How to be an ally to someone living with Diabetes

So recently, I decided I had to write more and put it out there to my friends on Facebook: what do you want to know about me and diabetes?

I got amazing answers, to be honest, and although I’d written a lot since I started my blog years ago, there were still a few topics I hadn’t touched.

The first one I chose to write about is important because I’ve faced the complete opposite in situations in my life: How to be supportive, how to be an ally.

Imagine the situation of having to make an added decision about everything you do in a day. Everything is a choice that isn’t a guaranteed positive. This is true for everyone, except our decisions affect a lot more than just our mood in the moment.

Checking blood sugar is the only guide you have. That’s poking your finger, drawing blood and making sure you know where you are in the spectrum at a particular moment in time.

You have to decide what you have to eat and when. You have to keep your emotions in check because, guess what, those affects your blood sugar, too. Everyone has a different opinion on what to do and what to eat. You workout but deciding what to do with your insulin is questionable. How hard do I go? How much insulin to I give myself? You do everything you’re told to do and the numbers still don’t reflect. What do you do now? Cry?

Every day is a different situation. A different “choose your own adventure” story. A different ending just to wake up and do it all over again.

Then, (here it comes) you find that person that tells you that you’ve done this to yourself. You didn’t take care of yourself. You’re doing it wrong. Why can’t you just follow directions? Why can’t you lower your blood sugar? Just count the carbs! Just don’t eat that! Just be happy! And my favorite– you know you can cure that, right?

How would you feel? When every day is dedicated to staying alive, keeping healthy, and calculating your risk on the food you eat, the last thing you need is someone telling you that you’re doing it wrong.

There’s no right answer.

As someone who’s supporting a person living with diabetes, as a friend, ally, significant other, you have to understand the challenges. It’s actually quite easy, judging that you’re a human.

Here are a few things to know and understand. If all people knew and realized this, the world would be a better place.

1. The body is a mystery and a beautiful machine. It’s complicated and everything is connected. Just think about that for a second. Many people with diabetes know and understand this. We know how our bodies work and what’s missing.

2. As a person injecting insulin, we are tasked with thinking like a pancreas. Except we’re not an organ and we go based off of math to make all of our decisions.

3. Don’t tell us what we can and can’t do. Or eat. I bet you $1 million that we’re already 5 steps ahead of you.

4. If our blood sugar is too high or drops too low, we didn’t do it on purpose and it’s not our fault. In any case, DON’T BLAME THE PERSON TRYING TO KEEP THEIR BODY IN BALANCE.

5. Diabetes is hereditary and genetic. Type 1 is autoimmune meaning our bodies attacked the insulin producing cells and they no longer exist. We did nothing to bring it on. Type 2 is also genetic and although you may be healthy, you CAN develop it. Stop telling us that we did this to ourselves.

6. Don’t assume you know how we feel. Please, this can ruin relationships.

Things you CAN do:

1. Make healthier choices for yourself. Seriously. It’s a way to help us and put yourself in our shoes, even if it’s a tiny step.

2. Ask don’t tell. “Do you know why your sugar dropped?” “How do you feel now that you started doing xyz?” “Is that something new you decided to try?” But don’t ask, “can you eat that?Ever.

3. Listen. As much as you can’t see diabetes, it weighs on us like a 2 ton elephant. Sometimes we need to vent because it doesn’t always go our way. Sometimes we’re at a loss for … everything.

4. We can’t “get rid of it.” Understand that every day, month, year, diabetes is going to be there. It’s not the flu, not a cold. It’s a chronic disease that we and you have to live with if you’re around us all the time.

5. We all have hidden demons and issues. Put yourself in our position. Like so many others, we don’t like to be defined by our issues. Stop using the word “diabetic” and do use words like “people with diabetes” or even better, “people living with diabetes.”

Did I miss anything? Any recommendations that you have that you’ve seen work? Anything people have done for you? Leave a note!

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