Tag Archives: support

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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Filed under Diabetes, Family

The Support That Pulls Through

Ever try to go on a diet but no one in the house understands and continues to buy cookies and candy, not caring that you’re attempting to stick to your salads and lean meats? Living in a household with more people than just yourself can make dieting kind of hard. When you’re diagnosed with diabetes, of whatever type, multiply that need for support times 10.

A lot of times it’s hard to keep having to explain yourself to other people, especially when you’re learning how your own body needs to improve and function properly to stay healthy. Diabetes is a lifestyle change that many people don’t like to go through, especially Latinos. It bothers me sometimes that many Latinos just want to give up because they think they’re supposed to die from it. I’m Latina and I’m here to tell you it’s not TRUE!

I met someone last year who was diagnosed with Type II diabetes; a Latino. He emailed me to ask what he should do. Get to a doctor, I told him, but firstly, you have to stay away from anything with unnatural or processed sugar. No more pop, no more fast food. Stick to natural and healthy. I gave him a few more pointers since he admitted to me that he never exactly lived a healthy lifestyle and he didn’t know where to begin.

A few months later, he walked into the office where I worked. He had lost about 20 pounds and rejected a sugary drink. “I’m trying to stay away from the sugary stuff now,” he said. I was proud of him for actually taking the initiative to improve his health.

When you have a team of support behind you, you work harder to improve your life. Learning about the consequences if you don’t take care of yourself, like heart attacks, strokes, amputations, blindness, sores and death, may also scare you into your lifestyle change. Whichever works, do it. I say, find that support system.

When you buy food at the grocery store, you don’t have to completely stay away from sugar, just find a balance and choose  wisely. Nutritional Facts on the back of the packages is a good place to start! Finding cereal with whole grain, a lot of fiber and little sugar is better than Frosted Flakes. Now, they sell juice with 50 percent less sugar than regular cartons. When looking for bread, find high fiber, whole wheat bread because fiber actual helps maintain your blood sugar levels. Stay away from consistent red meat and make sure to eat chicken and turkey and fish. Get your family away from high sugar intake. It’s bad for your teeth and just doesn’t make your body feel good. Eat more fresh fruits with natural sugar (which is digested faster) and better for your body. Eat green vegetables. If you grill bell peppers, their sweetness comes out and are delicious. And remember, organic should be your way to go.

As a kid, I didn’t have a choice. I found out I was diabetic when my mom had me checking my blood sugar the required three times a day. “Am I going to have to do this for the rest of my life?” I asked as she pricked my finger. Yes, she told me. That’s when I knew.  A few weeks later they put me in the hospital for four days to monitor my insulin treatment, making sure my body wouldn’t reject the hormone and the dosages were correct.

My mother went through a depression I had never seen before. The fact that her first-born had an illness no one knew anything about was hard for her. How was she going to deal with it? Was it her fault?

I’m not going to lie, I was a fat kid. But at the same time, diabetes starts even before anyone can notice it and by the time any effects are seen, 90 percent of the insulin-making cells have been destroyed. So, it was in my body for long before I was diagnosed.

In order to treat it the best way they knew how (they being the doctors), I had to be on a very strict diet. I had two pieces of toast in the morning with a half cup of orange juice. For lunch I had a sandwich and milk. Everything was accounted for because I was on a consistent dose of insulin and I had to eat or else my sugar would drop. I lost a lot of weight and was attempting to control my diabetes. But I forgot to mention the naturalezas that my grandmother was convinced would cure me! I had concoctions that tasted like grass and plants. I swallowed garlic whole and ate some other things that people would give me. I drank holy water, rubbed holy oil all over my body and they prayed, but nada.

Anyway, at that point, it wasn’t just me that needed support, but my mother did, too. One thing I forgot to mention is that my cousin, who lived three blocks away, was also diagnosed six months before I was. So my aunt was in the same boat as my mother, although she didn’t take it so hard. Both my mom and aunt sought out support groups from the hospital my cousin and I went to. We too, were also in support groups for kids. Some kids would come in and still be healing from the repercussions of diabetes and had to carry along their IV bags and were in robes. Like my cousin, many kids and young adults find out they’re diabetic because they get flu-like symptoms due to hyperglycemia (when your blood sugar is way too high). My cousin was vomiting, peeing every five minutes, his breath smelled of candy (because of the sugar), he slept all the time until finally, they didn’t know what else to do besides check him in.  I was lucky enough that I didn’t go through that. They caught it early in me.

Here’s an interesting fact: Back in the day, like 6th Century BC, they tested you for diabetes by seeing if ants were attracted to your urine. Ants are attracted to sugar, therefore, if ants were attracted to the urine, there was sugar in it and hence you had a problem. This technique was used by the ancient Indians who called it the “sweet urine disease.”

So at the support groups we got coloring books and talked about school. “What would you tell someone if they said they didn’t like you because you’re diabetic?” asked the doctor. I answered that assuredly with, “It’s their problem. I can’t get rid of it and if you don’t like me for that reason, that’s not my fault.” Sounds like me, doesn’t it?

My mom and aunt went to parent support groups and learned a lot about what happens within the body. My mom has since become a medical nut. She’s not a nurse or anything but because of taking care of me and my grandmother, she’s seen more than her fair share of doctors.

Then there are people like the rest of my family who have gotten used to me drinking Diet Cokes, not having too much candy or sugar and are always asking if I’m taking care of myself. They support my healthy choices. Since I’m always around them,  they know that me checking myself and taking a shot is normal. That’s normal.

And of course, my boyfriend. He’s learning more and more by being with me. He yells at me when my sugar drops and I don’t have any candy, he makes sure I check myself when I have to and I eat when I have to and he goes with me to see nutritional specialists and my endocrinologist because he wants to learn. He wants to know how he can support me to make this easier.

When faced with diabetes diagnosis, don’t go through it alone. Doctor Enrique Caballero, MD, from the Joslin Diabetes Center at Harvard, told me that most people with diabetes are healthier than “normal” people. Everyone wants to be a little bit healthier now a days. So grab a partner. If it’s your aunt, cousin, sister, best friend or parent, there will always be someone to get in on the fight with you. One thing they do out at Joslin is acknowledge people who have been living with diabetes for 25, 50 and 75 years. So if you could have a gold star for making it that long, which one would be your goal?

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Filed under Diabetes, Doctors, Food, Health, Other Diabetics, Personal, Stories