" are definitely words I'm trying to live day to day by.

You're welcome. Hope you're getting some sleep? That was the other big problem post-Dx. No sleep. I was a mess.