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Need help navigating life with diabetes? You can always Ask D'Mine... Welcome back to our weekly Q&A column, hosted by longtime type 1 and diabetes author Wil Dubois.

Today, we're addressing how best to deal with those individuals in our lives who believe they know it all about diabetes, and what we can or cannot eat. We like to refer to them as "diabetes police." Wil has some great thoughts on how we can push back, diplomatically.

{ Got your own questions? Email us at AskDMine@diabetesmine.com }

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Kelsey, type 1 from Colorado, writes:I see there are etiquette cards to help people to talk respectfully to those of us with diabetes, but what about the other way around? Do you have suggestions how I can politely but forcefully get meddling relatives and friends off my “diabetes back,” so to speak?

 

Wil@Ask D’Mine answers: Great question! Now, for those who may not be aware, there's a term we like to use in the community for these individuals in our life: Diabetes Police. It's a term of endearment, if you will, because we know these family and friends -- or perfect strangers, as it may be -- often say things from a place of love and caring. They are trying to help us. Yet, often it coms across as them trying to police our lives with diabetes. Hence, the term.

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But getting back to the question of behavioral etiquette. For those of you who might have missed it, a number of years back Dr. Bill Polonsky’s team at the Behavioral Diabetes Institute in San Diego created a diabetes etiquette card for the loved ones of PWDs (people with diabetes). Available in both English and Spanish, it gives the top ten DOs and DON’Ts of loving, supportive communication from the non-sugar-impaired side of the fence—to us. For example, number three reads: “DON’T tell me horror stories about your grandmother or other people with diabetes you have heard about. Diabetes is scary enough…” Naturally, it goes on to remind everyone that handled well, the odds are extraordinarily good that anyone with diabetes “can live a long, healthy and happy life.”

There’s also a card for parents of D-teens, which only has nine tips, because we all know that teen diabetes is much simpler than adult diabetes (not). My favorite tip on that card is: “Please acknowledge when I’m doing something right, not just when I’ve messed up.” 

Polonsky, in addition to being a great guy, is also a great scientist. He didn’t just pull all of this out of thin air. Instead, he spent more than two years surveying several hundred PWDs to identify the top things that sugar-normals do, or don’t do, that drive us batty. Then he put his well-educated, creative brain to work on solutions—and then finally distilled it all down onto those magical tip cards. It’s simply brilliant, or as a British friend of my likes to say, it’s “brill.” 

But, as you say, those were written for our well-intended, but misguided loved ones. What should be the etiquette rules for us when engaging with our sugar-normal family, friends, peeps, and co-workers?

Of course, I don’t have the resources, training, or intelligence of Dr. P. But being a scrappy street fighter type, a lack of proper tools never stopped me before—so I’m happy to take up the challenge! 

I think as the first guiding principle, we need to acknowledge that we must treat everyone with the same level of respect that we want for ourselves. That should, as the Deceleration of Independence says, be “self-evident.” But you know, even our country’s founders felt the need to spell out the obvious, and in our fractured and fractious society, I think laying out this foundation of respect is more critical now than at any time in the past. So, shelve the instinctive, “Back off, b****” response.

In addition to respectful, I think we need to be kind. Let’s be honest: It’s easy to get hot under the collar when people get on your diabetes back. It can be hurtful, and often our first response is to hurt back -- an eye for an eye. But while that worked for Hammurabi, it has no place in civil discourse, and it certainly doesn’t lead to effective communication with well-intended, but misguided, friends and family. So, if someone says, “Are you allowed to eat that?” Don’t respond with, “Are you allowed to speak without adult supervision?” Even if you are dying to. 

Both of those principles firmly established, I think we should also always assume good intent—especially as this is friends and family we are talking about. We need to acknowledge that good intent before moving on to the heart of the problem, which is the fact that they are meddling, in a way that is either hurting you, pissing you off, or stressing you out. You’ll need to phrase this in your own style, but try something like: “I know you mean well, and believe me, I appreciate that, but you’re really not helping...”

Oh. Wait. That won’t work.

Let me clue you in on a secret magic power of the English Language: When you use the word “but,” it erases everything that was heard before it. “You’ve done a great job, but we have to let you go.” “I love you, but it’s not working out.” “That’s a great blouse, but…”

You get the idea. So, if you praise and add a “but,” you just negated the praise and wasted your time. So instead, just keep in your heart that your meddlers mean well, and that you need to be respectful and kind while still protecting yourself. And, as you said, Kelsey, you must be forceful—because the benefit of forceful communication is that you don’t have to do it again. And again. And again.

How about just saying: “Please don’t do that.”

To which, your surprised peep will likely respond, “Do what?”

And then with a sad smile, and perhaps resting your hand lightly on their arm, say, “Please don’t (tell me how to manage my diabetes / ask me what I’m allowed to eat / give me advice about what med to take / tell me when to check my blood sugar). Then end with a forceful: “I got this.”

And if that doesn’t work, just order a pile of Polonsky’s etiquette cards and use them as tools to scrape meddling friends and relatives off your diabetes back. But remember to be both be nice and respectful when you hand them the card. Say, “I’m glad you are concerned about me. Would you please read this?” 

Unless your blood sugar is running low. Then you might not be able to stop yourself from saying, “Read this, b****.”

 


Will Dubois lives with type 1 diabetes and is the author of five books on the illness, including "Taming The Tiger" and "Beyond Fingersticks." He spent many years helping treat patients at a rural medical center in New Mexico. An aviation enthusiast, Wil lives in Las Vegas, NM, with his wife and son, and one too many cats.


 

This is not a medical advice column. We are PWDs freely and openly sharing the wisdom of our collected experiences — our been-there-done-that knowledge from the trenches. Bottom Line: You still need the guidance and care of a licensed medical professional.