Diabetes and Personal Relationships: What's the Impact?
When I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at the young age of 21, I was worried about how it would affect my life and the lives of the people important to me.
While I was coping with my diagnosis, I realized my circle was also coping with my new reality.
The Four Types of Support
Once you’re diagnosed with diabetes and decide to “come out of the diabetes closet” to your family and friends, you may discover the people closest to you fall into one of four categories:
- The Shamers and Blamers
- The Ignorers
- The Food Police
- The Cheerleaders
The Shamers and Blamers
Instead of being helpful and supportive, this group will blame you for your diagnosis and chastise you for your lifestyle. Shamers and Blamers do not provide constructive help for you and will constantly leave you feeling like you have to defend yourself. While you are new to diabetes and trying to navigate this new territory, you may want to limit your time with this set.
The Ignorers do just that: ignore your diabetes. They go on living life with you the way they did pre-diagnosis. They’ll go out to eat with you and order all your favorite foods, completely disregarding how these foods will make you feel. They’ll invite you over for dinner without taking into consideration your new dietary needs, leaving you feeling ignored and misunderstood. You want to feel good, and feeling good requires positive decision-making for your diabetes. You’ll need to communicate your needs clearly to this group and educate them about how your life has changed with your diagnosis. This may include explaining your mood swings, your medication side effects if you have them, and your new nutrition plan.
The Food Police
The third group, the Food Police, often say things like, “Should you be eating that?” or “Is that on your diet?” This can be overwhelming and irritating. As an adult, having someone looking over your shoulder with every bite can leave you feeling like a child who’s being forced to eat their vegetables. A simple statement, such as, “I’ve discussed my nutrition plan with my doctor” may prevent future policing.
Last but not least is my favorite group, the Cheerleaders. These are the people who are there for you no matter what. They’ll celebrate every success with you, cry with you on the rough days, provide gentle guidance if needed, and best of all, they will ask you what you need from them in terms of support. These are the ones you want to surround yourself with. If you already have these people in your life, be sure to thank them!
How to Help Them Help You
Identifying the people who will support you is important, but you also need to know how to ask for help. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Don’t be afraid to tell them what you need from them. You are your best advocate.
- Be patient with them; they are learning too.
- Educate them. As you learn new things about your diabetes, share your knowledge with your circle.
- Don’t assume they know how you’re feeling. Be vocal about your feelings to ensure understanding.
Even after 20 years of living with type 2 diabetes, I still have to speak up to my loved ones and communicate my needs. At first it was a little intimidating, but I’ve learned if I want to create a solid support system, I must ensure my needs are understood and met. To maintain strong personal relationships while also taking care of my health, communication is the only way.