Recently I attended a book reading by one of my favorite authors. The coffeehouse was packed with his admirers. Sometime around the middle of the reading, I sensed that I was becoming hypoglycemic. I reached into my purse for the fruit bar I put there just for this purpose. As I began to open it, I realized for the first time that the wrapper was extremely noisy. I stopped unwrapping. When I resumed, I did everything I could to silence the crinkly wrapper. When the woman in front of me looked back at me and glared, I quickly (and loudly) ripped it open to end the noise.
Later, I reflected on this experience. One of my first thoughts was, “I’m not buying those fruit bars ever again.” The fat-free promise on the package had prompted me to buy them, but I couldn’t help thinking, “The label ought to include a warning: Caution-Wrapper Extremely Noisy.” Silly thought, but humor helps me to cope.
On the serious side, had I been wearing a leg brace that clanked as I walked would I have gotten the same ice-cold glare from that woman?
The heart of the issue is support. People around us often are unsupportive because they don’t even know that we have diabetes. And, even if they knew, they would have to have a fairly thorough understanding of it to appreciate why we sometimes need to eat carbohydrates immediately.
Support is such an important part of life in general, and of living well with diabetes in particular, that I would like to invite you to reflect with me. What is support? From whom do we get it? How do we get it? How do we support ourselves?
Each person has a unique way of thinking of support. For some, it means understanding. This type of support involves an emotional, as well as intellectual component. It means that people intellectually understand what diabetes is from the practical viewpoint-how food, insulin, and exercise interact and what the implications are for day-to-day activity. Having an emotional understanding means comprehending everything from embarrassment or fear over an insulin reaction to the facing of one’s mortality. Support can also include food preparation and the injecting of insulin. How do you like to get support? Once you have a clear idea of that, identify your resources.
Family, friends, and co-workers are the most obvious resources. Emotional support is often successfully accessed through support groups. Spiritual resources can include affiliation with a religion and fellow worshippers, and inspiring books and people. Reflect on your sources of support. Identify them. Then explore how you get what you need. When it comes to other people, the best method is to ask.
There are three ways to do this-by being aggressive, passive, or assertive. The aggressive way is really demanding. The underlying emotion is anger, and hostility seldom attracts support. The passive asker is pouty, even whiny. The underlying emotion is self-pity. Sometimes the person from whom support is being solicited feels guilty enough to give support, but it will be short-lived and unhealthy to the relationship.
Assertive communication is respectful. Out of self-respect, a person recognizes a need and with little, if any emotion, simply asks to have that need filled. Out of respect for the other person, the request is neither demanding nor guilt-producing and opens the lines of reciprocal support.
It is our responsibility to communicate so that our supporters can understand diabetes and appreciate our needs. I have explained to my friends how insulin works and why I inject it at least 30 minutes before a meal. Then, when I am at a friend’s home for dinner and ask, “Are we about 30 minutes from eating?” my host/hostess responds with the information I need. This education and communication process prevents my friends from viewing my question as odd or rude and prevents any embarrassment for me.
Finally, how do we support ourselves? By being prepared. Last April, I was on a flight from Detroit to Minneapolis, less than a 90-minute flight. We were scheduled to land at 10:20 a.m. However, we sat on the runway for six hours waiting for the plane to be de-iced. We finally got into Minneapolis at 4:30 p.m. Because I carry food, insulin, and my blood glucose monitor, I managed fine. It’s not up to the airlines or the person sitting next to me to provide what I need. That is my responsibility.
My recent experience at the book reading has taught me yet another lesson about personal responsibility. Tonight I am going to another book reading. I have soft, chewy, silent carbohydrates in a sandwich bag that makes no noise.
Thirty-eight years with diabetes…and I’m still learning.