Making a Better Connection
How does it feel to read these two lists? Do any of them resonate with your experience or surprise you? Just viewing the relationship from the other person's perspective can be helpful. But there are practical steps you can take today to feel more in control of this relationship. Here are the 3 P's of improving your relationship with the individuals in your healthcare team:
The first step is to plan for your appointment. Think back over the last month – what has confused you, or surprised you, or encouraged you, or frightened you about your diabetes? What are the three things you'd like to know or say?
The second step is to be an active participant in your appointment. William Polonsky, a U.S. writer and CDE, suggests using the ‘ABCs' of effective communication:
- Assertiveness – express yourself with confidence
- Brevity – speak as briefly as you can, staying to the point at all times
- Clarity – express yourself clearly, using short sentences and simple words
The third step is to understand and keep in mind that you and the healthcare professional are equals. Rather than feeling like a passive recipient of expertise, remember that you are two adults with an immense wealth of expertise. The healthcare professional has expertise of diabetes and how the body works, and you have immense expertise gathered through your lived experience of daily life with diabetes. Together, you can share that expertise with one another to work towards the benefit of your health.
What's Standing In Your Way?
However, while some people reading this will implement these steps and begin to make changes right away, for others, it can feel harder to make changes. This is when it's worth thinking about what's going on inside you that's causing this resistance. To help you with this, you might like to try this exercise:
- Think about your diabetes healthcare professional now.
- Take notice of the feelings you are experiencing. Are they positive or negative?
- Put a label on the feelings you are experiencing – hopeless, contented, angry, joyful, embarrassed, tense, supported, sad, uncertain, frightened, secure, shameful…?
- Now try to associate the feelings you have about the healthcare professional with the feelings you have about someone else in your life. Who from your past do you also have those kinds of feelings about?
- What figure from your early life comes to mind? Your strict teacher at school? A kindly babysitter? Your controlling parent? A supportive uncle?
This may seem like an odd exercise, and in some ways it really is! But psychodynamic models of therapy offer the idea that the way we relate to people in our life today – particularly ‘authority' figures such as healthcare professionals - are modelled on these early relationships. So perhaps you relate to your diabetes doctor as if they are your controlling teacher from school, who you always wanted to secretly rebel against. Or your supportive uncle who, if you smiled sweetly for long enough, would always ‘let you off the hook' if you did something wrong. You might think this is complete nonsense and if it's not a helpful idea for you, then don't make use of it. But if this way of thinking does resonate with you, then you may be interested to know that in psychology-speak, this inner model of relating is called your "Relationship-to-Help'. Becoming more mindful if your personal relationship-to-help can really assist you to relate to your healthcare team in a more balanced way, improving your ability to take their advice on board and increase your health and wellbeing.
Dr. Jen Nash is a clinical psychologist who has lived with diabetes for more than 20 years. She runs www.PositiveDiabetes.com, an education, therapy and coaching service that supports people with type 1 and 2 to manage the emotional and psychological impact of day to day life with diabetes.
NOTE: The information is not intended to be a replacement or substitute for consultation with a qualified medical professional or for professional medical advice related to diabetes or another medical condition. Please contact your physician or medical professional with any questions and concerns about your medical condition.
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