A Guest Post by Allison Blass
Last week, I wrote a post here about my new relationship with my boyfriend and how I was curious about how to educate him about diabetes without totally overwhelming the guy. Besides the little he had seen me do — test my blood sugar and wear an insulin pump — he was pretty clueless to the whole disease. So I sought out the help of my wise diabetes community for some pointers in how you had educated your significant other about diabetes. Thanks to everyone who wrote back, via the blog and by email. I really appreciate all the feedback!
It seems that the general consensus is... drum role please... to go at a pace comfortable for your partner.
I think Laura said very well when she wrote, "There are layers of truth. I do let the Type 1 diabetes fact be seen right away with the meter and the pump, but I also let people believe that I've got it all under control. Then, very slowly, if they're observant and if I trust them, they begin to learn that "well-controlled diabetes" is more complicated than they thought."
Boy is that ever true! I suppose you don't want to knock someone over the head with too much medical jargon. Even learning to live with disease first-hand is an ongoing process, so we can't expect a new person to be at an equal level, especially if we've had it for ten, fifteen or twenty years.
Pamela pointed out that our significant others will have different reactions to the information. Some, like Jen, are "intellectually curious," while others, like Pamela's partner, is "anxious." Pamela wrote, "I tend to share only a small amount of information. At the same time, he's very supportive, and will grab anything for me in an instant. So he doesn't really ask [about] my A1C results or new technologies coming down the pike, but, well, he loves me and cares deeply."
Okay, but what about actual resources? Jen wrote that her partner has the book 50 Secrets of the Longest Living People with Diabetes by Steve Edelman and Sheri Colberg, which she read and says it helped her to understand quite a bit. I own that book, so I'm definitely considering lending it out.
I also asked some friends on Twitter and TuDiabetes for recommendations. Besides 50 Secrets, other books that were suggested were the Pink Panther book (which is actually called Understanding Diabetes, by Peter Chase, but I'm pretty sure no one calls it that!) and Think Like a Pancreas by Gary Scheiner. There are also social networks that welcome the partners of people with diabetes, like TuDiabetes.com and there is a whole host of experts here in the Diabetes Online Community.
One thing I learned from reading the comments and talking to people is that while it's important to not overwhelm the person with too much information, it's also important to gauge how important diabetes is to your partner. Are they asking questions? Do they remember what you tell them? Are they impatient with your low blood sugars or unreasonably critical of your high blood sugars?
Jonathan wrote, "My current companion is the child of a T2, so knows a lot, but wants to learn more. She asks lots of questions, which I answer as best as I can. I try to encourage her curiosity. I don't think there is a right way or a wrong way. But, it is necessary for the person to be interested. In all the years of my marriage, my ex never did any independent research on diabetes, only came to the doctor with me a couple of times, and mostly focused on my lack of control and poor eating habits (which she was right about), but never really took the time to try to understand how hard what we do really is."
I have always been open about my life with diabetes. If someone asks, I'll tell them. I've been lucky in that I've never been discriminated in my personal or professional life. Most friends and colleagues know within the first couple of meetings with me, and so did my boyfriend. But it is one thing to say, "When my blood sugar is low, I need sugar, and when it's high, I need insulin," and another thing to actually get into the specifics of what happened and why and what you do about it.
The moral of the story, I suppose, is that each couple is unique and that it's important to have a "go with the flow" personality. Getting bogged down with the details of diabetes may distract your significant other with how totally AWESOME you are — and who wants that? But there are dozens of books and resources that will help explain the nitty-gritty of diabetes that sometimes I don't even understand! As long as you cover the basics — like how to treat an emergency — fairly early in the relationship, the rest of it can come as naturally as finding out that you don't put the cap back on the toothpaste.
Thanks for opening your heart, Allison. With Valentine's Day right around the corner, I was hoping that others might also like to share their "diabetes love stories" here. Let us know how you handle things with your non-diabetic partner, or if both of you have the Big D, how does that factor in to the relationship mix, which of course = daily grind + touch of romance?