A question posted at HealthCentral's diabetes site got me thinking today. A woman with type 1 diabetes for over 20 years asked about the severity of her condition and how best to communicate with her spouse regarding the importance of good diabetes management.
Type 1 diabetes demands so much from us that have the disease. However, we're not an island; our condition affects our loved ones too. Having a support system is invaluable when you're dealing with a chronic disease. Along with support, it's important that your family and friends are empathetic about your diabetes. I appreciate it when my husband, mom, or another loved one pats me on the back and says, "You're doing great" or "I know it's not always easy to manage this disease." A little understanding goes a long way.
One of the ways that my husband supports my healthcare efforts is by agreeing not to have certain foods in the house. There are particular sweets and snack foods that I find it really hard to resist. At the grocery store, I'll ask Dennis to choose other dessert items that he enjoys and I can do without. Sometimes he suggests that he'll just hide the delicious chocolate and almond cookies from me... but then he agrees it is best not to have them around.
Dennis has been home with Sienna this week. They've been having some quality father/daughter time. He called me at work yesterday to ask about a vial of insulin he found on the kitchen table. He wanted to see if it needed to be refrigerated. Although it was fine for the vial to be out, I really appreciated both his concern and his knowledge about my medication. It feels nice to know that someone is looking out for me.
Diabetes can interfere in the activities of daily life and it's important to communicate with your family when you face a challenge. I tend to drop low around dinnertime. We usually eat pretty late and it's often chaotic trying to get dinner prepped and Sienna ready for bed at the same time. Stressed and feeling a low blood sugar coming on- not a good combination. I've often gotten snippy with Dennis and had to explain, "Sorry, I'm getting low and need your help." He obliges without any snide comments about my mood or behavior.
How do we, as the patient, teach our loved ones how we'd like them to support our diabetes? Ultimately, those close to us will pick up on our attitudes toward the disease. If we take the time to manage our diabetes we send the message that it's an important aspect of our lives that demands our attention. If we neglect our diabetes care and then get frustrated with our loved ones for not supporting us, they receive a mixed message. In my experience, the more Dennis learned about diabetes from watching me manage it meticulously, the deeper he understood how he could be supportive and helpful.
Also, honest and direct communication is key. Don't expect your spouse to read your mind. If it bothers you when they indulge in foods you shouldn't eat, then talk about it. If you need extra understanding about a particular issue, ask for it. Most people are receptive when someone they love says, "I need you to support me." Sometimes we have to be vulnerable and seek the love and understanding that week need. It's not fair to feel like the victim of an unsupportive spouse if we don't take responsibility for telling our loved one what they can do to help.
How do spouses of diabetics feel about this disease? I'm going to pick Dennis's brain and report on his thoughts and feelings next week. Stay tuned for The Loved One's Perspective.