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Someone I Know Was Diagnosed With Diabetes--How Can I Help?

Updated on September 5, 2016

Show Love And Understanding

The first step to helping someone you know cope with their diabetes is to try to understand what they are going through. It's difficult if you've never been diagnosed to understand the gravity of it. It changes your life in every way.

The only way I can explain it to you is like this. Imagine if your heart couldn't beat on its own. There was no machine to help it automatically do this. You are given a pump and told to squeeze the pump at regular intervals to keep your heart beating. If you mess it up, you are going to die. Maybe not right away, but slowly.

This is something your body is supposed to manage automatically. It's not supposed to be up to you whether your heart beats or not. Being given this pump is a lot of pressure.

In the beginning, you are confused. You either press the pump too rapidly or too slowly and make yourself sick. Eventually, you get the rhythm of it and things start getting more normal.

But your hand gets cramped up sometimes and you stop squeezing the way you are supposed to. Or you get distracted by something and forget to pump for awhile and go into cardiac arrest. Your friends invite you to come out and do something with them that involves using two hands. You say,"No. I need to pump my heart with one of my hands." They get frustrated with you and accuse you of not being any fun anymore ever since you got this problem.

You decide to go on a run because it's healthy for you and you are unsure how fast to beat your heart. You need to get enough oxygen and blood pumping to your limbs to not get sick, but if you make it beat too fast you could have a heart attack. You have to struggle and guess what to do. The doctor doesn't have time to explain to you what should happen in every single situation.

Having diabetes is a lot like being forced to make your heart pump. Your body is supposed to control your insulin and blood sugar levels naturally.

When you are forced to manage this on your own, you are going to mess it up. A normal person's body just automatically knows what to do. My husband, no matter what he eats, his blood sugar never goes over 90! I saw him eat a whole bag of candy once and it was still 90! I was so envious.

We have to guess what to do a lot of days and it's not as simple as people think because every day is different. Some days we had a tiny piece of cake so our blood sugar might be higher. Other days we ran a marathon so our blood sugar might be lower. Every little thing effects our blood sugar, including how many chores we've done that day and what kind (because physical activity effects blood sugar.) Even our hormone level (which we can not measure can change it.) Most women see changes in their readings during different parts of their menstrual cycle.

Even when we are trying our best to manage our blood sugar, we will not be able to do it as efficiently as someone whose body does it naturally.

What a lot of people do when they find out a loved one has diabetes is try to control them and get angry at them for not doing things perfectly. They'll knock bad food out of their hands or lecture them for not taking enough medicine. They'll yell at them for not going to the doctor or get frustrated at them for not losing weight quickly enough.

You are not this person's doctor. You are their loved one. What they need from you is compassion.

If you think doctors let us off easy, they don't. A lot of us, including me, have panic attacks every time we go to the doctor because our doctor is probably going to yell at us for messing up. Especially if they do more than just check our a1c and ask us to record what we ate every single meal and what our blood sugar was. Even if we didn't mess up, but our blood sugar was high one day, they might yell because they think we're lying about what we ate that day, so we get yelled at even when we're "perfect."

Diabetes is a twenty-four hour disease. Even with your strictest diets, there were moments where you were allowed to cheat every once in a while. Diabetics are supposed to avoid doing this. They are expected to be more perfect than everyone else. They are expected to make up for their body's problems through diet, exercise, and lots of medication.

To some degree, this is possible, but every day is a struggle with unexpected challenges. So be nice and listen. We sometimes need a shoulder to cry on.

Stop Blaming And Start Donating

There is this stigma that diabetes is the person's fault who has it.

I once sat with a friend who did not yet know that I had diabetes. She was eating some ice cream. While she shoveled this ice cream down her throat, she said to me,"I will never get diabetes because I eat right." And this kind of hypocrisy is prevalent almost everywhere in our culture.

If you ever have eaten a brownie in your life or even tried a bite of ice cream, you will be blamed if you get diabetes. It's your fault for ever having sugar in your lifetime.

You will feel ashamed and if you don't, doctors will lecture you until you do.

Diabetes doesn't just effect overweight people. In fact, many people who aren't overweight don't even try to find out if they have diabetes because they assume it's impossible.

You develop diabetes Type II diabetes because of genetics. Type I develops mostly in children as an autoimmune disease.

The reason people get confused and think that diabetics did it to themselves is because if you are overweight, your diabetes is worse and if you eat poorly, it also makes your diabetes worse. But this doesn't mean that those things caused diabetes or that if someone has really high blood sugar that they are for sure eating incorrectly.

Diabetes gets worse with age, no matter what age you were diagnosed. Therefore, diabetes progressively worsens as time passes. Things that worked before do not work any longer.

Sometimes a diabetic hasn't been prescribed enough medication from their doctor. Sometimes the medication they do have isn't working. This doesn't mean that they gave themselves this disease.

But diabetes is the disease of shame. Those of us who have it will hide our machines and pills from our friends and family members because we don't want to receive judgment.

And because most people blame diabetics for their illness, there has been very little progress curing this disease.

It's to the point where doctors agree, having HIV is better than having diabetes.

Here's a link to a doctor's explanation of it: http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/9185591/why-id-rather-have-hiv-than-diabetes/

Even though we've only know about HIV/AIDs for the past thirty years, treatments are better for it than they are for diabetics. Diabetes, on the other hand, was discovered, in the late 1800's. Compare that to a lot of disease that have been cured, like Polio discovered in 1908 and cured so long ago that many of us know nothing about it. You've got to wonder why diabetic treatments aren't better.

It's because people think diabetics did this to themselves, that they deserve this disease, so no one should fight to help them. Even though it kills more people per year than both breast cancer and HIV combined, diabetics don't matter.

Here's a link talking more in depth about this issue in our society: http://www.diabetesdaily.com/blog/2013/03/why-do-canceraids-get-more-support-than-diabetes/

If you really want to help the people you know with diabetes, then fight the stigma. Stick up for them and explain to other people why we need to find a cure and better treatments for this disease.

Offer To Diet With Them And Make Things More Comfortable

This is especially important if you live with the diabetic or they cook your meals for you. Eat the things they have to eat without complaining. Almost no diabetics can keep to their diet unless the people they live with also follow the diet, too. At least when they are at home. When you are out enjoying yourself at a restaurant, feel free to eat whatever you want. I encourage my husband to do this when I'm not around, so he doesn't have to feel like he's always missing out on life.

Controlling diabetes is often about routine and measurement.

Diabetics have to abstain from a lot of things, not just sugar. Often they have to give up or eat only a little of other carbohydrates. Most food has carbohydrates in it. Everything except meat, cheese, eggs, and certain vegetables has carbohydrates. So a chicken salad would be good, but might not be great if the meat has breading or there is croutons. Diabetics can't always drink a glass of milk with their food because of the carbohydrates in it.

If a diabetic is taking medication, it is usually okay for them to have a portion of carbohydrates with every meal as well. But every diabetic diets differently and will have to adjust their diet as their medications and disease changes, so don't make any assumptions, just ask how much carbohydrates they are allowed with each meal!

Diabetics also sometimes have to abstain from things like alcohol and smoking. Smoking can make the chances of a diabetic having complications like a stroke even higher. Alcohol can interact with their pills or insulin. Also, everything a diabetic puts into their body effects their blood sugar, so alcohol can sometimes make their blood sugar rise or dramatically drop in unhealthy ways.

So try not to do these things in front of them if possible. It's like teasing a dog with food by dangling it in front of their face, but then you eat it instead.

Another thing that people do not think about or care about is the fact that diabetics have to eat at certain times. We can't skip meals like other people or wait a few hours. Because the medications we take steadily decrease our blood sugar at regular intervals, if we don't eat, our blood sugar will continue to drop anyway. If it gets too low, the diabetic will get very ill and possibly die. Sometimes the effects of hypoglycemia last for a long time. I've been sick with a migraine for 24 hours after having a hypoglycemic episode before.

Another problem with diabetics and skipping meals is sometimes it has the opposite effect. What most people don't get is that you don't even have to eat anything sometimes for your blood sugar to rise. This is because of the liver. Everyone's liver stores sugar, so that when you are sleeping, you don't starve to death. It releases sugar into your blood when you have to skip a meal or have to sleep so you can keep up your energy.

When diabetics don't eat, our livers sometimes pump out sugar and our blood sugar will rise to ridiculous levels. This is why many diabetics (including myself) struggle with our blood sugar in the morning because our livers have been pumping out sucrose into our blood all night.

So if you make a diabetic wait to eat, even an hour, you can throw everything in their body completely off balance. A lot of people find diabetics requesting to eat at a certain time to be unreasonable. But they are not being divas, they are just trying to stick with the routine. Our doctors lecture us when we mess up the routine.

When you choose a restaurant or a fun place with food to go to, try to choose places that are diabetic friendly. Places that serve high carb meals aren't as good as places that serve balanced meals or low carb meals (if the diabetic is on a low carb diet.)

It also helps when you offer to exercise with the person you care about. Exercising is always more fun when you have a pal to talk to and encourage you. It also sometimes helps if you have someone to compete with.

Listen And Comfort

Anyone who gets a chronic disease needs people that are there for them, especially if the disease will kill them slowly. This is usually understood when it comes to diseases like cancer and AIDs, but when it comes to diabetics, because people believe the person did it to themselves, no one wants to hear them complain.

A large percentage of people with chronic illness suffer from depression. Their body is doing things they don't want it to, they are struggling with adapting to it every day, sometimes they are in pain, and they are envious of all the people walking around in good health.

The happier the mindset of someone suffering with a chronic illness, the better they will take care of themselves and the easier it will be for their body to handle things.

If you can be there for your diabetic friends, listen to them complain about not getting any chocolate cake or the numbness and pain of neuropathy, it will help them handle things better and take care of themselves better.

Try not to judge or talk. Just listen, like you'd want them to listen to anything you were struggling with as well.

Diabetic Family History

Does Someone In Your Family Have Diabetes?

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Doctor Talks About How Getting Diabetes Changed His View Of Everything

It's Understandable Why You're Worried

I want to conclude this by saying that I understand why you are worried. I watched my Mom struggle with diabetes for years before I got it myself. I would panic often, especially when her blood sugar was over two hundred or when the doctor wouldn't give her the pills she needed. I was scared she would collapse and die at any moment.

I made some of these mistakes. In the beginning, I took food away from her and lectured her about her medication.

My Mom isn't fat. She never has been. She spent most of her adolescence and early adulthood being only 90 lbs. She still developed diabetes at 40 because it was in her genes. It was going to happen.

But because she ever ate sugar in her lifetime, I would get upset. All I wanted to do was make sure she lived longer, but instead I made it harder for her to take care of her disease by being critical.

You can't control other people and even someone who is trying to control their diabetes is going to struggle. They have a magnifying glass watching them and their choices 24 hours a day and all of us will fail at times under that kind of pressure. If you can have compassion for other diseases, like cancer and AIDs then consider having compassion for this one as well.

Even if the diabetic is fat or eating candy, you don't know what they are going through mentally. A lot of fat diabetics struggle with their weight because of depression, so judging them will just make them hate themselves worse. Also, you've probably not noticed all the times they ate salads and struggled to do things correctly. You're hyper focused on when they mess up.

Like many diseases, diabetes can be influenced, but not controlled. Until a cure is found, you'll have to accept that your loved one will not live as long as other people will. It hurts, of course, and you want things to be different, but don't waste the time you do have with them trying to control them. Show them your love. The only person you can control is yourself.

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