Self-Advocacy for Optimal Diabetes Care: How to Assert Your Day-To-Day Needs

In my opinion, friends can fall into two categories: (1) close friends, and (2) acquaintances. And, given how much time we tend to spend with certain coworkers, let's consider both coworkers and friends that don’t fall in your inner trust circle ‘acquaintances.’

And, given that diabetes management, especially dealing with highs and lows in the moment, often requires you to step away from duties and can impact your performance in the short term, it's important to prepare to discuss these needs with your employer.

Disclosing diabetes to acquaintances, employers, and coworkers

In my work, people often find that use of scenarios and role-playing is best to deal with conversations with acquaintances. That’s because it is often uncomfortable to dole out too much personal information related to your diabetes care with those you’re not close to, unless it is necessary (or a life-threatening situation).

Let’s use the following scenarios as examples for how to advocate for your diabetes-related needs in the contact of these relationships:

It’s not a want, it’s a need

Help the other person understand that having to put life on hold to deal with diabetes demands is not something you want to do or are particularly excited about doing, in fact, I’m sure you would rather not. But pausing to take care of these medical needs is a necessity. It’s not selfish, it is self-care.

Here are some phrases that may help you get this point across:

  • “I need a 15-minute break to treat my low blood sugar. Trust me, I’d rather not be dealing with it and I do my best to avoid it. But, despite all efforts, highs and lows happen and I’ll need to address it when it does. Thanks for understanding.”
  • “You will get the best version of me when my blood sugar is in range.”

Making light of it

Try phrasing your request by first making light of it, following up with a sincere statement. *Caution* I advise this only in examples of describing high blood sugar, not for lows! That’s because hypoglycemia is life-threatening and more time-sensitive. Here is an example:

  • “When my blood sugar is high I turn into the hulk / I act like a real diva / I’m a real grumpy goose… But, in all seriousness, I may need to step out to take medications or a quick walk, which can help to bring it down. You may also see me taking more trips to the bathroom since this is a symptom of highs and because drinking more water also helps to bring down high blood sugar.”

Delay explanations or plan ahead

If you are in a position in which you need to treat highs or lows, you are probably not feeling 100% and not in the best position to communicate yourself effectively. Avoid miscommunication and frustration by either planning ahead and advising others of your potential needs, or by requesting a delay in explaining them. Try this:

  • “If you ever have questions about these kinds of behaviors or what it takes to manage them, I would ask that you request a time for us to talk about it rather than in-the-moment. I’ll be better able to answer any concerns when my blood glucose is in target range.”

Protect your privacy

For those who don’t want to share about diabetes, want to avoid any special attention, and want to protect their privacy, that is okay and totally understandable. But it can make advocacy tricky. So try some of these statements:

  • “I have a health condition that occasionally requires me to take a break to eat/take meds/treat it. Sometimes it causes me to feel ____. I appreciate your understanding when I need to take care of these things and respecting my privacy by not calling attention to it each time.”
  • “I do appreciate your support for my health but I don’t like special attention, especially for that reason.”
  • “While I do not want to be treated any differently, I do ask for understanding of my need to take care of myself.”

My final note on advocacy is that it is not your burden to educate the world around you on diabetes and what it is like to live with it. Gently directing people to appropriate resources and websites can be helpful for navigating this.

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