Communicating with confidence

Many people with diabetes worry about whether they should say anything to others, such as their work colleagues, boss and friends, about their diabetes. Clinical psychologist, Rosemary Flynn, offers advice on how to communicate with confidence.

Some of the questions that diabetes patients will ask are:

  • Should I tell my boss and colleagues about this? I’d rather not. They’ll think I am a freak!
  • If I say anything about my diabetes, they may accuse me of looking for sympathy but sometimes I need to attend to my diabetes at work.
  • How do I tell people about this?
  • Do I test and inject in front of others or do I have to go to the bathroom when I am at work?
  • I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me all the time.
  • What if no-one helps me if I pass out from a hypo?

Before you, the diabetes patient, can start communicating with others about your condition, you need to ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you have enough knowledge about your diabetes and treatment?
  • Do you have the skills to know what is going wrong and work out a solution?
  • Do you believe the treatment works?
  • Do you have confidence that you can do this?

The answers to these questions will influence how you talk to others about your diabetes. If you can answer yes to all the questions, you have a good understanding of your diabetes and can communicate accurately with confidence. If you have said no to any of the questions, make an effort to improve in that area.

Taking emotions into consideration

It is also helpful to recognise how you react to things emotionally. Do you push people away? Do you get angry with people who are trying to help? Are you too embarrassed to say anything?

Telling people you have diabetes and then being able to discuss it, can be a real challenge. Sometimes you may feel comfortable talking about it, but sometimes you may prefer not to say anything. Figure out a starting point that would be suitable for the people you’re addressing. Then you can explain what you do and why. When you feel comfortable, others will tend to be more comfortable about talking to you about your diabetes. Your confidence gives them the impression that you have mastered a serious challenge and they need not worry.

Do you tell everyone you meet?

Not necessarily. If they need to know because you interact with them often, or if they are important people in your life, tell them. In the big picture, it is best to tell those who need to know about your diabetes in case they need to help you. There is always a chance that you could have a low blood glucose level unexpectedly, where you need help and cannot think straight in the moment, and you will need others to help you. You don’t want to give others too much of a fright by suddenly falling over. If at least one colleague knows what is going on, they’ll be able to do the right thing to help you. That is being fair to them and being fair to yourself. Most of the time they won’t need to help you, but just in case.

18-year-old Brad said, “I have had diabetes since I was two years old and I find it’s a breeze now – there’s no need to think you stand out. You can still be the same as everyone else and do the same things. There is no need to feel different.”

If you explain what diabetes means to you and what you must do, usually others let you get on with it, without a fuss. Some people may try to help, and as well meaning as they are, they can get it wrong. They can be irritating when they think they “know it all” and they can also be insensitive.

Jenna talked to those in her office about her diabetes. She mentioned she may need help if her blood glucose went too low, but she reassured them that she could manage on her own most of the time. The first time she actually needed help for a low, her friend brought the insulin pen. The friend thought there was glucose in the pen!

Friends don’t always get it right, but with a bit of experience and coaching from you, they’ll learn to know the right thing to do.

How do you handle criticism?

Dealing with criticism, whether it is justified or not, is an important life skill.

If others make negative comments about your diabetes, it is usually for one of two reasons:

  1. Because they are looking for someone to pick on, who they think is ‘weak’ or ‘different’, and they want to feel superior.
  2. Because they are afraid of the condition as they don’t know enough about it.

When your colleagues are informed, they will often be the ones who stop those who are criticising. Keeping your diabetes a secret will be very difficult to maintain all your working life and it can have consequences, especially if something goes wrong and you cannot fend for yourself.

Destructive criticism is often just thoughtlessness, but it can be malicious and hurtful. As Dale Carnegie said, “Any fool can criticise, condemn and complain, but it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.” Usually, people don’t react as badly as you think they will, if you appear confident about your diabetes management. Most of them will understand once they know more. You have nothing to be ashamed of; you are doing what is necessary to stay alive and well.

MEET OUR EXPERT - Rosemary Flynn

Rosemary Flynn
Rosemary Flynn is a clinical psychologist at the Centre for Diabetes in Johannesburg. She has worked with children, families and adults with diabetes for 24 years, enabling them to overcome their anxieties about their condition and to deal with the difficult events in their lives.

Rosemary Flynn is a clinical psychologist at the Centre for Diabetes in Johannesburg. She has worked with children, families and adults with diabetes for 24 years, enabling them to overcome their anxieties about their condition and to deal with the difficult events in their lives

Communicating confidence

Rosemary Flynn’s new book “The Emotions of Teenagers with Diabetes” is now available. To order your copy contact Rosemary at [email protected]