Helping The Newly Diagnosed
Last updated: June 2023
Your friend, family member, colleague has approached you because they just received ‘the diagnosis’...they have type 2 diabetes. They look like they’re lost in the forest. The forest seems so big and they’re not sure which way to go. So they cling to a tree until someone sends out a search party. You are the search party. You know where to look for the person. You’ve been there. You have type 2 diabetes. You know the drill. You know what to expect. You can share your path out of the forest. You also know to be cautious. You are aware that there are many ways to get out of the forest. You tell your friend that it would benefit them to walk beside you, not behind you the whole way, placing one foot in front of the other. Baby steps.
I ask myself: “What does this person need to know about type 2 diabetes that will help them leave the forest?" I have no struggle formulating an answer or a list of answers to that question. I could write a book on what I know. However, too much, too soon can cause someone to tune out or worse yet, shut down. And, it’s not about me. It’s about them. The talk should be about what they want to know, not what I think they need to know, at least at the start.
“What would you like to know first?”
A good lead-in could be: “What would you like to know first?” or “What is your biggest concern right now?” Some who are newly diagnosed can tell me what they want to know. I don’t have the professional knowledge base but I sure have the ‘day in and day out’ knowledge of living with diabetes. I can probably answer this one even though everyone’s diabetes is different. Other ‘newbies’ may still be hanging on to the tree saying “I don’t know... (what I want to know first)”. That’s ok. The diagnosis can be overwhelming. Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know, so, you wouldn’t know where to begin.
“Do you know what type 2 diabetes is?”
From there: “Do you know what type 2 diabetes is?” is always a good question. It may sound silly but I’ll bet there are many who have heard of it but don’t know what it is. I can supply a layman’s answer that may satisfy until they see a professional.
“What else have you heard about diabetes?”
Next: “What else have you heard about diabetes?” I think this is always good to ask. The newly diagnosed need to know they can live as healthfully as possible with type 2 diabetes. They need to hear some positives because their thoughts have probably already gone to the negatives especially if they consulted Dr Google. They will hear way too much negative the minute they are diagnosed.
“How do you feel about your diagnosis?”
Then: “How do you feel about your diagnosis?” I think this is really important. Give the person time to vent. For some of us, we knew that we’d have this diagnosis at some point. There was no surprise. For others, they are dazed. They never saw this diagnosis coming. Using the words ‘your diagnosis’ may be a gentle way to help them accept and own it when they are ready. I don’t think we ask our fellow diabetics how they feel about what they were just told nearly enough.
“How are you feeling about what we’ve talked about so far?”
The pause and check-in: “How are you feeling about what we’ve talked about so far?” and “Is this enough information for today?” Some are like me, tell me everything now. Others need to take it slow. I wouldn’t want them to run back to the tree to hang on for dear life because I needed to share EVERYTHING I know about diabetes—they likely don’t need what I call diabetes diarrhea. I recall supporting one of my friends with her new diagnosis. As I spoke, I could see her eyes glazing over. She was shutting down. Too much, too soon can be overwhelming.
“Are you also getting professional help?”
Finally: “Are you also getting professional help?” and/or “How long before you get in to see the professionals?” Depending on where you live, it may be weeks possibly months before you are seen by the professionals. As a peer, I can give the practical info and suggestions but most people, at least at the start, need the professional support too. Both our roles are valuable for those new to type 2 diabetes.
The forest is frightening and can be lonely. Those of us with experience can help others let go of the tree and find their way home.
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