As of 11/29/2012, comments on this entry are closed.
I’ve had type 1 diabetes for nearly my whole life (18 years), and I’ve graduated college and moved away from home. As I’m very open about having T1D, I’m often asked about what diabetes is, what the difference is between type 1 and 2 (PSA: they are not the same at all, T1D is autoimmune, Type 2 is much more common and is not), and whether or not I can eat that.
As I have recently moved away from all my usual support, I’ve been dealing with some major Diabetes Burnout. I’ve found a few things that help me cope, but am always open for suggestions (yes I’m looking into therapy and support groups). But my real issue lies in how to deal with the very well-intentioned people who ask invasive questions (normally I enjoy answering them and educating people about diabetes), make assumptions about what I can and cannot eat (anything I please, thankyouverymuch!), compare me to their 80 year old grandpa with type 2/their friend’s college roommate who had it (which OBVIOUSLY means they know everything there is to know about T1D), or freak out if I’m having an issue. At this point in my life, I don’t feel up to patiently explaining things the way I usually do, and the way people freak out if something happens makes it hard/impossible to tell people I’m having an issue and need a minute/a snack/to wear my glasses /pee every 20 minutes/etc, which, in turn, fuels the burnout.
Any advice on how to get people to not freak out and stop attempting to be so very helpful without me first asking for help? I really don’t want to be rude to them, they just don’t know much about T1D, as it is very rare and the treatments have radically changed in the last 15 years.
I’m so sorry that I didn’t get around to this before the U.S.A.’s National Day of Eating, and I apologize if you had to do another round of Yes-I-Can-So-Have-Some-Pie with Auntie Helpful last week.
I think the world would be a better place if we stuck to one acceptable way of commenting on what is on a fellow adult’s plate. That way is “That looks delicious” + some variation of “Where did you get it/how did you make it/does it taste as good as it looks/smells/Is it like this other thing that is also delicious?”
Stop commenting on how much or how little someone eats. “Is that all you’re eating?” “Are you really going to eat all of that?” “Looks like SOMEONE was HUNGRY.” If you feel any of those sentences about to leave your mouth, clap your hand over that mouth.
Stop commenting on what is on someone else’s plate. “Are you sure it’s okay to eat that?” “Should you really be eating that?” Do not wrinkle your nose, call other people’s food gross, or explain in detail why you wish you could eat what they are eating but can’t since you gave up _________. Don’t bring up your health issues or their health issues. Don’t bring up that thing you read online somewhere about the health benefits of x, y, and z. Don’t bring up that diet your Aunt Susie tried that worked so well for her. When someone is eating delicious meat, it’s not a good time to talk about factory farms. When someone is eating delicious daal, it’s not the time to sermonize about how you could never be a vegetarian and lovingly describe your favorite roast baby sheep dish from childhood.
Stop assigning food a moral value. Don’t go on and on about how you probably shouldn’t eat whatever it is. Don’t try to justify a big meal or dessert by claiming that you only ate a few leaves of parsley earlier and try to suck everyone into your shame spiral – no one cares. Pie isn’t “sinful;” pie is fucking delicious.
If people could do that, that would solve 90% of your problem right there. You are the boss of what goes on your plate and into your mouth. Other people are the boss of what goes into their own mouths.
- You are a doctor and the person in question is your patient and there is some issue that has a dietary component that needs to be discussed, for example: “When you’re on this medication, you can’t eat this food.”
- You are a licensed dietician/nutritionist/medical caretaker of some stripe and the person in question is your patient and has asked your advice.
- You are preparing/sharing/deciding on where to go for a meal with that person and are asking about any dietary restrictions/allergies/preferences they have. People who live and prepare meals together need to know what’s up, and also, it is polite to remember who among your friends is a vegetarian or allergic to something and plan accordingly. This is why the internet is magic! You can link people to restaurant menus or recipes and say “Will this work for you?” and lo and behold your friend can make an informed decision about their own eating.
You’re not that person’s doctor? You’re not their nutritionist? You’re not the parent of a young child talking to that child? You’re not running a proposed dish or a restaurant by a dining companion? Then NOTHING you have to say about what they are eating is important.
Except “That looks/smells/sounds tasty” + maybe a nice question about provenance.
LW, we’re a long way from my utopia where everyone’s body (and food) belongs solely to them, but I think it’s helpful for you to keep in mind that you are not being rude and weird for having a malfunction in your pancreas. Second-guessing the food choices of a fellow adult is rude and weird (And boring!). Just because it’s ubiquitous in American culture right now doesn’t mean it’s not rude and weird!
So when someone asks you if you should really be eating that or goes into a long story about how someone they vaguely know who is also vaguely diabetic, I think it will help if you mentally reframe their suggestion or question as intrusive, rude, and weird before you respond. Since they are the ones being awkward and rude, you can treat “Should you really be eating that?” as the invasive question that it is, as if the person has asked you “Should you really have had that sexual fantasy when you masturbated this morning?”
You can respond calmly and respectfully, but you’re doing them a favor by letting the faux pas slide and not the other way around.
Let’s assemble the script arsenal, starting with one-word and two-word answers:
- “Hmmmm…interesting” or “How interesting.”
- “Sure, okay.”
The way to use one-word answers is to respond to whatever they are saying with SOMETHING that does not invite further discussion, and then change the subject as if the thing they said never existed. It’s up to you if you want to let a really awkward silence linger before you rescue them with a subject change.
You can build on those answers if you like.
- “Huh. That really doesn’t apply to me, but good to know.” + Change of subject.
- “Wow, that’s really not the case for me, but thanks for the suggestion.” + Change of subject.
- “That has not been my experience.” + Change of subject.
You could decide to super-factual:
- “Diabetes isn’t an allergy to certain foods, it just means I have to decide certain things with my brain instead of my pancreas. After 18 years, I’m pretty good at the math.”
You can tell them straight-up to drop the subject as you would with any intrusive question.
- “Thanks for your suggestion, I know it’s well-meant, but after 18 years I’m pretty good at managing this stuff on my own.” + Change the subject.
- “Sorry to interrupt you, but that story about your relative has nothing to do with me. I hope that works out for him, though!” + Change the subject.
- “There’s really no reason for you to be concerned. I got this.” + Change the subject.
The key is to say it as a statement and not a request. You’re not trying to draw them into a debate, you’re trying to tell them as politely as possible to STFU. You may want to practice with a friend to get the right tone of finality into your voice.
Your question contains the seeds of some good, honest, reasonable scripts:
- “I know you want to be helpful, but I get pretty tired of having to explain diabetes to people. Can we table this and just enjoy the meal?”
- “Can you email me later and remind me to send you to some great websites that go into the details? I’d rather just hang out and catch up than go into Diabetes 101 mode today.“
- “I don’t feel like to getting into it. Can we change the subject?“
If you encounter someone who wants to be a Bad Science Warrior because they read a thing in Reader’s Digest in their uncle’s cousin’s guest bathroom, go ahead and shut it down.
- “I know you mean well, but that question is actually pretty intrusive. Let’s change the subject.”
- “That’s between me and my doctor.”
- “What I eat is not really up for discussion or debate.”
- “I’m sure you’ve read many articles about this. I still prefer not to discuss it with you.”
- “Sometimes I get burnt out on explaining diabetes and what I can and can’t eat. Let’s talk about ANYTHING else!“
- “I feel pretty awkward when I have to defend my food choices/explain diabetes. Shall we change the subject?”
- “I’ve got things well in hand, so would appreciate a break from having to explain about diabetes today. Can you help me out?“
Prepare for people to get huffy because they were just being helpful and they are laboring under the fallacy that good intentions are magic, like, “I cloaked you in my worry, why aren’t you more grateful for my kind concern?”
It takes some practice to let other people’s emotions, like bad assumptions, unasked-for worry, or embarrassment they experience when they’ve overstepped someone’s bounds be their emotions and not take them on as your own to prevent or feel guilty for causing. You don’t have to prove them wrong or engage with the substance of their arguments at all. You get to just shut it down as cleanly as possible, and if they get huffy, let them! Let them get embarrassed. They are the ones who are making it weird by a) commenting on a fellow adult’s body and food choices and b) expecting a person with a medical condition to be a constant, smiling, grateful source of information and reassurances in response to ignorance and intrusiveness.
You don’t have to be a diabetes educator. People can look that shit up if they are really interested in it and they don’t have a right to expect that you will explain it to them. Also, guess what? You don’t have a duty to optimize your health at all times and you definitely don’t have a duty to perform as a perfect diabetes patient to mollify other people’s unwarranted fears. And you don’t have to put up with other people’s concern trolling about your food choices. I think it’s time we all started treating that behavior as the giant faux pas that it is.
This is a no diet-talk zone, because:
1) There is more than enough of that business on the internet and in the culture in general. I don’t want to read that stuff on my own website.
2) We are not under each other’s medical supervision or in each other’s parental custody, which puts us completely outside any kind of relationship where commenting on other people’s food/eating/body/medical issues would be okay.
3) The answer to “But what if x person IS eating y food that IS really unhealthy and it is a very special case and I just care about them and want them to be okay?” is “Are you the boss of that person and their body? No. Also, your comment is deleted now.”
I trust you guys to be cool, but there are new readers all the time and I want to make it very, very clear that on this site we stick to”That looks/sounds delicious!“ “You look great,” “All bodies are good bodies,” and “How are you feeling?” on this site. You are the boss of you and no one else.