It’s no surprise that managing diabetes is more than a full-time job. It doesn’t go away and it doesn’t give you a break. Diabetes self-management can be hard, and in many cases, people with the condition could use some help. Maybe you don’t have diabetes but you have a spouse, a family member, a friend, or a coworker who does. Chances are, you want to help and be supportive, but you may not always know how. Asking how you can be helpful is step number one, but wouldn’t it be great to get inside your loved one’s or friend’s head? To give you an “inside scoop” on what it’s like to have diabetes, here are few things that might help you support that special person in your life.
Skip the blame game. Don’t blame me for having diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition. The immune system destroys the beta cells in the pancreas. As a result, the pancreas produces little, if any, insulin. Type 2 diabetes is more of a condition of insulin resistance. The body’s insulin doesn’t work as well as it should. Lifestyle factors, like weight loss, healthy eating, and exercise can help, but Type 2 tends to be progressive. I didn’t get diabetes because I was lazy — many risk factors raised the likelihood of me getting it, like my family history, my age, and my race. While I can try to eat better and be more active, some things are out of my control.
Diabetes can’t really be controlled. Diabetes has its own mindset. I can do my best to manage my diabetes by counting my carbs, taking my medication, and being physically active, but sometimes, despite all of my efforts, it does its own thing. I can’t always explain why my blood sugar is high or what caused it to go low.
Nagging doesn’t help. I know what I’m supposed to do. But I’m only human. Some days, I’m tired and I don’t feel like going to the gym. Or, I may be really hungry and eat a little more than what’s recommended by my dietitian. Getting after me only makes me feel guilty or defensive. What would work? Encouraging me, praising me when things are going well, and asking me how you can help.
Pressuring me to eat doesn’t help either. I love your brownies/apple pie/macaroni and cheese/(fill in the blank) more than you know. But these foods are high in carbs and fat, and they don’t always fit with my meal plan or eating goals. My blood sugar might be on the high side at the moment, or I might be trying really hard to watch my weight. It’s OK if you enjoy them, but please don’t push food on me. And don’t be offended if I politely refuse. I know how delicious it is!
Ask me what will help. I know I need to be active, but sometimes I need a boost. Offer to go for a walk or a bike ride with me, or suggest that we go to the gym together. Help me find foods and recipes that I like and that are good for me. Suggest that we look at how we can modify some favorite recipes to make them healthier. If you can, come with me to my doctor’s or dietitian’s appointment, or join me in taking a diabetes class.
Involve me in usual activities. Don’t assume that, because I have diabetes, I can’t do fun things anymore. I can still go to the beach/go on a hike/travel/ski, etc. Sure, I have to plan for it, and I may need to adjust my medication or my food, but there’s no reason I can’t join in.
Look for symptoms of low blood sugar. If I take insulin or certain types of diabetes pills, I run the risk of having a low blood sugar. If I seem shaky, sweaty, or irritable, or tell you that I feel dizzy or really hungry, say something to me. Go get me some juice or bring me some glucose tablets. Suggest that I check my blood sugar.
I have a lot to do to take care of my diabetes. Here’s what I do to manage my diabetes: I check my blood sugar; log my blood sugars; count my carbs; read labels; plan my meals; do some kind of exercise; take my medications; fill my prescriptions; check my feet; keep tabs on all my diabetes “numbers”; go to appointments with my doctor, dietitian, and/or diabetes educator; get my annual eye exam; treat low and high blood sugars; and try to make sense of my blood sugar readings. All of this is on top of going to work or school, caring for my children or parents, volunteering, etc.
I’m still me. I’m not a “diabetic.” I’m your husband/wife/daughter/son/friend who happens to have diabetes. It’s up to me to take care of my diabetes, but I can use a helping hand now and then. Sometimes I get sad/angry/frustrated with my condition. Asking me how you can help will help. And lending me an ear goes a long way, too!
What canned foods are good bets — and which should be avoided? Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to find out from Regina Shirley, a registered dietitian living with Type 1 diabetes.