Diabetes Affects Us Both
Last night I was having a conversation with a good friend who inquired about referring someone to my educational and therapeutic services. She was telling me about a situation that happened to the person’s husband. As she talked, and I listened, my analytical mind couldn’t ignore the glaring issue in front of me.
I would not only need to work with the person’s husband on self-care and self-protection, but I would also need to see them as a couple as well.
Listening to my friend, this is what was evident: It is not just the husband who is struggling with diabetes. They are both struggling with it.
The wife has her issues about the diabetic conditions affecting their relationship and safety, just as the husband has his self-care management issues.
The husband has lived with Type I diabetes since his early teens, and he is in his 40’s now. He is struggling with controlling his diabetes. Relationship issues due to the diabetes is a relatively typical scenario for my clients.
In my clinical opinion, they are both struggling. The husband is having his challenges with accepting his diabetes and getting it under better control. The wife is struggling with accepting that he has a chronic illness that requires 24/7 monitoring. It is evident that she loves him and cares about him, but she is at a loss for what to do to support him.
Most diabetics reading this would say accepting diabetes is a terrible thing in itself, no matter how long you’ve lived with it. It is even harder to live with if you are in denial or afraid of change.
The fact is: diabetes requires a constant changing of plans and lifestyle, sometimes from day to day or even moment to moment.
Diabetes also affects more than just the person with it. It affects everyone around the diabetic.
In this particular case, the diabetic husband had a severe low blood sugar reaction that led to a diabetic seizure and him needing an emergency hospitalization. I listened further to the wife’s reaction and the husband’s subsequent feelings about going into the hospital.
She was frustrated with him because, for him, once he came home the episode appeared to be over for him. For her, the diabetic episode had left a massive wake of worry, panic, and disruption of the lives of those around him. His struggle with controlling his diabetes disrupted and affected everyone in their family.
Unfortunately, the elephant in the room is in full effect here because it is never over for the person living with diabetes after a severe reaction. Most individuals living with diabetes sit in silent shame and guilt feeling as if they should have prevented the low blood sugar reaction. They feel deep sorrow for those they impact. It’s unfortunate and often painful to verbalize to the significant others of the person living with diabetes.
The wife is also understandably frightened by her husband’s most recent low blood sugar reaction. It has gotten so bad that the wife wakes up the husband in the middle of the night to test his blood sugar levels to make sure he’s okay.
This situation, unfortunately, is not that uncommon between significant others who share their relationship with diabetes.
In most relationships, husbands and wives care deeply about the health and safety of one another. After all, don’t you watch your husband or wife every time they take a shower to make sure they don’t fall? Maybe not every time, but if you hear a weird noise, don’t you go running to see if he or she is okay?
When a person living with diabetes is in a relationship, the focus can become diabetes. It affects the diabetic partner’s behavior and mood and, at times, things can get very intense between the couple. This same behavior can also influence the entire family, close friends and even co-workers.
Low, fluctuating and high blood sugars are not intentional. They are more akin to stubbing your toe on the corner of a table. An accident! They are the result of an uncontrollable variable that the person/diabetic didn’t see, causing sugars to be at one level or another and out of control.
Every day, every moment, every second is different than the last. The individual with diabetes never knows when it may happen, just like stubbing your toe. You do your best to control it, but it still happens.
Low, fluctuating and high blood sugars are part of even a very stable and well-controlled individual with diabetes, daily life. Fluctuating Blood Sugars come with having diabetes.
If the person living with diabetes could, he would make diabetes go away and all the issues along with it. No more: feeling ill, sudden visits to the hospitals, stopping to take care of low blood sugar reactions, the depression, and a lot more BS than you could ever imagine.
So you have a choice: You can let diabetes destroy a perfectly good and loving relationship, or you can get help.
You can accept diabetes with patience or fight the reality that your husband or wife or best friend or co-worker is living with a chronic illness, and that plans will always be subject to change. This fight will cause continued frustration and anger. If you confront the reality of diabetes, then diabetes will become the elephant in the room, and you both will lose.
For right now, let me offer a pointer and a simple change that may be very hard for many people. It takes a lot of practice to do but it can make a world of difference.
When something happens with diabetes that changes your plans, whether it is an unexpected trip to the hospital or just taking a few moments to sit on a bench, avoid getting frustrated. Be patient.
This stuff happens all the time. No matter how in control of your blood sugar you are or your significant other is, these things will happen, and they’ll continue to happen.
My advice is to learn to go with the flow, accept change, enjoy life and each other, and live in the here and now.
If you have a diabetic seizure every month or if you are struggling quietly with the management of your diabetes, please get help from a Certified Diabetic Educator or your endocrinologist.
Eliot LeBow, LCSW, CDE, is a diabetes-focused psychotherapist. His private practice, located in New York City and is also available via Skype. LeBow, who has been living with type 1 diabetes since 1977, treats the many diverse cognitive, behavioral, and emotional needs of people living with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
All the advice included in this blog is therapeutic in nature and should not be considered medical advice. Before making any changes to your diabetes maintenance program, please consult with your primary physician or endocrinologist.