Diabetes and friendships – How I learnt to rebalance them

minute read
May 27, 2024
A young Indian diabetic hugging her friend.
Note: Image for illustration only. It does not show the author of this story. Photo credit: RDNE Stock project

When I was 18, I was diagnosed with both diabetes and psoriasis. It made my life more complicated, and instead of having a carefree life I suddenly had to deal with bundles of medicines.

It also brought unique hurdles to my friendships and relationships – Simple moments with friends became tricky, as I had to think about medicine doses, injections and dietary management. And it confused my friends as well.

My conditions changed how I live each day. Managing them isn’t easy, but they taught me how to take care of myself. They made me stronger and helped me adapt to life’s challenges.

The beginning of my hardships

With the arrival of my diabetes came a series of unwelcome daily companions, like  constant thirst, frequent bathroom visits, and unexplained weight loss. These symptoms were a challenge for me to manage and a constant backdrop to my day. However, my 2 friends, Amal and Aizal, found it hard to understand my situation and suffering.

When I was at college, this reached a turning point.

Struggling to manage my diabetes, my psoriasis became very bad and hiding the scars was impossible. Because of this, no one liked to sit with me – They incorrectly believed that by touching me or my things, they could catch my psoriasis.

And at parties, where a hot topic for girls would be fashion and sense of style, I was left with few options. My arms were fully covered by my psoriasis and I couldn’t wear dresses. It had even begun to show on my scalp.

This brought me to my breaking point and led to painful conversations. My friends and family kept asking me about my body’s condition, and it was hard to bear. I often had tears in my eyes and started to avoid social situations. I didn’t know how to be in that kind of relationship with anyone, where it felt like the only topic of conversation was my physical appearance.

Amal and Aizal began to distance themselves from me because every time we were together we ended up discussing my health.

Getting my friendships back on track

Thankfully, I was able to slowly repair my friendships. Over some emotional, heartfelt conversations, I explained my diabetic history and background to my friends. And together, we learned more about diabetes. They paid attention to my emotional stress and tried to bring me out of my negative thoughts. We also attended support groups together, and they helped me learn how to navigate my new reality.

Our friendship was reshaped by empathy, emotional need and humanity. And it strengthened our bond.

It also helped me grow my understanding of diabetes and improve my diabetes management – Together, we explored blood sugar levels, insulin doses, psoriasis triggers, and dietary choices. And with this knowledge, I was better able to navigate the challenges of my diabetes.

They also helped me restore my broader social life. They picked out outfits for parties and helped me accept my situation and become more confident in answering in public when asked about psoriasis and diabetes – And because I was stronger, people stopped looking at me with pity and started looking at me with strength.

My happiest moment with my friends

Opening myself to a heart-to-heart with Amal and Aizal changed my life. And as they joined me in learning more about diabetes, we found joy in being together again and a new understanding of balancing my health needs with our social activities.

As a diabetic, I struggle when invited to social gatherings focused on food and outdoor sports. At these events, I’m under added pressure to manage my blood sugar level, which takes careful planning. I may also have to explain my dietary restrictions, which can sometimes be misunderstood – I hope this changes, and that as diabetes becomes better known and understood, more dietary options and considerations become available as a standard.

Until then, my friends have become a vital source of support. By telling them about my challenges and needs, we’ve created a shared responsibility for my health and well-being. When planning social events they consider my dietary requirements in advance, and I can participate without added stress or hardship.

My misunderstandings with friends

In the beginning, there were several things my friends didn’t realise about diabetes. Among these were:

  • that my fatigue was often caused by low blood sugar levels.
  • that my energy level could swing from high to low and back, based on my diabetes.
  • that I needed regular breaks to check my blood sugar level, so I could better manage it.
  • that psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder caused by my diabetes (and not an allergy).
  • how to react in an emergency situation, such as if I had severe hypoglycaemia.

This wasn’t their fault. They simply hadn’t been made aware of these things about diabetes or had been misinformed.

However, I knew that I needed to address them – Educating my friends on how to assist in emergency situations (for example by providing glucose or calling for help) could help save my life.

And I realised I needed to not take their early questions and misunderstandings personally. Comments and actions that felt insensitive to me were usually unintentional, and by sharing knowledge, we could avoid them in the future.

Support leads to change

Despite my challenges, I have never stopped growing, educating myself, and working. And thanks to the support of my friends, my journey has become one of empowerment.

My friends embraced me as more than just a diabetic. They helped me have an easier path and lifted me higher.

And inspired by my own journey, I’ve found a new purpose in educating others about diabetes and breaking down stereotypes and stigmas. I’ve also redefined my goals for the future, seeking out relationships that foster support and understanding.

By following this path, together we can create an environment where health conditions aren’t a hindrance, and we can all form meaningful connections.

Final thoughts

As a diabetic, friendships and relationships can be challenging. But it’s possible to face them and move forward.

Despite society’s stigma and my own personal insecurities, each challenge can become an opportunity for growth, resilience and self-discovery.

Living with diabetes does not mean giving up on meaningful connections. And I hope that through my story and experiences, others can find the inspiration they need to face their own challenges.

Together, we can build a society where health conditions aren’t barriers to each other.

Graphic of a female profile picture.

Bhakti (not her real name) is a type 1 diabetic. She’s had diabetes since she was 18, and is passionate about educating others on the disease, breaking down stereotypes, and helping to build a society where health conditions aren’t a barrier to meaningful connections.

Editor's note: The opinions and experiences reflected in stories from the diabetic community belong to the authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of InDiabetes.

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