Please Help! What To Do When You’re Deemed a Diabetes Expert

Hardly a day goes by that I am not asked a question related to diabetes. I’m a “heart on my sleeve” diabetic. Because one of my jobs, writing articles and guest blog posts, centers on the subject of diabetes, I’m known, in part, by my disease.  

In the past week alone I have encountered three people seeking blood sugar-related advice and support.  A man with type 2 diabetes, whom I often see at the gym, asked me why his blood sugars are consistently high in the mornings. I just got an email yesterday from a friend asking me for support for her cousin, an eighteen-year-old who was just diagnosed with type 1. I’ve been texting back and forth with a childhood friend who is expecting her fourth child and is dealing with chronic low blood sugars. 

I’m not a medical professional, and I think that is the very reason that I’m approached so often.   I don’t wear a white coat or require an appointment. I am person living with the daily trials of this disease, and I’m doing okay.  People want what I have, diabetes education and confidence, because blood sugar issues are intimidating.  

If you, like me, are often approached by individuals with questions and concerns about diabetes, take a deep breath. Yes, it can get overwhelming and sometimes even annoying.   Who am I, you might ask, to help someone else when I’m busy coping with my own diabetes questions and concerns?  

I believe in God and that He puts people in particular places at particular times to help others.   My diabetes has organically become a ministry of sorts. Even when I don’t feel like helping out someone else, I have to stop and reflect on the fact that I was once where they are–scared, uncertain, and confused. When I was at that point in my life, other people helped me. It’s time, I have resolved, to give back.

Having a game plan helps in that process. Here are six ideas to get you prepared for that next diabetes-related encounter:

  1. Listen. This is no easy task for me. I admit, it takes a lot (and I mean a lot) of effort on my part to listen to another person. I am constantly thinking about my next article, what I will make for dinner, the stack of papers I need to grade, and my demanding toddler. I’ve realized over time that most people aren’t necessarily seeking advice. Instead, they are seeking someone who will show them that their concerns and questions matter.
  2. Ask clarifying questions. What, in particular, is their struggle?  When does it occur?  How often?  What is going on in their life that might be contributing to the problem? After you ask, revert to Step 1: Listen.
  3. Recommend a professional. I always advise someone who is struggling to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Though I can suggest what I might see as the issue or potential cause of their blood sugar issue, I am not medically trained.      
  4. Offer resources. Whether it’s a website, a book, or another person, I have a slew of resources that have helped me, and I never recommend any piece of literature that I haven’t read or any person whom I haven’t encountered. I also advise people to use resources as a support, not as a way to self-diagnose or self-treat. 
  5. Be honest.  When I don’t know, I say that I don’t know. I am hardly a diabetes expert, though I have personal experience. Sometimes all you can do is offer your personal experience, with the disclaimer that each person’s blood sugar issues are unique and that your resolutions aren’t necessarily going to work for another person.
  6. Commit. Follow up with the person in some way. Offer to meet for coffee, send an email, or make a phone call. Encourage the person to take his concerns to a medical professional if he hasn’t already done so. I have found that sending the person a card or an email is a non-threatening and friendly way to show that you care.  The follow-up you provide might be the push that the person needs to seek medical attention.  And of course, it could make her life better or even save it.

Diabetes is not only a disease: It’s also a responsibility. Maybe you didn’t sign up to be a diabetes go-to person, but now that you have the job by default, why not embrace it?

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