Taking control of your diabetes message.

Hi! I hope everyone had a wonderful December 25th, however you celebrate it, or even if you don’t. For the record, my Christmas was very nice, with a quiet gift opening in the morning, followed by a completely bolus-worthy breakfast (I only get bacon a few times every year, and Christmas is one of those times). In the afternoon, we all went to my nephew’s home and did some more gift exchanging, hung out with him, his wife, and my great niece (who is also a great niece), and enjoyed an early dinner. All in all, it was a super day that left me feeling very blessed. Which, if you know the cynical side of me, sounds absolutely strange. I guess there still is some magic left in Christmas.

I’m very fortunate in that I don’t have to deal with lots of friends and relatives at this time of year who begin with the “Can you eat that?”, work their way through the “If you eat better and exercise more, maybe you can get off the insulin”, and finish with the “My co-worker has a sister who lost her toes a couple of years back”. I think there are a few reasons why.

First, my friends and family make an effort to actually know something more than the basic jargon that gets regurgitated by talking heads on TV. They don’t know about insulin-to-carb ratios or how fat in your diet holds back the effectiveness of the insulin you’ve got on board. But they know that exercise can drive your BGs down in a hurry. They know that insulin actually brings your glucose down, not up. They understand that too much insulin is bad, and not enough insulin is bad, and getting to that Goldilocks state (just right!) means that there’s some math involved, and the perfect BG is a moving target, so it’s not a walk in the park.

Second… to put it into two words… They Listen. They may or may not ask how I’m doing, but if the subject comes up and I talk about diabetes, they honestly listen to what I have to say about it. And they retain some of that information, because they often ask me about it the next time they see or hear from me. I don’t know when this started happening, but I’m glad it’s happened. I’m not saying that everyone should listen intently to everything I say on the subject, but it’s nice to know that I get at least as much attention as the talking head on TV.

Finally, and I can’t stress this enough: I take control of my diabetes message. You wouldn’t think of me that way if you’ve ever met me. If we meet and I don’t know you, I’ll try to remain unassuming and in the background a bit until you’re comfortable with me. But if we’re talking about diabetes, and especially if you’re challenging me on my diabetes, I guarantee you I’ll be doing everything I can to direct the conversation in a way that’s informative, and mostly positive. I’m not going to let someone with antiquated notions of this chronic condition or with incorrect information control the conversation. I’m going to try to explain what Diabetes 2014 looks like (it’s almost 2014—right?), and I’m going to try to put it into terms that the non-diabetic can understand, and take with them to the next conversation about diabetes that comes up in their lives. I am doing this in a deliberate, conscious way.

Why do I do this? Why do I make this effort? Is it because I’m a crazy, rabid diabetes advocate? Well, I try to be a diabetes advocate whenever I can (reference the Diabetes Advocates button on your left—I’m a member), but that’s not quite the idea here. The thing is, I’ve had those moments with friends or at work, where people just say things that don’t make any diabetes sense, and I’ve let it roll off my back without saying a word. I don’t do that anymore because keeping it to myself doesn’t feel nearly as good as opening up a window and letting in the fresh air of truth. In some cases, people may just let my words roll off their back and forget about everything I say. But at least I’ve let them know that my diabetes is my diabetes, and it’s different from what they’ve heard in the past, and I’m not Aunt Clara and yes, I’d love a small slice of that pumpkin pie, thank you.

So my advice, if you’re asking:

– You are living and surviving with diabetes, or your son/daughter/spouse/etc. is. You never have to apologize or be defensive, or be silent about that.

– Stay informed. Talking well about your diabetes means knowing as much about your diabetes as you can. It also makes it easier to answer questions when you get them (I love questions! It means the other person in the conversation is engaged).

– Never miss an opportunity to set the record straight. The more we let truth in, the less room there is for myth.

– If possible, try to put things in terms that someone not living with diabetes can understand. Work on your message like it’s a sound bite, or an elevator speech. You know, like you’re riding an elevator with someone important, and you only have 20 seconds to deliver your message before they arrive at their floor.

– Remember how networks are created: In this case, one person at a time. Remember that your message to one person may be rebroadcast to many others. Do you want them to rebroadcast your message, or their version of diabetes? How would each of those outcomes make you feel?

Good luck with crafting and delivering your very important, amazing message to the world.

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