Thursday, August 13, 2009

"Fact of Life" #3: You've Got to be a Team Player

Diabetes is not something that any of us signs up for. Not our spouse/loved one, not us. This can be particularly true for those of us whose partner developed the disease during our relationship, and it comes as a complete surprise. However, even if we went into the relationship knowing that our partner had diabetes, I think at some point the intricacies and daily grind of it get to be too much... and we think "how can I continue doing this?"...

Now, a disclaimer: I write this knowing how much harder it is for my husband with type 1 than it is for me. I need to say that! He has the hourly balancing act on his plate 24/7, whereas I get to forget about the diabetes for long periods of time throughout the day. I wish he had that luxury.

The funny thing about living with someone with type 1, is that over time I've realized how critical it is to approach the diabetes as a "team sport". If I think that we're both on the same side with wanting to do things right, then it becomes easier to understand and support my husband. I am less at odds with any of his choices / ways of coping. It is absolutely true that diabetes affects everyone around it ... it is a "family disease" ... and so with that in mind, I've figured out ways for me to not only show my support for my husband, but also take my place as his team-mate, and to hopefully remove a tiny bit of the daily burden off of his shoulders.

Here are some of the ways that I have found useful to act in that team capacity:
  • Make healthy choices when shopping - Since I am the one mostly responsible for the food shopping and cooking in my house, I try very hard not to bring those things into the house that will be tempting for my husband (and for me!). Those wonderful croissants, chips, white breads, dessert items... the vast majority of the time I leave them in exchange for healthier, complex carb items, fruits, fresh vegetables, proteins... things that I know are better for all of us. We don't need that other stuff! Because I know that if it is in the house, it will get eaten... so I try hard not to bring it in.

  • Be a "co-pilot" in the car - Since my husband prefers to drive (and I like him to as well, takes the stress off of me!) whenever we take road-trips I make sure that we are well-stocked in the front seat of the car with anything we might need for lows while driving. I stay alert, stay engaged with my husband to ensure that if he doesn't pick up on those subtle hints of a low while we're driving, I do. It is probably the only time that I ask him to check his numbers before we leave the driveway (then I can check it off my co-pilot check-list ... "numbers normal, check! we're good to go..."). Stay supportive, but don't freak out. Offer to drive if he needs time to keep his sugars in a safe zone.

  • Allow them to make their own choices, but try not to tempt - This kind of follows along with point #1, but if there is an opportunity for something out of the ordinary... a special dessert, etc... I always try to let my husband choose how much he'll indulge in any given thing. He's an adult, he can make his own choices... he knows his body and his insulin better than I ever will. I do however try not to create too many opportunities where he'll have to make that choice over and over! If it's occasional, I stay out of it... and let him enjoy.

  • Understand the important numbers - Over the last 12 years I've become more educated and well-versed in things like A1cs, creatinine levels, cholesterol numbers, etc., than I ever thought I would at my age. But I've stayed interested and involved in my husband's journey with these things. I attend appointments with his Endocrinologist when I can, just to stay visible and to be involved in the "behind the scenes" talks that my husband has about any issues or concerns he's having. When he gets a good A1c back from his labs, we cheer! I know the hard work it takes to accomplish something like that, and I make sure to recognize that.

  • Collaborate, don't dictate - if there is one thing that I have learned doesn't work in my relationship with my husband, it is my becoming the "Diabetes Police". How many years did it take me to figure that one out?? Only about 12... I recognize now that it is my collaboration with my husband that is meaningful, my ability to partner, to be a team-player in his diabetes management that keeps us aligned and moving forward in the same direction. As soon as I feel myself slipping into "dictator" mode, I can see the reaction and the subtle (and not so subtle!) ways it pulls us apart into different, opposing directions. Not a good place to be in a relationship. It takes time, and some good communication, to figure out how to become that collaborator... but it is possible. And definitely worth it.


  1. Yes to all of the above.
    We've only been doing this since May - when he had his pancreas removed. Which also means he has to take enzymes to digest food.
    Simple thing, right? Just a pill?
    He forgot to take the one at lunch when we were with family in Paris a few weeks ago. Which meant that I had to take him back to the hotel in a taxi half way through my dinner that night - leaving the family to fend for themselves.
    I now have permission to be a nag.....

  2. To echo most other posts on here, thanks for starting this blog.

    My wife is a type 1 and has been for over 15yrs. and has been using an insulin pump for about 3yrs. We've been married for about a 1yr and a half, but have been together for over 4yrs. Even so, I'm still a rookie, but have learned a lot and caught on quickly in our short 4yrs.

    Only recently has my wife been able to find community with other female type 1's... in our church (talk about rare!), as well as through online forums and blogs. Seeing her excitement in finding people who understand a part of her I will never fully understand has been encouraging and thus launched me into searching for the same as a spouse.

    I think one my hardest struggles is wanting to be the "white knight" and fight this "dragon" that I can not beat, but it doesn't stop me from trying, praying, and hoping. The other facet is that she no "damsel in distress" having learned quite well over most her life how to manage her life without much help. It's the hard days when she gets so beaten down by it that I wish it was as simple as a taking on a dragon. I will say that over these few years she has gradually let me in and help her in ways that I can.

    So while I anticipate that joyous day where she wakes up without diabetes (I know scientifically, logically, and medically that doesn't make sense, but I'm a what they call a "dreamer" and fully believe nothing is too big for God) I will give thanks to God for having the extra opportunities to serve my wife and care for her.

  3. Thanks to you both for your comments.

    J.R., I appreciate your words so much. I think your wife is lucky to have such a supportive and caring partner in her trek with type 1. And hey, I'm with you on your optimism about a day that will come (soon!) where your wife (and my husband) will be able to live their lives without the constant burden of diabetes. I have great faith in the work of the researchers who are trying hard to make this a reality (I have a colleague who works directly with the team at UCSF in San Francisco, and their work and the promise of their findings/clinical trials have made me this optimistic!), so I think your "dreams" are valid.

    And BTW, I work with a group here in San Diego called the Behavioral Diabetes Institute, and this October they will be holding a special event only for women with Type 1 called the "Celebration of Strength" - this is basically where our founders get a group of women together in a gorgeous place for an honorary luncheon, with a speaker, etc., all for free. This will be our second year in a row to do this, and the feedback from the experience has been incredible. You can see more about the event here:

    It was the brainchild of one of BDI's founders who had worked with so many women with type 1 and who wanted to recognize the challenges/strengths that they have. It is an exceptional event for women to get to know others (I think last year we had 50-60 attendees), so if you have any reason to be in San Diego in October, it might be a great thing for your wife to come to! I know that diabetes can be very isolating for many, so I'm glad that your wife has been able to connect with others and share some of her experiences. It is so very important.

    I hope to hear more from you both - thanks again for your thoughts.