Where do you get your support? by Andy Broom
One of the most comforting things about living with diabetes is that implicit belonging to a sort of secret society. Whilst we don’t have anything cool like special handshakes, we do have a lot in common with each other in many respects. Being on the receiving end of a knowing nod and smile when you test your blood glucose or inject your insulin is a comforting reminder that we’re not on our own with diabetes.
Often when I mention diabetes at work, I do so in a broad terms, using phrases like “I’m shattered – I had a bad night with my blood sugar” and colleagues will typically give me a (welcome) sympathetic comment or two. It’s not because I don’t feel comfortable discussing it, because I do, it’s more to do with the fact that I know unless you’ve experienced a 2am hypo, you can only relate to the broader consequences. I’d wager that almost anyone can sympathise with a terrible night’s sleep, but not so much with the shakes, foggy thoughts and all round unpleasantness associated with low blood sugar.
We recently had a few new people join my team at work and by happy coincidence, one of them is also Type 1 like me. We had a meeting early this week and he asked if I was tired after my day trip to London for some work meetings. I mentioned that whilst the travel had been pretty horrific, it was my overnight hypo that had wiped me out.
I didn’t think much of it at the time, but there was a very clear difference talking about it in ‘diabetes’ terms rather than generalising it. Talking about different hypo treatments and target levels before bed is something I typically only do with either my healthcare team, or in passing comment in an online discussion. Doing it in ‘real life’ at work was very much out of the ordinary.
That extends to discussions I have with my family too. They’re more used to me using words and phrases like “hypo” and “high blood sugar” but I know they can’t interpret that in the same way as someone who’s lived through those experiences.
I recently read a book about diabetes that talked about how we, as people with diabetes, can find it frustrating when we feel either too ‘smothered’ by our friends and family involving themselves in our own care, or alienated because they aren’t involved at all. It also mentioned that those people in our lives that support us probably also share those frustrations as it can leave them feeling helpless when, of course, they just want the best for us.
It seems that, like trying to keep blood glucose levels stable, managing the involvement and support of others can be equally tricky yet very important. It can be rare that we meet others with diabetes and perhaps rarer still that we can then engage with them about diabetes beyond a nod across a room.
Most of us rarely see our healthcare team with any great frequency and so we rely on our own self-care and the support of others to manage our diabetes on a day-to-day basis. It can be frustrating when others don’t ‘get it’ but perhaps we can make more of an effort to explain what support we need from those closest to us.
It’s not always easy to articulate how a hypo can make us tired or irritable, or why even moving off the sofa can be a chore in the midst of a high. However, that honesty will go a long way to getting us the support we need and will help to include our friends and family at a level we’re comfortable with.
Do you have any tips on involving people without diabetes in your care? Do you find it difficult to open up about your diabetes, and is there anything that would help you?