The Diabetic Partner Follies, Act 19: Helping Someone Who Won’t Help Themselves?

Hello Partners and Loved Ones of Us PWDs (People with Diabetes),

Welcome back to the Diabetic Partner Follies, a series of guest posts about the challenges of living beside someone affected by diabetes. This edition came to me in the form of a long, heartfelt email from a woman in one of the most difficult positions, I imagine — stuck between a rock and a hard place. Please read:

Hi there. I am pretty new to all this, but I just found this site and think that I may find the help I need if I tell you about my story.

First off, my long-time boyfriend (BF) was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes about 4 weeks ago. Since then I have done all kinds of research and probably know the disease as well as a doctor. My problem lies in that the only info that my BF knows is what myself and his doctor has told him, and I’m not too sure I trust the doctor as his readings are barely on the level of actually having the disease and before the Dr. prescribed diet and exercise, he prescribed pills (which gave my friend constipation and when the more stressed he gets the more backed up he gets, which is why he went to this Dr. the first time around a couple years ago and never solved his problem.)

Oh, and the Dr. tried to get him to go to a dietitian and my BF said no thank you. He didn’t realize the insurance would most likely pay for it, but for the most part I think that he realized I’d be here to hand a plate of food paid for/prepared to his needs and he’d have to do no work on his own. (He really is lazy which is part of the issue to begin with. Easier to pick up a phone and write a check than go to the store, analyze it, buy it, prepare it, etc…)

The most daily exercise he ever got was going up the stairs to his department at work once they moved about 5 years ago. Until then, he rode his bike to work. Once they moved the only exercise is the stairs. He is a graphic artist and a computer geek (by the way he’s 45) so he sits at a computer at work and at home (and I’ve adopted those ways as I do payables and receivables and reception work and become a computer geek because of him). Before I moved here I was a dancer and got great exercise.

Now, he wants to buy a treadmill and is upset that I said that it wasn’t a great idea. Yeah, the other exercise equipment is finally in the shed after years of me cleaning it ’cause it sits and he piles stuff on it, and now he wants something that doesn’t get used by anything other than the duster. If we’re going to walk, why not in a place where you can see sky, and actually feel like your doing something? I truly believe if he does use it, it’ll be a half-ass effort so he can watch a movie, TV, or something where he will only give it minimal effort.

I feel so stressed that I’m doing all his work and thinking and he’s just following along. As his mom pointed out, to make me feel bad; I should do this for him because it could be life or death for him. How bout he do something for himself because it may him having a heart attack, stroke, amputation, etc.? But because his Dr. says he’s doing great (thanks to me more than him), he’s OK doing only as much as thinks he has to do. Then expects sympathy because he has this horrible disease.

I have done so much research, I do the grocery shopping and read the labels now, I have even lost 10 lbs myself because I think that if he needs to lose weight and exercise for his health, I might as well look hot in a bathing suit again while trying to help him (he’s lost about 4 lbs). I have even been meeting up with a new friend at work to go walk at my level (very fast) during lunch so that I can get some benefit. Honestly, my back hurts when I go his level because my strides aren’t big enough and my body knows it. He says it’s as much as he can do (he doesn’t have any trouble keeping up conversation which is indication of how well you are working to your optimal heart rate according to my research) — and then he gets upset that I want to go so fast, yet he doesn’t want to go on his own. So in order for me to get the health benefit of walking for my level I have to go 2 times a day so that I can make sure he gets his exercise in too. I call it my bonus walk. Real one at lunch, stroll to lose a few extra calories in the evening.

I am even considering going to a psychologist
because his disease has consumed me so much that I spend so much time doing
diabetes research, so much health, diet and exercise research for both of us,
that it is consuming all of my time. He has spent probably about an hour total
to understand and learn about what he has, and I have spent almost the last
month to help him and me do what we can to be healthy. I am about ready to tell
him to find a roommate that can better accommodate his needs because I can only
do so much and he thinks I am bitching at him, not helping him.

Is it wrong to be so obsessed about someone else’s problem when they don’t seem to care as much? Is it natural for a partner to make themselves sick worrying over the other when someone is first diagnosed and that partner is stressed but doesn’t seem to think it’s such a big deal? Does it say really bad things about me that I have to feel like I am handling all our health stresses on my own? I’d feel damn lucky to prick my finger 2 times a day and expect everyone else to help me make it read right.

My big question is, should I give it some time and let him realize how serious this could be before I end up with an eating disorder because he just doesn’t want to spend the time helping me and I’m getting so obsessed with this? Or should I see someone now because I don’t think he’ll even think twice about it and I need my own sanity?

Just today, he thought he was doing really good by going to Jack in the Box and getting one of their fruit smoothies. When I opened my mouth and said it was probably full of sugar and carbs he said never mind and wouldn’t continue on with what he was telling me because I opened my mouth with an opinion that was other than what he wanted to hear. He didn’t even want to hear that something that sounded so healthy (based on a commercial, not research) might not be that way.

Do you have any suggestions for me? I really need help on getting him to figure out what he needs and letting me know those needs, instead of him relying on me to determine it for him. I really want to help, but I don’t want to have to be his doctor and mother too. I want to be his girlfriend, not his 1950′s wife and mother. I would very much appreciate it if you could help me save my sanity and his life.

Thank You,
– T.K.

Wow, TK, you must really care about this person to stand beside him while he’s being so obstinate. The tough part is, motivation really does have to come from within the patient themselves. Any suggestions, Dear Readers?


27 Responses

  1. Kathy
    Kathy March 21, 2008 at 10:03 am | | Reply

    Hmmm…sounds like there are more issues going on here than the D. It’s not a problem to be “fixed” so much as a completely different lifestyle to be accepted. Maybe counseling would work for both of you. Best of luck!

  2. Suzi
    Suzi March 21, 2008 at 10:34 am | | Reply

    Um, let me quote Dan Savage here. DTMFA. Enabling isn’t a healthy way for you to live, and his mom sounds like a right idiot.

    It’s NOT your disease. It’s NOT your responsibility. Stop doing stuff for him. He needs to cook his own meals, figure out his own exercise and do work on his own. He’s not 2 years old (and even 2-year-olds can do certain things like help make dinner if given the right tools). He’s 45! FORTY-FIVE! Why in the world would you help him get away with this?

    Amy’s being nice with her comment. Too nice. Focus on your own life and let your lazy, whiny, stuck in little boyland of a boyfriend deal with his. Things don’t change? DTMFA. You’ll be better off. And him? That’s HIS CHOICE.

  3. bearly
    bearly March 21, 2008 at 10:52 am | | Reply

    Just hit “stop”.

    She needs to get off the co-dependence train and find someone who will appreciate her.

    If this guy cannot take care of himself, too bad.

  4. whimsy2
    whimsy2 March 21, 2008 at 2:10 pm | | Reply

    For a wrenching look at what it means to be married to a diabetic in severe denial, go to this blog:

    Read the archives, too.

    If you choose to take responsibility for HIS illness, that’s what your life could be like.

    Nuff said.

  5. geekgirl
    geekgirl March 21, 2008 at 3:57 pm | | Reply

    My advice? Back off. One month isn’t nearly enough time to accept a life-altering diagnosis like diabetes. It would be great if we all did exactly as the experts tell us, avoid oral medications, got the activity and exercise we need in our lives..

    Denial – it’s not just a river in Egypt.

    Fluttering over him like this isn’t going to help. Speaking from experience (and I guess you could call me a born-again diabetic, T1 btw), no one can make him control it. Sure, refuse to support stuff you disagree with. But don’t plan his meals, count his carbs, and do it all for him. There’s no learning in that. It takes a month (per my dietician) to make something a habit. It takes a month of you doing it all to make a habit of non-action from him.

    I might suggest he do more testing – and maybe that’s a fight I’d be willing to see you put some energy into. If your BF saw his post-prandial blood sugar after a fast-food fruit smoothie at the one, two and three hour mark it would be eye-opening. Try to get more blood glucose testing.

    If he hasn’t accepted it some length of time in (I’d recommend six months, but shorter if you’re going nuts), give an ultimatium. Sure, they suck. But it’d be better than him coming home to a carefully portioned dinner, with carb count and a sugar-free jello, only to find you’ve moved yourself out..

  6. Linda B.
    Linda B. March 21, 2008 at 5:14 pm | | Reply

    speaking from experience, I had to back off. Yes he is overwhelmed, probably depressed and as I have been finding out, He thinks his so called life is over.
    You have got to stop doing for him. he’s a big boy he has to learn to do for himself. the only way the doctor can realize what a crap ass job he is doing is to let him do it himself.
    there is a lot to learn. Alot of lifestyle changes for the both of you.not only does he need a wake up to the fact that this is his responsibility, you need to wake up to the fact that this is not your responsibility.
    as far as his mom goes if she feels that her 45 yr. old son needs mollycoddling let her come do it.He hasn’t been a baby for a long time now.Sever that apron string already.
    swim or sink this is his disease, not yours. Being supportive is one thing, being a slave to someone elses illness is quite another.
    I not only say this as a caregiver of three people with type 2 ( boyfriend and both his parents0 But as a diabetic myself( type 1). my motto has and always will be, Thuis disease is what you make of it, friend or foe, Its here forever, let him learn how to deal with it now not when he starts having complications and then has an epiphany in the ER, that maybe he should have learned something sooner. Ignorance is not bliss, especially when you dealing with a chronic condition. Good luck and take care of you. His chips will fall where they may.

  7. June S.
    June S. March 21, 2008 at 6:19 pm | | Reply

    This is HIS disease. As his girlfriend, you can stand by him and not try to tempt him by keeping forbidden foods around the house. Obviously, you’re not doing that. What you are doing is letting his lack of concern for his own health ruin your life. Yes, it’s called CO-DEPENDENCE, as another person said here. Go to a support group for co-dependents. If you’re not so inclined just yet, remember the Serenity Prayer:
    God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

    By the way, I’m a Type I diabetic myself – with no boyfriend or husband to take care of me – and I do not burden friends or family with MY disease. Good luck, and take care of YOURSELF. That’s all you can do.

  8. gourmet coffee snob
    gourmet coffee snob March 22, 2008 at 9:31 am | | Reply

    You people jus ain’t the right kinda support group one would turn to…you people suck…yep I said it…an that goes for not only you…but you an you an especially you.

    TK could a mirror image of what I’m facing…except…I’m the BF…

    Now I’ve been round the block a few times and durin those wonderful trips…I’ve quit very habit dependent drugs as well as a 40 year smoking habit…all on my own…without any help or drugs…I did it ( stopped the destructive behavior ) because it was time…and I wanted to.

    My wife…yeah the difference here is we are married…been together through all of this for 29 years…has always been my rock. She’s in it to win it and won’t let me…us…fail.

    When you’ve been shown…an lived a love as strong as we have…there is no fear and there is no failure.

    So to all of you haters that have left these negative comments…I feel sorry for you because you jus don’t have the brass to get through the really tough times that we all face in life.

    ~~gourmet coffee snob~~
    Always Drink Better Coffee

  9. Elissa
    Elissa March 22, 2008 at 9:50 am | | Reply

    It’s clear she resents him. She obviously nags him a lot, which he almost certainly resents as well. Not a good pattern. He’s probably stressed out and depressed, and his “laziness” may be frightened avoidance. However much she obviously cares for him, what this woman is doing is not help.

    On the other hand, it is possible to be helpful to a diabetic partner. My BF has type 1, and his control has greatly improved since I’ve taken an interest in it. I don’t nag; I just offer to help in every way I can (I don’t do anything for him without his expressed consent) and make it clear that I care about his health because I love him dearly. He can see that it worries me when he doesn’t take good care of himself, and he can see how happy it makes me when he maintains good numbers.

    When things are not going so well, I avoid blaming him (after all, it’s not his fault he got diabetes, and it’s a tricky, unpredictable disease that demands constant attention), but I let him know how concerned I am,. When it’s really making me crazy I take a step back, talk to others who understand, do more research– anything but pick a fight. A few times we’ve cried together about his diabetes, but we’ve never fought over it.

    Nothing is ever going to make it easy, but you have to feel that you’re on the same side.

  10. Linda B.
    Linda B. March 22, 2008 at 7:19 pm | | Reply

    Mr. Snob
    I am glad that you have a strong constitution and wanted to and accomplished all you did.
    The point here is that he is not and does not want to educate himself. by her doing All of it he won’t evr learn. That is trhe point we are all trying to make here whether we come off negative or not.
    You do not have to be married 29 years or more or married at all to support and learn and be there for each other.
    in the end it all boils down to the fact that she seems to be doing 95% of it and getting angry about it. He seems to have gotten it in his head that she will always do it all, so why should he bother.
    I am sure you and your wife do operate independently of each other and can manage things by yourself as well as together. Thats the difference between your story and theres.
    Call me mean call me whatever you like, this is where we can all put our thoughts and concerns and all the other stuff going on, thanks Amy. You don’t have to like the opinions , frankly yours isn’t that great either, but, we are all entitled to one, whether other readers like it or not.

    P>S> Sorry Amy for once again going off on your site.

  11. AmyT
    AmyT March 22, 2008 at 8:11 pm | | Reply

    Let’s not snipe at each other. I think you all have valid points. One month is not long to adjust to this lifelong ailment. Maybe this man needs some time. On the other hand, if he doesn’t get in gear in 6 or 8 months, maybe it’s time for girlfriend to move on. No?

  12. Gene
    Gene March 23, 2008 at 7:43 am | | Reply

    “Denial is not just a river in Egypt.” (Mark Twain)

    It will take time, maybe years. It might take a dose of harsh reality. (If he’s lucky, he’ll just feel crappy all the time. If he’s unlucky, he’ll have problems like his vision going down the tubes.)

    In the end, he will come around. Sooner or later, we all do.

  13. Meg
    Meg March 23, 2008 at 9:22 am | | Reply

    I’m the parent of a newly diagnosed Type I teenager. My advice to you is to ease off a bit. Maybe work on one aspect of change for your boyfriend at this time. Would he be more receptive to exercise, or food changes? You can expand your efforts down the line! With Type 2, he has some room to make more gradual changes than a Type I. I wouldn’t stress the doom and gloom of long term complications just now. It’s too overwhelming.

    As far as seeking help for yourself, do it! Diabetes is so scary. I’m Type I, for many years, but my son’s diagnosis was devastating to me. I work very hard not to display my true feeling to my son. I want most of all for him to be positive about the future. Your boyfriend is the same person he has always been. He just needs some time to adjust. As other posters have suggested, he’ll have to ultimately be responsible for himself. Give him a chance.

  14. Michael Park
    Michael Park March 23, 2008 at 10:56 am | | Reply

    On one hand, your devotion and efforts to help your boyfriend are heartwarming, but on the other hand, that devotion seems to be misplaced and not serving either of you well.
    Our diabetes management is incredibly dependent on our lifestyle, be it physical, emotional or anything.
    I wouldn’t think a shrink would be right for either of you individually, rather go to relationship counselling to find out why the responsibility is weighted as it is.
    Bottom line, the decision to change has to come from him, otherwise the blame of his bad sugars, declining health will be shifted onto you – because that is what you are doing; claiming responsibility for his well being.
    You can support him emotionally and help with those things that he asks you to help with, or help him treat a low, but the things you are doing now are not helping.

  15. Melissa
    Melissa March 23, 2008 at 11:34 am | | Reply

    When I was diagnosed T1 at age 28 I had to move back in with my parents temporarily. I was in severe denial. My mother did the cooking for me, making sure I was getting what the doctor wanted. My boyfriend at the time, a former EMT, gave me some of my injections. The rest of it was up to me and I eventually came around.

    I think you are doing too much for him. I would try to get him into therapy, managing a chronic disease is not an easy thing to accept. It’s fine for you to continue to prepare healthy meals, it benefits both of you, and to walk in the evenings together, also benefits both of you. However, unless he comes out of the denial there really isn’t anything else you can do for him. Learning all you can about the disease is fine, and supportive, but you can’t force him to do what he doesn’t want to do.

    My father was diagnosed type 2 a few years back and is pretty much the same way. My mother hates it, but she has finally stopped enabling him. She prepares the meals and if he decides to have 2 or 3 portions she just ignores it. If she says anything it turns into a fight and nothing ever changes anyway. He has to want to do it for himself.

  16. Horrible Warning
    Horrible Warning March 23, 2008 at 4:31 pm | | Reply

    I have to agree with most everyone that what TK is doing at the moment is too much and obviously not working.

    I got my Type II diagnosis in December, and it is completely overwhelming. I’m lucky in that I caught it early and am being what I hope is extremely proactive. I have to be because I live on my own so no one is around to try and push me.

    However, it has come to light since my dx that my mom is also likely diabetic. At first I cajoled, begged, criticized, everything I could do to get her to take care of herself. Finally I came to the realization that I couldn’t make her and would make myself nuts trying. When I told my dad I had decided not to bother her anymore, and that I hadn’t said anything to her in weeks about it, he told me about all the diet and exercise changes she had been making. Apparently she was following my example.

    I guess my advice would be that eating and exercising like a diabetic yourself and leaving it at that is probably about the best thing you could do. For both of you.

  17. chris
    chris March 23, 2008 at 8:55 pm | | Reply

    Its great that TK is taking a strong interest in helping her BF — but, the two things she mentioned him doing for himself were met with criticism and skepticism.

    He wanted to get a treadmill because he figured it would possibly motivate him to exercise and TK seems to have completely shot that idea down.

    Sure he wanted a smoothie because he thought (incorrectly) that it was good for him, but it might help to applaud his initiative in at least trying.

    again, its great that TK is so motivated to help her BF but she should really cut him a break and stop judging him about this — including comparing who is losing more weight — especially after just one month.

  18. Rosalind Joffe
    Rosalind Joffe March 24, 2008 at 2:24 pm | | Reply

    What can you add to this that hasn’t been said? Chronic illness, as in all life’s biggies, has a way of bringing out some big issues.

    And, Diabetes is one of the few chronic diseases where it seems pretty clear what makes things worse — and better. That’s the yin and the yang. If you’re not good at taking care of yourself, then getting a CI is going to present big problems. And it then presents all kinds of problems for the partner/spouse/GF, including trying to make things better, trying to control the outcomes, etc. With great compassion for her and him, my suggestion is that TK has to turn inward and ask herself, what does she want here and what is she willing to accept.
    Rosalind aka

  19. Sarah
    Sarah March 25, 2008 at 5:16 am | | Reply

    Dump this guy and stop wasting your time. If he is too lazy and/or dumb to help himself, let him die off. Sorry to say, but most cases of Type 2 diabetes are 100% preventable. He wouldn’t even have the disease if he made some effort in the first place.

    If he thinks Type 2 diabetes is bad, try living with Type 1 diabetes (AKA Juvenile or Insulin Dependant Diabetes, the severe non-preventable kind) for a day. Whiners like this who have to virtually do nothing to stay healthy as a Type 2 diabetic (minor common sense changes) make me sick…

  20. TK
    TK March 25, 2008 at 7:42 am | | Reply

    I tried to do this the other day, but something didn’t work so I’m trying it again.

    I would like to thank all of you who have offered me your experiences and tried to help me understand that this is his disease and not mine and that I can only try to be an example of what he needs to do and it is his decision to follow.

    Please don’t get me wrong, I do love him and want to help. I did go to my Dr. last week and she said much the same thing. Let him deal with it and be by his side when he needs help. She said that the complications of not taking care of this is heart attack, stroke, and other things, However she said if he is willing to take just small steps he will eventually get where he needs to be. She said that I am following the typical woman’s way of wanting to take care of everything now and then getting frustrated with it if it doesn’t get results immediatly. She also thinks that I suffer from anxiety and depression and this is just something that managed to throw it into overdrive. She does think that he made the wrong decision to wave off a dietician as she said they can help make the life of a diabetic and their partner much easier in the transition to a better lifestyle.

    I really do appreciate all of your suggestions and some of the harsh critism is something I probably needed to hear. On thing though on the treadmill. I didn’t shoot it down based on the reason given. I shot it down on the fact that we, one cannot afford it, and two, we do not have room for it in this tiny apartment. And I do know what happens based on past experience with any and all of the excercise equipment he has purchased in the past. It gathers dust and becomes yet another place for him to lay his stuff down. If I thought for even a minute he’d use it more than one or two times, I’d say go for go for it if we could come up with the money. (we live hand to mouth, part of the reason we’ve eaten like crap in the past. Since cooking healthy meals for us, my grocery budget has gone sky high.

    Anyway. I do plan on letting him make his own decisions and come to terms on this. If he needs my help He can ask. I feel a lot better now and now quite so overwhelmed like I did the night I wrote to Amy.

    Again, thank you all for your help. I really appreciate it.

  21. chris
    chris March 25, 2008 at 8:04 am | | Reply

    As a type 1…i have to say sarah’s comments dont speak for all type 1′s….

    Sure it may make us feel better to point at people with type 2 and scoff because their disease is partly attributable to lifestyle and can be more “easily” managed, but then couldn’t someone with leukemia or ALS point at us type 1′s and call us whiners with a disease where all you have to do is prick your finger a few times a day, count carbs, take some shots and otherwise lead a generally healthy life? Shouldn’t it make them sick when some of us cannot even simply manage that? This idea of comparing who has the “worse” disease is silly and childish.

    Anyway, about that darn treadmill…

    Maybe you could look at getting a used treadmill off of craigslist. There are a couple of them in my area going for under $100. Sure they may not be as fancy, but if they dont get used it is not so much of a waste of money. You could even suggest if he really uses a lot that sometime down the road you guys will get something nicer…

    If space is a concern, maybe he might be into an exercise bike instead. Some of them are pretty compact and are, again, fairly easy to find used for under $100….

  22. Pat
    Pat March 25, 2008 at 4:59 pm | | Reply

    There are Type 2s who are relatively healthy and not that overweight but are insulin-resistant. Exercise and diet changes are important, but pills are sometimes necessary to treat insulin resistance, especially in older diabetics.

  23. karen neal
    karen neal March 29, 2008 at 12:17 pm | | Reply

    how can someone get help with buying test strips .

  24. Isela
    Isela March 29, 2008 at 8:45 pm | | Reply

    I think the best way to help him is to gently guide him to read some articles on his type of diabeties but alow him to think it’s his idea. Mens egos are more fragile and don’t like to be “hen pecked.” His mother should also read the same info so she can relize the consiquences of not taking care of this.

  25. Jon Schlaman
    Jon Schlaman March 30, 2008 at 8:33 pm | | Reply

    My first instinct when I read that post was to say: “WALK AWAY!”. You aren’t married his mother will blame you for everything, and he doesn’t appreciate the help. But it seems that maybe you and him have too good of a relationship for that so lets look at the positives. You are getting yourself into better shape as a result of helping him manage his diabetes. You are walking twice a day instead of once. You lost 10 pounds! He lost 4 pounds! This is all in the last 4 weeks! He is obviously wanting to get healthy because he talks about buying a treadmill. Now it seems that you are frustrated because it appears that he is not as worried as you are about his health. You have to understand the psychology of men and the psychology of diabetes in order to understand why. Men (in general) don’t want to appear weak in any way. We are brought up believing that we have to be the protectors of our family, and we believe that women are attracted to strength and courage. A sudden diagnosis of something like diabetes can make us feel weak and insecure. You obviously want what is best for him, but you have to let him feel like he is calling the shots with his condition. I strongly encourage you to read Dr. Polonskis book “Diabetes Burnout: What to do when you can’t take it anymore”. This is most likely the best book out there explaining the psychological side of diabetes. Good Luck to both of you!

  26. Babz
    Babz April 1, 2008 at 9:07 pm | | Reply

    I am glad that he has someone to care about him, maybe he is depressed and unable to deal with the issue at hand. Hopefully he will come around. I have D2 and I am depressed and I really can’t get with the program right now. I start the day out good but somewhere I fall off of the wagon everyday. I pray that I will somehow get it together soon and I pray the same for your boyfriend. Hang in there. He needs you.

  27. schlaman
    schlaman March 4, 2010 at 9:55 am |

    [...] The Diabetic Partner Follies, Act 19: Helping Someone Who …JDRF's New Adults with Type 1 Toolkit' A Good Start. Teens with Diabetes: Freedom is Their Secret [...]

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