My father, who had type 2 diabetes, lived pretty much in denial of his disease. Never overweight, he injected his daily insulin every morning, but ate daily hoagies and cheesesteaks for lunch and never exercised. Although he lived until 89, his last years were plagued with complications from heart and kidney disease.
But it isn’t my father I want to focus upon. It’s my mother. Married for 60 years to the love of her life, my mother nagged him every day about his type 2 diabetes, pleading with him to give up his nightly bowl of ice cream and can of Planter’s peanuts to no avail. Usually gentle and mild-mannered, this was one area where my father refused to budge.
I don't mean to criticize my mother. Watching a loved one refuse to take care of their health is hard. Occasionally, my father would have severe lows that sent him to the emergency room; other times he’d have god-awful highs. Nagging him to follow a more reasonable diet made sense, except that it never worked.
If you have type 2, this story may feel familiar. You may have a friend who chides you for ordering french fries, or a husband who constantly checks if you’ve exercised. They may not exactly nag, but as they track your behavior, it can make you see red. And why not? Maybe you carefully worked fries into that day’s eating. Or you’ve given yourself a well-earned day off from exercise. While your loved ones’ motives may be pure, they can end up making you feel less independent and in control.
Are there ways for friends or family members to help that might work for you both? Below are a few suggestions that I’ve gathered as I’ve struggled to manage my own diabetes. You might want to pass them on.
- Banish nagging. Most people with diabetes know what they need to do, and while a very occasional gentle prod might help, overall, it’s up for us to get with the plan. Trying to micromanage another persons' behavior rarely works. We need to feel empowered to change our own behavior. Nagging does nothing to help that.
- Study up. Know the signs of high and low blood sugars and what to do if they strike. Make sure you have orange juice in the fridge, access to glucose tablets, and a doctor to call.
- Recognize the individuality of diabetes. You may have read an article or two about treating diabetes online, but type 2 is a very individual disease with treatment plans tailored to every person’s specific needs.
- Ask questions and then listen. Maybe they want you to help pick out healthy food choices at the supermarket or a restaurant, or maybe not. These needs may change over time, so keep the discussion open.
- Abandon blame. While many people with type 2 diabetes are overweight, that is but one of many factors involved. Blood sugars are tough to control even if you balance carbs and exercise -- it’s a very complicated disease.
- Respect privacy. Some people are very open about their diabetes; others hold their management close to the chest. If someone doesn’t want to discuss their diagnosis, step away.
- Join them. The cool thing about diabetes is that eating a healthy diet and getting exercise is basically good for everyone. So rather than lecture a loved one about their care, try to partner up for a walk or a bike ride, or cook a healthy meal together. It could even be fun.
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