Helpful ways forward

Starting the coversation

The most helpful way you can improve all kinds of relationships, particularly those with people who matter the most to you, is to communicate as openly as possible.  

Contemplating and doing this may lead to some tricky thoughts and feelings showing up; that’s just likely to be a bit of natural anxiety popping up temporarily. You have the option to tolerate these feelings until they naturally pass in the service of better relationships with people you value in the longer-term.

Here are some ideas for improving your communication with others about diabetes. Click on each item for more information:

Talk openly and frankly about what has been happening and how you feel about it; diabetes doesn’t need to be the “elephant in the room”. Make sure you listen to the other person’s point of view too. Equally, if you feel there’s too much talk and focus on diabetes in a relationship, think about how to have a focussed conversation about diabetes from time to time, rather than frequently referring to it indirectly. Check out this helpful “Diabetes Etiquette” card from the US psychologist Bill Polonsky, which can be great to look at yourself or consider sharing with friends/family/colleagues
Try to plan what you’d like to say beforehand so it comes across in a calm and balanced way, and focus on what is important to you. Writing it down can help to get your thoughts and feelings in order to guide the conversation better, and give you confidence.
Try to express anything that you aren’t happy about in a matter-of-fact way, rather than using blaming and critical language. See if you can try using “I” rather than “you” statements, for example:

So instead of:

“You are making me feel frustrated and bossed around every time you tell me to check my glucose levels” (which can feel blaming and close down a conversation)

You could try:

“When I hear someone tell me to check my glucose levels, I end up feeling bossed around and frustrated.”
Be clear to express that you realise they are trying to help you and that there might be better ways to do this if you could think about it together as a “team”.
Even though you might prefer to keep things private, think about some things you would be willing to share with people you value in your life about your diabetes self-management.

For example, you might explain about the sorts of diabetes self-care tasks you already do, including those you do well and those you are still working to improve.

If you are someone who has someone in your life with diabetes – the most helpful thing you can do is to also consider your communication style.  Click on each item below for some ideas for improving communication with people you care about who live with diabetes.

Be curious about what this is like for your friend/colleague/family member.

Really concentrate on listening when they talk about how they are feeling or some aspect of what it is like to manage diabetes. Listening alone can be so supportive and really does equal “doing something helpful”.
See if it is possible to adopt a “We’re a team in this together” approach rather than a “I’m taking charge of this for you” approach; they are the expert on themselves and are likely to know an awful lot about diabetes – let them sit in the driving seat. Maybe think of yourself as an attentive supporter – willing to be guided / instructed.
Acknowledge that managing diabetes is tough and you appreciate how much effort and energy it can take, for example especially when the “numbers” don’t reflect the amount of effort and energy put into managing glucose levels.
Ask how you can help, rather than assuming you know what will be useful.

Remember emotional support is as important (sometimes more so) as practical help or reminders.
Showing you care is often more powerful than telling the other person.

You can show this with a hug or an encouraging note, by really listening to the person's concerns, by learning about diabetes, and by doing things that you both enjoy together (life needs to be broader than diabetes alone, and this can help restore energy and achieve a balance with diabetes management).
Helpful ways forward… Consider whether you might be playing a part in what’s tricky?

It can be hard to reflect on our own role in what is tricky in any relationship, but being aware of the unhelpful ways we think and respond can be really useful and in itself help to turn things around.

Be honest with yourself – gently and kindly – and think about any vicious cycles that may have been set up. Here are some common ones:

  • It’s understandable to feel overwhelmed by diabetes at times, and respond by sticking your head in the sand, avoiding checking glucose levels or even thinking about your diabetes needs. In turn, this can make people around you feel more anxious and try more assertively to be helpful/tell you what you need to do….which just leads to you feeling frustrated and burying your head deeper.
  • Maybe you’re feeling a bit anxious about diabetes and this is leading to you getting carried away with checking and thinking and talking about glucose levels. Maybe it’s on your mind a lot and it’s becoming hard to focus on other things that matter in life. People don’t want to upset you, so they have backed off a little and you notice they often try to steer conversations away from diabetes onto different things.
  • Maybe you say “I’m okay/fine” when anyone asks you how you’re doing; or try and hide the symptoms if your glucose levels are high/low to prevent people worrying or commenting.

By trying to be honest with yourself and those around you about what you are struggling with, you can start to take steps together to improve your diabetes self-management, whilst reducing the likelihood of your loved ones falling into the trap of pestering you or stepping back too far.

Helpful ways forward…Encourage help that works for you

Encourage the people who care about you to channel their energies in ways that are genuinely supportive and useful to you.

Be clear about the kind of help you’d welcome from them and what this may look like. Some of these may be practical or concrete things (e.g measuring portion sizes/carbs in a meal they are cooking for you, or bearing in mind that you will benefit from knowing about meal timings.) Others may be more emotionally supportive (e.g. if you feel someone is pestering you to check your glucose more, you might ask them instead to encourage you with a smile or a hug when they do notice you checked.)

If certain key relationships are still difficult after you’ve tried a few of the above suggestions over time, it may be worth talking to the specialist diabetes team. Having someone who understands diabetes and is neutral can be helpful in thinking with you about next steps forward. Your emotional well-being with diabetes is as important as the physical side of things, so don’t be afraid to ask your team for support.

Go to ‘Diabetes and your relationship with others’ to return to the main topic page, or choose another section.

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