The 3 Types of Supporters for Those with Diabetes
Leslie Merklin-Barber | July 23, 2020
When you are diagnosed with diabetes and you do not know anyone with diabetes you may feel alone, and think that, no one understand what you are going through. You may feel guilty because of your diagnosis, asking yourself if you could have done anything different to prevent it. Your child has diabetes and is the only child in their class or school with diabetes. What support is available to you and your child?
While your provider can be a great source of information about diabetes, they do not always have the time to give to each individual with diabetes in their practice. Dr. Google may not have the most current or accurate information available. Friends and family can be a resource; however, the information they share may not be the most accurate or current.
Three Types of "Supporters"
Family and friends can be great supporters for you and your diabetes; but they can also be a source of stress. Having family and friends on the same page is very important; if they are not on the same page, it can be very frustrating.
Family and friends can fall into three categories. First—and best—is the “supporter.” The supporter is there for you no matter what is happening with you and your diabetes; they want to be part of the team. They are there for you and allow you to make your own choices about managing your diabetes and encourage you in your decisions. The supporter is respectful of the decision you make about your diabetes management. The supporter will walk the path with you. This type is your cheerleader along your journey with diabetes.
The Diabetes Police
The second category I will call the “diabetes police.” A person who is the diabetes police will be looking over your shoulder and commenting on what you are eating, your glucose results and any other aspect of your diabetes management. The diabetes police always have an opinion on how you should manage your diabetes. The diabetes police want to control everything you do with your diabetes. This can be very frustrating for the person with diabetes, who does not need “diabetes police,” since no one with diabetes is a “diabetes criminal.”
The third category I will call the “saboteur.” The saboteur will ask if you want to have a cookie; your answer is, “No, thank you.” The saboteur will push you and say, “You know you really want the cookie,” or, “It’s only a small cookie; it won’t hurt you.” The saboteur will push to get your to overcome your initial reaction. Much like the diabetes police, the saboteur wants to have some control over you and your diabetes management.
The Dos and Don'ts of Supporting Someone with Diabetes
People with diabetes do not live their life in a vacuum. We all have people around to help and support us. When it comes to getting support from others, we must first know what support we want and need. It is then up to us to let our family and friends know how they can be supportive. Set your boundaries so you have the ultimate control over how your diabetes is managed.
If you have a loved one with diabetes and want to be supportive, the best thing you can do is ask, “How can I be of help to you?” “What do you want me to do?” “What do you need?” Then, be there in the capacity you have been asked to fulfill.
Bill Polonsky, PhD, CDCES, and Susan Guzman, PhD, of the Behavioral Diabetes Institute in San Diego, California, have put together “Diabetes Etiquette for People Who DON’T Have Diabetes.” These dos and don’ts are as follows:
- DON’T offer unsolicited advice about my eating or other aspects of diabetes. You may mean well, but giving advice about someone’s personal habits, especially when it is not requested, isn’t very nice. Besides, many of the popularly held beliefs about diabetes (e.g., “You should just stop eating sugar.”) are out of date or just plain wrong.
- DO realize and appreciate that diabetes is hard work. Diabetes management is a full-time job that I didn’t apply for, didn’t want and can’t quit. It involves thinking about what, when and how much I eat, while also factoring in exercise, medication, stress, blood sugar monitoring and so much more—each and every day.
- DON’T tell me horror stories about your grandmother or other people with diabetes you have heard about. Diabetes is scary enough, and stories like these are not reassuring! Besides, we now know that with good management, odds are good you can live a long, healthy and happy life with diabetes.
- DO offer to join me in making healthy lifestyle changes. Not having to be alone with efforts to change, like starting an exercise program, is one of the most powerful ways that you can be helpful. After all, healthy lifestyle changes can benefit everyone!
- DON’T look so horrified when I check my blood sugars or give myself an injection. It is not a lot of fun for me either. Checking blood sugars and taking medications are things I must do to manage diabetes well. If I have to hide while I do so, it makes it much harder for me.
- DO ask how you might be helpful. If you want to be supportive, there may be lots of little things I would probably appreciate your help with. However, what I really need may be very different than what you think I need, so please ask first.
- DON’T offer thoughtless reassurances. When you first learn about my diabetes, you may want to reassure me by saying things like, “Hey, it could be worse; you could have cancer!” This won’t make me feel better. And, the implicit message seems to be that diabetes is no big deal. However, diabetes (like cancer) IS a big deal.
- DO be supportive of my efforts for self-care. Help me set up an environment for success by supporting healthy food choices. Please honor my decision to decline a particular food, even when you really want me to try it. You are most helpful when you are not being a source of unnecessary temptation.
- DON’T peek at or comment on my blood glucose numbers without asking me first. These numbers are private unless I choose to share them. It is normal to have numbers that are sometimes too low or too high. Your unsolicited comments about these numbers can add to the disappointment, frustration and anger I already feel.
- DO offer your love and encouragement. As I work hard to manage diabetes successfully, sometimes just knowing that you care can be very helpful and motivating.
As a person living with diabetes for the past 31+ years, I know how important support for my diabetes management is. The best support I have ever gotten from my family and friends is for them to ask me what I need. Sometimes I didn’t know what I needed at the time, but just having the question asked made me feel like I wasn’t alone and that others cared.
Overlake offers one-on-one education as well as two-part classes to help people learn practical skills to manage diabetes, including medication, meal planning, glucose monitoring and more. Classes are taught by certified diabetes educators. Please see your healthcare provider for referral. Learn more about diabetes education at Overlake, or call (425) 688-5111.