by Dr. Bill Polonsky
From the Editor: Mike Freeman, president of our Diabetes Action Network, regularly scours the Internet and other sources for informative diabetes-related material. He found the following constructive set of courtesy tips from a person with diabetes, and we offer it here for diabetic and nondiabetic readers alike. The author of these suggestions, Bill Polonsky, PhD, CDE, has served as chairman of the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators, as a senior psychologist at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, and as an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He is the founder and president of the Behavioral Diabetes Institute in San Diego, California. Here are his popular etiquette guidelines:
1. Don't offer unsolicited advice about my eating or other aspects of diabetes. You may mean well, but giving advice about someone's personal habits, especially when it is not requested, isn't nice. Besides, many of the popularly held beliefs about diabetes ("You should just stop eating sugar") are out of date or just plain wrong.
2. Do realize and appreciate that diabetes is hard work. Diabetes management is a full-time job that I didn't apply for, didn't want, and can't quit. It involves thinking about what, when, and how much I eat, while also factoring in exercise, medication, stress, blood sugar monitoring, and so much more—each and every day.
3. Don't tell me horror stories about your grandmother or other people with diabetes you have heard about. Diabetes is scary enough, and stories like these are not reassuring. Besides, we now know that with good management odds are good you can live a long, healthy, and happy life with diabetes.
4. Do offer to join me in making healthy lifestyle changes. Not having to be alone with efforts to change, like starting an exercise program, is one of the most powerful ways that you can be helpful. After all, healthy lifestyle changes can benefit everyone.
5. Don't look so horrified when I check my blood sugars or give myself an injection. I don't enjoy it either. Checking blood sugars and taking medications are things I must do to manage diabetes well. Hiding while I do so makes it much harder for me.
6. Do ask how you might be helpful. If you want to be supportive, there may be lots of little things with which I would probably appreciate your help. However, what I really need may be different from what you think I need, so please ask first.
7. Don't offer thoughtless reassurances. When you first learn about my diabetes, you may want to reassure me by saying things like, "Hey, it could be worse; you could have cancer." This won't make me feel better. And the implicit message seems to be that diabetes is no big deal. However, diabetes (like cancer) is a big deal.
8. Do be supportive of my efforts for self-care. Help me set up an environment for success by supporting healthy food choices. Please honor my decision to decline a particular food, even when you really want me to try it. You are most helpful when you are not being a source of unnecessary temptation.
9. Don't peek at or comment on my blood glucose numbers without asking me first. These numbers are private unless I choose to share them. Numbers that are too low or too high are sometimes normal to have. Your unsolicited comments about these numbers can add to the disappointment, frustration, and anger I already feel.
10. Do offer your love and encouragement. As I work hard to manage diabetes successfully, sometimes just knowing that you care can be helpful and motivating.