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Sep 9 / Caro

What to Say to Someone Newly Diagnosed With Diabetes

As a person with diabetes, I can’t help but experience and involuntary spark of sadness every time I hear about someone else being diagnosed with this condition. True, it’s not the death sentence that is was a hundred years ago, but it’s still a life changing diagnosis, and one that I very much wish no one else ever had to receive again. When the person is someone who I know well, the spark becomes a full blown fire. And a couple weeks ago, it happened. For several days after hearing the news, it came to mind repeatedly. Uninvited and irrepressible, a mixture of shock and sadness flooding my thoughts. But amongst that was also an odd sense of, I guess, responsibility. I knew that somehow, I needed to find the right words to say. I felt a weight of expectation to know how to make this all seem a little bit better. It was something I wasn’t totally sure that I could do.

Here’s the reality: I was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of three. I literally do not know any different than living with diabetes. My diagnosis is pretty much my earliest memory, so I have no specific knowledge of what it’s like to go about daily life without the intrusion of wayward blood glucose levels, finger pricks and injections. My newly diagnosed friend is in her early twenties. She’s used to a life full of carefree fun and spontaneity. She’s at the start of her career, and just gaining full independence from her parents, making her own way in the world.

I don’t know how that feels.

To have your life turned upside down overnight. To have so much that you’ve taken for granted changed. To have very recent memories of a life where carbohydrate counts don’t matter and routine is a foreign concept. To have to suddenly learn to integrate medical procedures in to your day to day.

I was afraid of not being able to empathise with that experience. Not being able to offer any kind of support because it all seemed so far away from my own experience. And add to that the thirty-one years of gradually accumulated diabetes knowledge that I sometimes take for granted, and I was very aware of the gulf between me and my newly diagnosed friend.

I suppose I didn’t want to scare. Or to overwhelm. Or to assume. I wanted to find a way to be supportive without trivialising it, but without making it seem like the worst thing in the world. As always it’s striking that fine balance between showing how eminently possible it is to live well, and fully, whilst making it look fairly easy, and understanding that actually it is serious, and it can be hard work at times. Most of all, I didn’t want to be annoying. I didn’t want to pop up as the person knowing all about diabetes and feel like i was piling on pressure or judgement in any way. I must admit that in a selfish moment, it occurred to me that I would now be seeing on a day-to-day basis someone who will (eventually) have lots of their own knowledge about diabetes and that there would be a possibility that I would begin to be judged for choices, actions and bad habits (hello, never changing my lancet) that others don;’t know enough to judge me for. That thought made me aware of not wanting to be the one putting the pressure on, or seeming to be watching as she finds her feet.

In the end though, it was that thought that saved me. Because when I replayed it over to myself, I realised what I have gained: someone who will also understand diabetes intimately.

What I actually said, when the moment arrived, came completely naturally. It came from my heart, and the tears I choked back as I started were absolutely genuine.

I told her that everything will be OK. It will be different, but it will work itself out, although that will take time. I told her that it would be hard work, but that the rewards are absolutely worth the effort. I was able to share some of the crap things people will say and a way to develop a mindset to ignore them (plus a couple of cutting comebacks!). I was able to help reassure that numbers aren’t something to panic about, or feel guilty about, but are simply information to help us live as well as we can and make the best choices. We talked too about family pressures. Being a mum myself now has helped me understand the desire to take away anything bad from our children, and to always worry about them. I hope I was able to offer some insight and help with the feelings of being over closeted by a parent having experienced now from both angles.

Most of all, however, I was able to simply reassure that I “get it”. I understand. Two short, and powerful words. Our exact experiences may be different, but I know what it feels like to prick my fingers multiple times each day. I know that injections are the easy part, when others recoil in horror and say they could “never do it”. I understand the fear of hypoglycaemia. I know what a high blood sugar feels like. And I’m able to be there as much, or as little, as needed for a advice or a moan, or to celebrate a triumph that only a person with diabetes can understand.

And that really cemented the idea of my own gain. Blessed as I am to have several friends with diabetes and to know where to look for support online, I don’t currently see any of those people on a daily or even weekly basis. Suddenly, after all this time, I’ve gained an ally too. And far from fearing that I’ll be judged, or watched more closely, I feel like part of a team. Someone close to me understands what a middle of the night high blood sugar does to your mood on waking. Someone close to me has the little telltale black dots on the tips on their fingers. Someone else understands what it means to want to control something that does its level best not to be controlled. There is no substitute for camaraderie.

I didn’t need to worry about what to say. “I understand” was enough.

Vibe CGM Graph

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