You’ll find this to be a very subjective topic for most people with diabetes: the kind of “support” we like to receive from the people around us. I know for me, the response would be based on endless scenarios and infinite combinations that depend not only on the cast of characters and their roles, but, just as importantly, the scene that’s been set and what script we’re all reading from. Some support is just intuitive and there’s no real guideline to follow. Let me give you a few examples.
Childhood with Diabetes: My Family’s Supportive Intentions
To start, let’s rewind to my childhood with diabetes. In my earliest Easter memories, my parents had tried to substitute a full-sugar solid rabbit – dense and formidable – that my brothers had found in their baskets – for a powdery, chocolate bunny – free from both sugar and flavor. Or instead of a bag of jellybeans maybe I’d find, say, a license plate for my bike. This was something that I didn’t appreciate in the least; the gesture meant nothing to me. Worse, it more than likely sent me to deliberately loot the Easter Bunny bounty left in copious amounts for every other member of the family.
Looking back, it wasn’t a precedent that did anything other than delay the transfer of responsibility of diabetes management that would have to eventually happen. I felt shortchanged. Something I wanted was withheld from me and it seemed unjust. Then and now, I don’t think this sort of behavior comes across as supportive, though arguably it was intended to be.
Adulthood with Diabetes: Support from my Neighbors
In my Seattle days, 20 years later, I lived in a great apartment building – great meaning I loved it. Not that it was large. In fact, exactly the opposite was true: there were only 6 units inside and a landlord whose big Russian family had a comfortable presence. Their holiday tradition was to leave a box of Frangos® (a candy created by a Seattle department store in the early 1900s) by the door of each tenant. For five years I found a box of sugar-free Frangos® there on Christmas morning. Even at the time, I was touched by the extra effort that went into that gesture. Though small, it meant they cared about me, acknowledging (though perhaps not fully understanding) my diabetes. Did I eat them? No! But, as we all know, that’s not the point. It was a warm, fuzzy moment and therefore, yes, I’d say it made me feel supported. In a good way.
Today, I think the safest way to support me (me, the diabetic) is to follow my lead. If I’m going to eat a bag of M&M’s® then don’t get in my way. Please don’t tell me I shouldn’t eat the bag. Our relationship – from that moment forward – will be seriously jeopardized. I might end up being sneaky or feeling resentful or doubted. A slight inability to be my true self in your presence may exist. Thus said, this is not an invitation to show up at my door with a big bag of M&Ms on your own! (Though you know I’d secretly – and not-so-secretly – love it!) And, finally, if you do show up at my door with a big bag of M&M’s® and we do enjoy ourselves with a few generous handfuls and I do ask you to have mercy and not abandon the remains of the bag with me when you leave, then please, pleeeease take the bag. You hear that, Cheryl, TAKE THE BAG!!!
How to Be a Great Diabetes Support System
To be supportive of me and my diabetes you can…
Remind me to exercise (don’t mind the icicles shooting from my eyes as I respond).
Offer a ride to an ophthalmology appointment when my eyes are dilated.
Run down to the kitchen to grab my blood glucose meter after we’re already settled into a cozy bed.
It might be nice if you didn’t stare into my face while we’re waiting, after stuffing my face with candy, for my blood sugar to come up? Awkward. Uncomfortable.
Listen to me complain while retaining the knowledge that I hate hearing myself talk like this as much as you dislike hearing it.
Make a point to never bring up arguments we may have had when my blood sugar was low (or high). Forgive me, also, if I’ve lashed out or hurt you in these situations.
Remind me that although no one really knows what’s going to happen tomorrow, my fears and misgivings are valid.
You can listen to me. You can hear me.
Help me enjoy the moment. Remind me the choices are limited here, the only real option is to move forward.