There was a mix of confusion and dismay on her face, denial was competing with anger as she processed what I had just said. “You have Type Too diabetes ma’am,” I declared. My patient’s wife sat beside her husband, the pillar of strength for his diabetes management, his personal chef, wife of 45 years, his hand-holder, caregiver, coach, friend, philosopher, guide, and policewoman. Yes, policewoman. How did she assume so many roles, when did her shoulders share the “backpack” of diabetes management with her husband? And, of course, when did she develop ‘Type Too’ diabetes? Her husband was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes nearly 12 years ago, she was diagnosed with Type Too diabetes as well; she just did not know it.
She and countless other family and friends of people with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes go undiagnosed with ‘Type Too’ diabetes. What are some of the symptoms of ‘Type Too’?
- Passive aggressiveness, such as increased sarcasm
- Constant tendency to nag
- 'Helicoptering’ their loved ones
When I spoke at a Compassion Fatigue seminar, an event for caregivers to people living with chronic conditions, several people stopped by to chat about how they could be a better support person for their loved ones. Many were burned out from constantly managing their loved one’s diabetes for them. Some had given up being caregiver and support person out of shear frustration the person with diabetes was neglecting their condition. If you are reading this and are the support person for a diabetic, consider the below points.
- Respect boundaries: stop nagging, or hovering (helicoptering) and manipulating the person with diabetes to make them take charge of their blood sugars; even if you are doing it with the best of intentions.
- Let go: as hard as it is to let go, the motivation to change any behavior comes from within and we all have different motivators that make us want to take better care of ourselves.
- Increase your ‘Ask-to-Tell’ ratio: spend more energy asking how you can help the person manage their condition versus telling them what they need to do.
- Stop assuming: that you know more about diabetes than the person living with the condition; what you read and heard from another source may be outdated or may have been individualized advice, not applicable as a general rule for everyone.
- Take care of yourself: seek counseling if you are overwhelmed; joining a support group may help you. Do not allow the other person’s diabetes to take control of your life.
- Stop feeling guilty: there is only so much you can do to help your loved one. Ultimately it is up to the person with the condition to make the right choices to manage their diabetes. Do not fall into the trap of feeling guilty and assume the blame and responsibility for your loved one’s uncontrolled diabetes.
- Stop pinning labels: people living with diabetes constantly feel judged by their healthcare team, friends, and family. The focus of the 24/7 spotlight can be blinding and numbing. Do not use labels such as non-compliant, negligent, and other negative descriptors to address your loved one; not only is it demeaning, it can be de-motivating as well.
As a support person, caregiver, and someone with ‘Type Too’ diabetes, you have a responsibility to yourself as well as your loved one. If you are wondering about my patient’s wife who just found out about her Type Too diabetes, she left the consultation feeling empowered and stronger when she learned there was help for her as well as her husband.