When Friends are Diagnosed

I have friends. And I have friends with diabetes. I don’t normally parse them out into these two categories; I love them all the same. But every so often a friend crosses the line to become a friend with diabetes. It makes me stop and wonder, what do you say when someone tells you about a recent diagnosis?

I’m not terribly shy about my diabetes so I often am among the first people they go to. I know they’re overwhelmed. I know they’re wondering if they could have done something differently. I know they’re pondering common diabetes stigmas in their mind and may not be ready to talk about those for a while – or ever.

I know why they come to know – and I’m glad they do. But this doesn’t mean I know what to say.

I usually say something along the lines of “welcome to club awesome,” before getting into the discussions around lifestyle changes and things to keep in mind. I try to stay positive, I remind them that “you can do this,” but sometimes I also want to burst into tears on their behalf. I don’t want anyone living with this disease, no matter that type of diabetes they may have.

When I think back to my own diagnosis, I don’t know what I would have wanted someone to say. I was in college and headstrong. I was also pretty geeky. I remember being furious that I had to skip a few classes to go to a diabetes education workshop. When I told a professor that I would miss her class, I explained “Well, I was just diagnosed with diabetes – not a big deal, but I won’t be in class this afternoon.” The look of shock on her face upset me. “That is a big deal,” she replied. “That is a very big deal.”

I wasn’t ready to hear that. I wasn’t ready to think past the end of the semester, let alone a chronic disease for the rest of my life. But that professor knew the meaning of my diagnosis and I’ve often thought back to her reaction with appreciation. Her ability to see the bigger picture might have stunned me a little, but it did make my pause and think days, weeks and months later.

But when my friends come to me with their own diagnosis, I am not ready to play that role. Instead, I offer a few jokes about math and food, a high five or a hug, and an open invitation any time they need to just talk. Is this the right approach? I’m not sure. It is, however, the best I can do.