Partner’s Corner

Telling a new partner about diabetes

Hi. This may seem like a silly question, but I want to know how do you tell a new partner that you have diabetes? Or should I say nothing and see how things go between us (I’ve been dating this guy for 6 weeks).” Bongani Nobuhle

Dear Bongani,

It can be a real challenge to tell someone you have diabetes. Sometimes people who do not understand diabetes have bizarre ideas about the condition and may react in an unwanted or hurtful way. Of course, some people will be more open-minded than others.

It’s normal for people with diabetes to worry about what their date will make of their diabetes. So when is the right time to talk about it?

Telling a new partner about your diabetes will be influenced by your personal preference and also by your medication. It’s a good idea to let your partner know about your diabetes early on in your relationship if you are on insulin, or at risk for hypoglycaemia. It will make the first episode of going low or having to inject less of a surprise to him. It is also a good idea to explain your need to inject at a convenient time as some people may feel funny about needles. If you are on oral medication, you could wait longer and see how you go.

When you do decide to tell him, be your brave and bold self. I do believe he has a right to know. If it scares him away, then he wasn’t the one for you. If he doesn’t know what it is about, all your secret long trips to the bathroom to check your sugar and inject insulin might alarm him. What if you can’t get up to go somewhere private to check your blood sugar? You don’t want to sacrifice your health just to keep a secret.

When you do tell him, don’t be a drama queen: just state the facts. Give your partner a chance to take in the news and be patient. Everyone reacts differently and at different speeds. But remember: if he doesn’t support you or take your diabetes seriously, don’t waste your time or his.

– Jeannie Berg, Diabetes Educator

 

 

Diabetic tips for teachers

“This year I have a diabetic child in my class and I don’t really know what to do. I want to make him feel supported but I also don’t want to make a big fuss about the fact that he’s diabetic – he seems to be managing it very well… What do you suggest?” Linda Nkosi.

Dear Linda,

I think it’s great that you want to lend support to your learner who has diabetes. However, being in charge of children with diabetes can be a challenge unless you know about the condition – it’s a good start for you to get more information on diabetes.

Children with diabetes often feel isolated and alone. Having to test your blood sugar several times a day, keep tabs on what you eat, and give yourself insulin shots or other medicine is enough to make anyone feel self-conscious and different.

If he is willing to do an awareness project with you, it could be very helpful for the whole class. It’s very important to first talk this idea through with him and his parents, though – some people prefer to hide their diabetes and pretend that it doesn’t exist. If you tackle this project in an exciting way, the child will feel involved and the other children in his class will enjoy the topic and then, like children do, just move on to something else. Children are like that. They soon move on, but the message of hypos, testing and shots will be stored in their memory banks.

Remember that this child must always be treated like his classmates. Don’t make exceptions. Always remember, he is a child first. He has diabetes, but that doesn’t give him more or less rights than the child next to him.

Like everyone else, kids with diabetes get along better with a little help from their friends. What a lucky person he is to have a supportive teacher like you!

– Jeannie Berg, Diabetes Educator

 

Tips for parents of diabetic children

“My son is a Type 1 diabetic, but I don’t want to be overly protective and make him feel he can’t do anything. Do you have any tips for parents of diabetic children, and how to make life normal?’ Sam Shongwe.

Dear Sam,

The first thing you must realise is that a child with diabetes is still a child. He should not be treated differently than a child who does not have diabetes. Granted, you have more issues to cope with – like good food choices, insulin and testing – but these things shouldn’t stop him from having a normal, happy childhood.

The first thing to do is make sure he is safe at school. Let a responsible person know what his diabetes involves so that they can keep an eye on him. By doing this you won’t have to keep phoning him or the school to make sure he is okay: this will only embarrass him and make him withdraw from friends and fun.

Remember, he can also play sports and take part in physical activities just like any other child: you just need to plan – first talk with his doctor, and then help him with the routine of glucose testing, planned eating, and insulin. Work out a plan that he’s happy and comfortable with.

Encourage your child and allow him to socialise. Let him do parties, sports, sleepovers and camps if he wants to. Discuss a back-up plan with him when he does, but try to let him do his thing.

Most importantly, help your child to become more independent by getting him to take an active part in his diabetes care while he’s still young. Encourage him to solve problems and make choices with you about adjusting insulin doses, for example. Help him create a good lifestyle so that his diabetes doesn’t become too difficult to manage and hijack his life. Self-care is the key to developing any child’s independence and self-esteem: it’s important to get your child involved in self-care as soon as he is able to – with your supervision, of course.

Finally, recognise your limit of control. Accept that you cannot watch over him all the time, stand back and allow him more independence as he becomes more confident and responsible. It’s the same with any child: if they prove their responsibility, they get more independence.

– Jeannie Berg, Diabetes Educator

 

How to handle a diabetes emergency

“A friend at work is diabetic, and I’ve never really thought about it before because he seems to handle it really well. But last month he had a scary episode where he started shaking and we had to put sugar on his tongue. How can I help him to feel okay about it?” Sini Webster

Dear Sini,

The word “diabetes” can lead to (unnecessary) concerns in the workplace about productivity and reliability. Co-workers who don’t have much information about the condition often feel unsure how to treat colleagues who are testing blood sugar, taking medication and possibly having hypoglycaemic (low blood sugar) episodes during work time.

The person with diabetes may feel insecure, embarrassed and afraid of being seen as different: it can be difficult to know how to support or assist them.

The most important thing is to develop trust so that the person with diabetes knows that they will not be made fun of or penalised for having diabetes. Everyone involved needs accurate information about diabetes and how to manage it: good communication and co-operation lead to a healthier, more productive workplace.

The shaking was probably caused by an episode of low blood sugar. Other symptoms include sweating, heart palpitations, anxiety and – if the blood sugar is very low – disorientation.

It is important for those with diabetes to choose a few colleagues who know how to quietly assist and not panic:

  1. Encourage the person with diabetes to have either a few sweets, 2 to 4 teaspoons of sugar in a little water or half a glass of Coke or juice. If they are unable to swallow, place the sugar or some jam on their tongue.
  2. Once their blood sugar has been raised by the sugary food, they should have something healthy to eat to stabilise it: a piece of fruit or a slice of health bread and peanut butter.
  3. If possible, they should test their blood sugar at this point.
  4. If they are disorientated or unconscious, call an ambulance: it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

– Jeannie Berg, Diabetes Educator

Teenagers and diabetes

“My teenage son doesn’t want to take his insulin. He rebels against it as if it’s something only I want him to do, not something he needs to do to keep him alive. What can I do?” Jesca Ncube.

Dear Jesca,

Even the brightest, smartest and most driven of teens have a hard time dealing with the day-to-day demands of diabetes. Having diabetes is often the one thing that trips them up.

They feel that their freedom is compromised. They are stuck in a zone where they are constantly asked about their blood sugar and as a result some lie about testing and taking shots: they suddenly experience a sort of “freedom” by lying and getting away with it. A wake-up call is usually when they land up in hospital. Most diabetics are prepared to try and do something to prevent that from happening again.

Because we live in a fast moving world, today’s teens have little time for themselves. Many teens are stressed, tired, and often have difficulty keeping up with the things they want to do, never mind the things they don’t want to do. Teens are risk-takers and struggling for independence – within this struggle, taking care of their diabetes is definitely not a priority.

So to answer your question:

The most important thing is to stay involved.

  • Try and coach your teen into some kind of “contract” between the two of you regarding his insulin. Encourage him and make him accountable. Ask him what is helpful for you to do and what is not. Listen carefully.
  • Find a health-care provider he likes and let him be educated about diabetes and the optimal treatment. Get him to meet up with other teens who are also living with diabetes.
  • If the shots are bothering him, find out why exactly and see if you can change things to make a difference.
  • Find out if he could be a good candidate for an insulin pump. Teens love technology and they usually do very well with pumps because they are growing up in a world exploding with new technology.
  • Never be afraid to seek counseling. A teen might refuse to look after himself because he is depressed.
  • This is the difficult part: you as a parent know the importance of insulin in your teen’s life. Try to explain it to him and ask him to work with you. Baby steps.

The good news is that most teens who have periods of giving up on their diabetes care eventually mature and start to do better again. Be your teen’s best friend: best friends do not judge and always stand by you.

– Jeannie Berg, Diabetes Educator

 

 

 

Dealing with diabetes burnout

“I’m worried that my wife is suffering from diabetes burnout. She seems exhausted by her condition and uninterested in getting it back under control. What can I do?” Simon Smith

Dear Simon,

Dealing with diabetes burnout is complex. There is no “one solution fits all” because the experience isn’t the same for everyone. Each person lives with diabetes in their own way, and needs different kinds of support. Burnout is often accompanied by stress, anxiety, depression and a host of emotional states like anger, resentment, shame and guilt.

A few ideas to help your wife work around her burnout are:

  • Allow her to feel “burned out”. If she tries to hide that emotion, it just makes it worse. Denial is not good for healing. Help her think of positive things about her diabetes. For example: “At least I am eating healthy.”
  • Nurture her. Spend quality time with her. Teach her to nurture herself.
  • Get her to slow down some things in her life. The idea is for her to have more breathing space in her life so that everything isn’t related to diabetes.
  • Sometimes it also helps if she changes her diabetes management. If she is using a pump, maybe she could go onto normal injections for a while. Or if she is injecting and this is getting her down, she could follow up the idea of using an insulin pump. Maybe wearing a continuous blood glucose monitor might help take the stress out of all the fingerpricks for a while.
  • Encourage her to connect with other people with diabetes so that she knows she isn’t alone.
  • Help her realise that she must not strive for perfection, and accept that fluctuations happen, even when she is trying her best.
  • Instead, focus on her victories: what she is doing right, even the small things. Then, set some achievable goals that build on those successes.
  • Together, try to identify the barriers she has in managing her diabetes. This will help both of you to decide what she needs to change to have better control over both her diabetes and getting rid of her burnout.

Always remember that your diabetes team is there to help you. Remind her that it is never about how you fall, but about how you get up.

– Jeannie Berg, Diabetes Educator

Helping a friend through a diabetes diagnosis

“My friend was just diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and weirdly the thing that’s bothering him most is what people will think. He doesn’t want to tell anyone because he says they’ll blame him for becoming diabetic – because he didn’t eat healthy or exercise enough. How can I help?” Shan Moyo

Dear Shan,

First of all, I think your friend is lucky to have someone like who cares enough for him to help him work through the barriers of accepting his diabetes. Because of all the studies that have shown that diet and lifestyle have an influence on Type 2 diabetes, uninformed people forget that there are numerous other reasons for developing diabetes as well. And the Type 1 and Type 2 labels also make people more judgemental.

To some people, their personal health problems and issues are exactly that: personal. Frankly, your friend doesn’t have to share with everybody that he has diabetes, but it is a good idea to let someone close to him know, in case of an emergency. One of the hardest things that newly diagnosed people with diabetes experience and fear is that those who have known you for years start treating you like you’re different. They see your diabetes and not you. But help him look at it this way: no one today would accuse someone with AIDS of giving themselves the condition. So why allow anyone to do it with diabetes?

What can you do? Be an active reader and read your friend like an open book. Listen more and talk less. Help him come to terms with his diabetes and find confidence in managing it. Don’t let him assume that others are judging him: nobody has any power over what other people prefer to think.

Finally, if your friend is really struggling with a lot of mixed emotions, remind him that it’s perfectly normal to feel that way, and that it’s okay to need some help with the burden of managing a demanding condition. And lastly, one of my favourite quotes by Lao Tzu for him: “Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.”

Help him to live free and happy.

– Jeannie Berg, Diabetes Educator

 

How to deal with a diabetes diagnosis

“My son has just been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and we all feel like our world has been turned upside down. But he’s really struggling to talk to us (and his extended family) about his diagnosis. Any tips on how to begin?” Razan Naransamy

Dear Razan,

When a child is diagnosed with diabetes, both parent and child feel different emotions. In the beginning, parents are inclined to spend time worrying about the physical effects and the day to day management of a condition they don’t yet know anything about. The child goes through different feelings, like sadness and hopelessness, even anger and frustration.

It might help to find someone your son will confide in – even if it’s just to find out why he doesn’t want to talk about his diagnosis. It could be a diabetes nurse he trusts or a psychologist or even a family member or friend. Don’t feel bad about getting help. There are many reasons he might not want to share: he might feel isolated, depressed, afraid or even angry at you. Because you are the one in charge of the tests and shots and the policeman of what he eats or does, it might be easier to blame you. He could even be feeling embarrassed because of the sudden overload of attention.

Helping your child involves acknowledging his feelings and listening to what he says. This communication does not always have to be verbal. Writing or drawing or even making music can get your child to share his feelings.

Encourage him to actively participate in his health care management. Help him to be independent. Once he starts feeling more confident and independent, he will be more likely to share his feelings of living with diabetes. Encourage him to have fun with friends and if he starts going on outings and camps with friends and other children with diabetes he will learn from them that it is okay to talk about it.

  • Tell your son that he did nothing to deserve diabetes – it just happens. If he feels that the condition is troublesome for you or your family, reassure him that there’s no reason to feel guilty.
  • Remember that children are likely to copy the way that their parents cope with something.   Also remember that expecting a child to deal with things quickly and practically isn’t helpful to you or him. You need to set the example.
  • Build a support network that you and your family can fall back on. Be informed parents.
  • Make the most out of every day.

You and your son are on a lifelong journey with diabetes.

A good journey requires lots of planning, flexibility, curiosity, frequent course corrections, and an occasional attitude adjustment.

Make it a good one.

– Jeannie Berg, Diabetes Educator

 

Diabetes and children’s parties

My son was just diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and I want to know what to do about children’s parties and play dates? I don’t want him to feel ‘different’ but I also want to make sure his blood sugar won’t get out of control.” Linda van der Merwe.

Dear Linda,

I’m not sure how old your son is, but diabetes at any age can be difficult. Rest assured, what seems overwhelming now will eventually become routine.

Diabetes affects a child’s emotions, and badly controlled blood sugar can make diabetics feel irritable. If your son forgets to take insulin for a piece of cake at a birthday party, for example, he could end up fighting with his friends. Talk to him about the kind of food that will be at the party and help him to make decisions about which foods to choose, and which to avoid. Make sure he has something sweet on him in case he goes low, and chat with him about what to do if he feels funny. Most importantly, let him know that you are only a phone call away.

Yes! The thought of your child going off to a party at someone else’s home may make you scared. Away from your control, over-excited by all the fun and surrounded by delicious high sugar and high carb treats. A parent’s worst diabetic nightmare. But just remember: a child with diabetes is still a child. And children LOVE birthday parties!

It’s a good idea to call the host parent and find out what sort of food and drinks are planned for the party. You can even offer to provide a platter of your child’s favourite (diabetic-friendly) snacks, so that he can share them with his friends. Let the host know that you will have your phone on you the whole time.

Lastly, try to relax. With careful planning, your son can safely enjoy birthday parties as part of his childhood.

– Jeannie Berg, Diabetes Educator

 

How to help a friend with diabetes

I would like to know to help and support a friend who has diabetes. My friend is a Type 1 diabetic and I’m not always sure how to help him in the tough times.” Markus Vorster

Hi Markus,

You have not said how old your friend is, but much of the basics stay the same. Here are 7 ways to support your friend with diabetes.

  1. First of all, treat your friend like anyone else. It is important for him to realise that his diabetes makes absolutely no difference to your friendship. If your friend is having trouble accepting his condition, be supportive and understanding.
  2. Try not to ‘mother’ him, but do encourage him to look after himself.
  3. Understand that people with diabetes are more prone to mood swings and depression than those who do not have diabetes.
  4. Learn to be able to recognise when his blood sugar goes too low, and know what to do in case he needs help.
  5. Remember, really tough times for diabetics are when they are sick. Blood glucose levels bounce up and down and this makes them feel more ill.
  6. Give him all your support by understanding his condition to the best of your ability.
  7. Get the facts and go beyond the myths and misinformation by talking to your friend, your doctor, or relatives who have diabetes.

As a friend, your understanding and acceptance are very important. The more you understand his circumstances, the less alone your friend is likely to feel.

Empathise, but never sympathise.

Good luck!

– Jeannie Berg, Diabetes Educator

Teens with Type 1

Teenagers with Type 1 diabetes feel especially isolated and alone. It’s bad enough dealing with body changes and hormonal issues, but add to that testing blood sugar, keeping tabs on what you eat and injecting yourself, as well as mood swings, and you can see why teens with Type 1 have a lot to deal with. Understanding what goes into diabetes means you can help your teen feel less self-conscious and different from everyone else.

Photo by Asaf R on Unsplash

Mood swings in people with diabetes

What can you guys tell me about mood swings in Type 1s? Happy the one day, negative the next? What advice do you have for partners of diabetics on how to handle these mood changes?” Lynne van der Spuy

Dear Lynne,

Mood swings are common in people with diabetes for both emotional and physical reasons. Anger and anxiety are normal reactions when someone has a chronic condition: it’s a lot to cope with, and at times overwhelming. Problems with poor control can cause stress levels to climb, leading to a vicious cycle of high glucose levels and fear about managing the condition. In fact, the emotional impact of diabetes is so vast that the risk of depression is doubled.

Physically, when someone’s sugar spikes or drops, it can actually produce feelings of anger and anxiety that are really out of their control. It can also make it harder to concentrate and cause fatigue, which would make anyone feel down. Stressful situations alter the body’s management of glucose, which can result in unstable blood sugar, so you may notice that mood swings worsen.

How to handle a mood swing:

  • Communication is vital. Address the issue when your partner is in a good frame of mind.
  • Explain your frustration and say that you understand mood swings are part of diabetes, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Make sure you feel heard; that’s important for your emotional well-being!
  • Ask your partner to check blood sugar during a mood swing, and correct if necessary.
  • Try to stay calm and avoid getting drawn into a fight; walk away if you need to.
  • Long term: encourage good diabetic control, and think about seeing a counsellor if the emotional issues remain difficult.

– Jeannie Berg, Diabetes Educator