A friend-guide to type 1 diabetes
As a diabetic of 10 years now (!), it's been really hard telling friends that I have type 1 and take insulin and have different requirements than 'regular' people. It took me 2 years and a surprise birthday cake to come clean to my closest friends in college. (I still ate some of the cake though :D)
They were, surprisingly cool about it - or they just didn't know how to respond? I wasn't expecting that because my friends from school were extremely overprotective of my health, they'd ask me if I needed glucose when I showed signs of low blood sugars, asked me if I was checking my sugars regularly, went running with me if I needed a buddy and every time we went out for a meal, would stare at my portion of dessert until both the desert and I cowered from a guilt borrowed from their expectation. They were- are- solid friends, but I didn't know whether I wanted that kind of policing in college - or who would want to take that responsibility.
My friends in college have been the exact 180 - and I'm grateful, but not quite. There's always a fine line between respecting somebody's space and indifference, and I'm here to point that out.
What can you do as a friend to be a good, solid ally to your type 1 friend without going overboard? Here's a quick friend guide :
- If they tell you about their illness, don't tell them about your chacha with type 2 diabetes, or what they should be doing to 'get better'. Know that there are different types of diabetes. They know what's up, you just have to listen. Get good at listening, until they can talk to you about their frustrations with managing diabetes and you get a complete perspective of their situation.
2. Don't ask stupid questions like "oh wow, don't you feel like eating sweets sometimes?" or "doesn't it hurt when you inject yourself?" or something you could possibly Google and get an answer. Ask more sensitive questions, if you must but treat them as a regular human if you can.
3. If you want to extend your support, ask them if there's something you can do for them, or something you should know for some emergency in the future. That's more than enough.
Remember, empathy, not sympathy
4. Volunteer to be their exercise buddy if you keep yourself fit the same way, it really helps!
5. If you notice they have medicines out or they're checking their sugars, just let them be. Don't ask them out loud what they're doing, draw attention to them in any form. Bonus : don't make jokes about recreational drugs when they've got their injections out. 200 points from Hufflepuff for that alone.
6. If they're eating something, don't police them. Everyone is free to eat what they like, without being judged, diabetic or not.
Don't apply your preconceptions of a diabetic's diet on someone else, especially because many type 1s have a complicated relationship with food in the first place!
7. Along the same vein -- don't talk to them about their weight and shape, outright. Don't tell them what yoga they can practice or how Ayurveda may cure them. If you notice they're looking unwell, inquire if everything's alright with their health, and leave it at that.
8. More experienced friends will check up on whether you've taken your medicines or not, and many a time they've seen me take it before a meal. Newer routine says that I'd be better off taking after the meal. Don't press them as if they have forgotten and it's on you to remind them. It feels a little harsh.
9. Don't point to the CGM or FGM chip on their body. It's tempting, it looks futuristic but it's just bad taste. Same thing with a pump. Don't point it out even if it's obvious to you. They'll tell you when they're comfortable.
10. Check up if they're carrying emergency supplies if have any outing planned. Take their opinion on food and beverage choices into account as a group instead of making it purely democratic, but don't make it obvious.
11. Take extra care of symptoms for low blood sugars (hypos) if you're doing something athletic as a group.
12. Don't buy them birthday cakes unless they're okay with it (or they are low carb options that they like). Sometimes it's just an unwelcome imposition, it's much easier if you show up with something you know they'd appreciate (My friends know I'd pick a pizza over a birthday cake!)
13. Don't tell others just because you know, it's not your place to talk about someone's chronic illnesses.
14. Notice if they're getting tired too often, or behaving like they're dehydrated, and point it out if you're really close - they might not know until very late that something is off from their regular behaviour. Read more about DKA here and sick day management here.
15. On class trips, reassure their parents and keep an eye on them. Maybe make yourself available if they need an emergency 3AM snack, it's not likely but it's best to be prepared.
I hope this hasn't made you rethink your friendship with type 1 diabetics, they're truly the nicest people themselves, often sensitive and caring. They just have a lot on their plate growing up and it tends to reflect in their future behaviours and personalities too, and good friends can really help deal with the impact of the condition on the rest of their lives.
If you as a diabetic have had a true friend by your side through thick and thin, be sure to appreciate them today. If you're telling new friends about your diabetes for the first time, send this to them!