There are a variety of reasons you might want to let some people in your life know about your diabetes. An obvious example might be that it can be helpful to have people in your life that can assist you in case your blood glucose levels are dangerously high or low, but even outside those emergency situations it can just be nice to know that you have other people in your life that are open and willing to support you through the everyday ups and downs of diabetes.
Here’s 5 reasons why chatting with peers about diabetes can be helpful:
- Know you’re not alone on bad days. When you have people that are eager to listen about your experiences with diabetes, and do so without judgement, you know that you can count on them when you are having bad days.
- Make you feel connected. Knowing you have someone that will be there to chat and help support you through negative experiences can make you feel like you are cared for and connected to your peer group.
- Boost your confidence. Having people in your life who validate your experiences with diabetes can lessen feelings of shame and foster a better sense of self-esteem.
- Foster better mental health. Having healthy social relationships can help lessen feelings of loneliness and symptoms of depression and other mental health issues.
- Safety. Having people around that know what to do if you are hypoglycemic can help keep you safe.
There can be a variety of reasons why you might not want to talk about diabetes with other people. It is totally understandable and valid to feel anxious or disinterested in talking to others about having diabetes. Plus, there might be situations in which your worries about people discriminating against you because you have a chronic illness are very real. Only you can decide when it is best to let others know about your diabetes.
Here’s 5 reasons why you might not feel like chatting with peers about diabetes:
- It’s awkward. There are a lot of situations where talking about diabetes doesn’t come up naturally. It can feel like there is no good time to bring it up in conversation.
- It doesn’t feel safe. You might worry that you will be judged or treated differently if people know you have diabetes. This can be especially so if you are trying to fit in with a new peer group or are worried that people are work will treat you differently if they find out you have a chronic illness.
- It’s too upsetting or overwhelming. If you have not had a lot of experience telling people about your diabetes, or you have had bad experiences in the past, talking about diabetes with others might trigger feelings of panic, sadness, shame, or guilt.
- Just trying to fit in/passing. Sometimes you don’t want to have to talk about diabetes and would rather just try to fit in as if you don’t have diabetes. This might also relate to other reasons why you don’t want to talk about diabetes (ex. it’s too upsetting or you don’t feel safe).
- Have not had good experiences in the past. If you have had negative experiences in the past, especially those where you felt discriminated against or bullied because of diabetes, you might not be so keen to open up to others again about having diabetes.
So, how do we navigate these pitfalls in order to connect with people and reap the benefits of talking about diabetes? This process will be different for everyone, but there are some basic approaches that can help you get started.
Here’s 5 ways to approach communicating about diabetes that might make it a little easier:
- Look at it as an experiment. This is not a one shot deal. It might take a few attempts to find someone to talk to that is willing to hear you out and be supportive. If one person you chat with about diabetes doesn’t feel right, just take note of what worked or didn’t work in the interaction and try again (either with them or with someone else).
- Be prepared for questions. Sometimes people have questions because they are unfamiliar with diabetes and its management; while other times people are only familiar with the stereotypes and misinformation. Common questions include: Does it hurt testing your blood/taking shots? Do you have to do it every day? What happens if you don’t? Did you eat too much candy or sugar? Can you not have sweets now? If you feel comfortable educating people about diabetes, you can talk to people about the realities of treatment and correct any misconceptions. You might also want to have some resources handy that you can give them for further reading.
- Try to be patient. Understand that other people are often starting from a place where they have little to no understanding of diabetes. It’s important to remember that even though you are now at a place where you have a lot of knowledge about diabetes and how it impacts your life, many people without diabetes have a limited understanding of the illness. It will take time for the people you talk to who do not have diabetes to more fully understand what having diabetes means.
- Tell people what you need from them. Because people are not familiar with the day-to-day realities of living with diabetes, they might not know how best to support you. Letting them know both what support is and is not for you will help them be there for you. Do you just need them to listen with out offering suggestions or judgement? Do you need help figuring out a specific issue? Do you need them to know what to do if you experience hypoglycemia? Do you need them to talk to other peers, so they have a better understanding of diabetes too?
- It is okay to say no. If someone finds out you have diabetes without you telling them and you aren’t ready to answer their questions, or if you let them know you have diabetes and they ask you questions on a day where you are not in a place to educate, it is okay to say that you can’t talk about diabetes right then. It doesn’t have to be mean or curt, just a simple “I want to chat more with you about this with you, but diabetes is hard today and I can’t right now. I’ll follow up with you when I’m ready. I hope that is okay.” If you want, you can offer a time to follow-up as well (such as over a cup of coffee or tea another day that week), so that you are in control of when the conversation will come up again and they will know that you are sincere in wanting to follow up with them.
If you are okay talking with friends about diabetes but freeze up when you speak to your medical team, check out Virtue's blog on How to Create a Healthy Relationship with your Healthcare Team.