When your child – or your brother, or your spouse – has Type 1 diabetes, you sometimes feel like a waterboy on the sidelines of a big game, wanting to help (particularly when your team is in trouble) but unable to run on the field.
But there are ways that you, as a family member or close friend to someone with living with T1D, can assist and really make a difference. Here are some ideas.
Be an Exercise Buddy. For those of us with T1 – just like anyone else – developing and maintaining an exercise program can be a challenge over the long run. Even for seasoned athletes who love to be in motion, there are peaks and valleys, days (or weeks or months) when momentum flags and we’d rather sleep in. For those times, having an exercise buddy can help. Knowing that someone is counting on us to be at the track, the pool, or the gym, gets us out the door. If you encourage us, during and after strenuous exercise, to check our BG levels, we’ll love you all the more.
Do the Work. The average person who doesn’t have diabetes doesn’t know the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 and probably doesn’t care. You’re not average. As a family member of someone who’s been diagnosed, you know the difference and possess a rudimentary knowledge of the condition and how your loved one manages it. But when someone you love is T1, a rudimentary knowledge is not enough. Get some books, or spend some quality time with Google. Become an expert. Your loved one already is.
Learn the Language Type 1 diabetes is like a small country, with its own language and dialect. Learn it. Master the acronyms and terms that people with T1 use when talking about their condition. Then, when your loved one starts talking about her basal rate and her bolus and her A1Cs, you don’t have to sit there looking confused. Here’s a good directory of terms from the American Diabetes Association; there are many more out there.
Sign Up for a Google Alert. On Google News, you can sign up for daily or weekly updates on the topic of your choosing. Subscribe to an alert about T1D, so you can keep up with the latest news on the topic, and be able to share or discuss with your family member.
Don’t Ask Dumb Questions. You know that old saying, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question”? Throw that out the window when it comes to T1. There are lots of stupid questions, and if your family member has been living with T1 for a long time, like I have, he’s heard them all, and would appreciate not having to grit his teeth and try to answer politely again. If you heed No. 2 (do the work), this shouldn’t be a problem. But you should familiarize yourself with the questions that drive T1s mad. The DOC (online diabetes community) has had plenty of fun with this topic; Google “dumb questions” and “diabetes” and watch some of the videos they’ve made. Here’s one we love.
Finally, and most importantly:
Ask. Put the question to your family member or close friend. Ask, directly and specifically, “What can I do to best help support you?” If he jokes around, or tries to skirt the issue, ask again. Be sure he understands that you mean it. Then, do exactly what he suggests – and then even more. Because supporting other people – whether they have diabetes or not – means actively looking for ways in which we can be a positive force in their life, and not waiting to be told.