How to Love Someone with Diabetes
Family support critical part of treatment plan
By Wil Dubois
Diabetes is a social disease. Kiss one of us, you'll probably catch it.
I'm kidding of course.
Well, sort of. But not really. Here at dLife, practically on day one, we coined the term "type 3" for the loved ones of people with diabetes. Why? Because type 1 and type 2 are the official labels for the primary kinds of diabetes, and we recognized that the diabetes of a type 1 or type 2 so affects our loved ones that it's like they have diabetes, too. Well, actually, they do have diabetes. They have our diabetes. The impact of diabetes on family can't be understated, and the type 3 label salutes that impact. It serves to remind everyone at the diabetes table, no matter what their personal blood sugar is, that we're all in this together. If one member of a family has diabetes, all members have it.
Like I said, it's a social disease.
Type 3s are spouses, parents, sibs, children, grandchildren, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins. Did I leave anyone out? If you have diabetes in the family, you are a type 3. Oh, wait, friends and co-workers can be type 3s, too. If you have friends with diabetes, you have type 3 diabetes. So just to be on the safe side, I'll plagiarize from A.A. Milne, and say type 3s are all of Rabbit's friends-and-relations. Hell, given the prevalence of diabetes, if you don't have diabetes yourself, odds are you're someone else's type 3.
And as a type 3, you have certain responsibilities. You have a responsibility to understand the disease, a responsibility to be part of the solution, and a responsibility not to be part of the problem. This is more important than you'd think, because not only is diabetes a social disease, but the treatment for it is a social compact. Diabetes isn't one of those, take-your-pill-and-you're-fine diseases. Diabetes is easily sabotaged by life. What we eat and drink, and how we move, improves or degrades our therapy. And who has the greatest impact on our lives? Right. The person standing next to us who chooses to say, "One Coke won't kill you;" or to say, "Hey, let's both try the diet soda today, how bad can it really be?"
Those we love, and who love us, are truly either our best or our worst medicine.
Which will you choose to be?
If you want to be good medicine for your loved one, here's the prescription: Understand, communicate, support. How hard could that be? Well, it's about as hard as scaling the Empire State Building with suction cups and no safety line. But I'm here to help.
To understand what the Sam Heck is going on with your loved one, you need to understand the disease. There's no book for type 3s to help you do this (I've been promising to write one for years, but can never quite seem to get around to it), but you can still learn about diabetes by reading any of the many great books written for people with diabetes. It won't be the same as having it yourself, of course, but if you understand the disease, it will help you step into the shoes of your loved one when you need to.
As you learn about how the disease works, you'll come to understand why your favorite person with diabetes gets so damn grumpy when his or her blood sugar is high. You'll also understand why our IQ drops with our blood sugar if we go low. You need to understand the nuts and bolts of our gear. Rather than just ask if we took our meds, you need understand how they work and when they won't work—because this is teamwork. We may not say it, but we need you. With diabetes, family support makes or breaks us. We can't do it alone.
As a Type A personality with a perfectionist streak, diabetes management is something that easily gets under my skin. If I can’t do something perfect, then I’d much rather just not do it at all. Which is why burnout creeps up on me super fast. A few days of pesky numbers and I am ready to throw all things diabetes out the window and watch it get hit by an 18-wheeler. So attempting to get my A1c into the lowest possible range ever has proven incredibly tasking for my perfectionist...