Diabetes can interfere with so many aspects of daily life…including friendships and relationships with others.
I’m an extremely fortunate person: I’ve never had my diabetes be a “deal-breaker” for a friendship or a relationship. I’ve never had much difficulty in explaining it to others or receiving support from friends when I’ve needed it. Of course, the level of support that I get from people in my life with T1D is much different compared to the support I get from people in my life without it, but both types of support are invaluable.
Recently, I had an Instagram follower ask me for my advice on how to help friends understand T1D: what it’s like and what’s appropriate to do/say to a person with diabetes. She expressed her frustration with a friend who doesn’t seem to understand that just because she has diabetes it doesn’t mean that she can’t enjoy sugary treats from time to time. So in response to her anecdote, I decided to round up my five best tips on how to navigate T1D and friendships/relationships in which there’s a lack of understanding and a little too much judgment.
#1: Be open, honest, and willing to answer questions. In almost two-and-a-half decades of life with diabetes, I’ve learned that this is the most important thing I can do when meeting new people and forging friendships/relationships. It’s not like my diabetes is the very first thing I say to people (“Hi, I’m Molly and I have diabetes” sounds like a South Park gag)…but it is something that I make sure to casually cover early on in the relationship. Opening the door to communication about diabetes from the get-go seems to have helped me avoid tricky situations in which I have to spend too much time correcting misunderstandings about life with diabetes and not enough time on fostering my connection with an individual.
#2: Show all aspects of life with T1D. My philosophy is to never hide any part of my diabetes from friends. I let them watch me when I do fingerstick checks, site changes, and more. I involve them when I need help correcting a low blood sugar or need to take a moment to do a bolus calculation. I’ve found that this really helps my friends feel included and they tend to show more interest and genuine curiosity when I do my “diabetes stuff” around them. It creates natural learning experiences for my friends and they get to see firsthand just how much work it can be to take care of my diabetes.
#3: Tag along to endocrinologist appointments. I understand that this might not be possible right now in this “new normal”, but in the past, I’ve had my significant other come with me to endocrinology appointments. The most memorable experience was seeing a diabetes educator with my significant other so I could be retrained on how to use an emergency glucagon kit, and so he could learn for the first time. It was really eye-opening for my partner, and ever since then, I’ve encouraged others to invite their loved ones or the person/people they live with to attend appointments every now and then. And hey, since so many doctors’ visits are virtual these days, maybe it’ll be even easier for more people to tag along to these appointments than before.
#4: Make an introduction to the DOC. Some of my friends are more social media savvy than others, so for those who have shown interest, I’ve introduced them to the diabetes online community on Instagram. There are sooooo many profiles there ALONE – forget Facebook/Twitter/other diabetes blogs – that do an incredible job of shedding light on the significant and mundane (and everything in between) parts about daily life with diabetes. These accounts have helped them truly get diabetes in a way they hadn’t previously and I think it’s made my friendships stronger, healthier, and judgment-free.
#5: Correct misconceptions – gently. Even my closest friends, or the ones with the best of intentions, have slipped up now and then and said something to my face that is simply not true about diabetes. And that’s okay, they’re not perfect (and they certainly know that I am not). When this happens, I use it as a teaching opportunity and let them know why what they said is wrong or factually incorrect. I find that the gentle, patient approach helps to reinforce whatever it is that I’m telling them, so at the end of the day, it’s a win-win for all parties.