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Talking about diabetes


I recently heard something interesting about diabetes and I want to share it with you. In a conversation with Professor Katharine Barnard-Kelly,  Ph.D.  she said she believed people who have had diabetes for a while fundamentally know how to manage the mechanics of it; the challenge is how to apply it in the context of their own lifestyle.  Juggling diabetes alongside other everyday priorities can be an enormous task, and it is little wonder that so many people experience diabetes burden and distress. A simple approach to reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed with diabetes in everyday life is to talk about it.

As someone who lives with diabetes and writes on the topic, I agree that there are 5 main topics we consistently read about on the subject of diabetes –

  1. what food does to the body
  2. how exercise and activity impact blood sugar and insulin resistance
  3. knowing your numbers and what to do with them
  4. what to do when your routine changes – like travel
  5. understanding there will be ups and downs both with blood sugar and your emotions around diabetes

But you’ve read all that.

Most of us who were diagnosed as an adult didn’t go to camp, we didn’t grow up with the condition and we didn’t get much coaching or direction from our healthcare team on how to “deal” with it. We certainly didn’t learn how to talk about it with our family, children, friends, or co-workers.

As we approach the mid-year check point, instead of going through the standard to-do list, let’s dive into the topic of how to talk about diabetes. Maybe we can share something that you haven’t heard before.

Now, I don’t know about you, but taking care of my diabetes every day is something I tend to put on “auto-pilot.” I just do it. Checking blood sugar, doing math in my head, making decisions about food and activity levels, and trying to decipher exactly what’s going on when my levels aren’t what I think they should be. Honestly, it wasn’t until I was at my daughter’s dance class that I realized how I react when there is a “situation”. There I was sitting by a parent that I have gotten to know, when my CGM (continuous glucose monitor) alarmed telling me it was time to check my blood sugar for calibration. At that point I did what I always do. I stopped what I was doing, silenced my alarm, pulled out my blood glucose meter, pricked my finger, and got my result. Seems simple, right? I glanced over at the dance mom, her eyes and mouth were wide open staring at me.  Then she said, “So, you can just do that right here?” I didn’t know what to say so I gave some sort of mumbled response like, “Yes, my CGM needed calibrated and so I just did it.” After putting my meter away, I looked at her puzzled face resulting from this foreign language called Diabetes that I just spewed at her. That is when it hit me. I realized no one ever told me how to explain my diabetes to people, no one ever told me that the people in my life who like to be helpful (family and friends) would want to do something – so what do I ask them to do?

Ideas to help you talk about diabetes

I wanted to share a few of Dr. Barnard’s questions to give you some ideas on how to help you talk about diabetes, how to help those close to you understand what it means, how to help you realize what you need, and give you the tools to be able to ask for it. 

  1. Do you think people around you understand what it is like to have diabetes?
    1. Why do you think that?
  2. What frustrates you most about the way people treat you because you have diabetes?
  3. Have you asked those closest to you for help to support your diabetes self-management?
    1. If yes – what happened?
    2. If no – why not?

When I read through these first few questions, I thought they were very thoughtful which in turn made me think about how I would answer them. They really lay a foundation for your thought process on how things work in your world currently. Then she went on with more questions:

  1. In an ideal world, what would you like to be different about the way those closest to you help you manage diabetes?
  2. What is one thing you would prefer they did NOT do?
  3. What is one think you would prefer they DID do?

This set of questions helps you create a framework for how you want things to operate – especially if it is different than what you are currently experiencing. And because we are often harder on ourselves than those around us, imagine for a moment, if someone close to you had diabetes:

  1. How would you feel?
  2. What would you want to do to support them?
  3. How do you think you could do that?
  4. Do you think they would be happy about the way you went about it?

This set of questions really helps you step back and look at it from your loved ones’ point of view. That helps to bring you back to reality to answer some really important, self-reflective, and actionable questions:

  1. What is ONE thing your family does (regarding your diabetes) that bothers you.
  2. What is ONE thing your family does (regarding your diabetes) that helps you.
  3. How will you turn the things that bother you into things that help you?
  4. What would need to happen for you to feel more supported?

When we spend time in self-reflection, it helps to ensure that we are doing all we can to be able to be present for the things we love most. I hope that you go through these questions with your family. First, answering them yourself then have your family answer a few that you might come up with like:

  1. What do they think is the hardest part about managing diabetes?
  2. When do they feel most helpless around you?
  3. How can everyone work together to get to a better place supporting your diabetes management?

If you come up with questions you’ve asked loved ones, other good ideas, or things that work for you that others might be able to use, please share with us on


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