6. There’s a process
Some things may be a little slower when you’re hanging out with your type 1 friend. They’ll want to check blood sugar and plan their insulin dose before eating and may need to take extra breaks to check blood sugar, inject, or have a snack. Try not to hurry your friend, because that will probably come out sounding like you don’t value the time they need to stay healthy… and alive.
When you hang out together, be prepared to enjoy time with your friend even if it means going at a different pace than you’re used to, or even having to cancel plans because they are dealing with high or low blood sugar.
7. Speaking of highs and lows…
Even when a person with type 1 is on point with their diabetes management, a high or low episode can still happen unexpectedly since there are approximately 10,000 things that can affect blood sugar. High blood sugar is called hyperglycemia, and low blood sugar is hypoglycemia, and there are a few things a tried-and-true friend of person with type 1 should know:
- Low: A person’s blood sugar might go low if they inject too much insulin, exercise too much without a snack, or don’t eat enough. If someone is low, they do not need more insulin, they need carbs for a quick-absorbing snack like candy, juice, or non-diet soda.
- Low Blood Sugar Symptoms: Symptoms of low blood sugar can include paleness, sweating, looking glazed or “out of it”, slurring speech, weakness, dizziness, and/or irritability.
- High: Blood sugar can go high when there isn’t enough insulin available to help the body absorb current glucose levels. There could be something wrong with a person’s insulin pump, they could have miscalculated insulin, or their blood sugar could have taken an unexpected jump (diabetes is not predictable).
- High Blood Sugar Symptoms: A person with high blood sugar may experience headaches, aches or pains, trouble concentrating, hunger or thirst, anger or frustration, fatigue, blurred vision, dry mouth, and the need to urinate frequently.
- What to do: If the person is an adult and is acting strangely or displaying other symptoms of a high or low, you can gently ask them if it’s time to check their blood sugar. If it’s a child, contact a parent or a school nurse. In either cases, if a person is vomiting repeatedly or is unresponsive, call 911. Lows can lead to diabetic coma, and highs can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis, and both conditions can be deadly.
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8. Be nice, don’t give advice
Advice is often given with the best intentions, but remember that your friend with type 1 has had to learn about disease management from doctors and certified diabetes educators. They are very invested in understanding their disease and how best to manage it. So even if you’ve read stuff online or have another friend with type 1, your advice about how to manage their body will likely not be welcome.
Even if you know that your friend shouldn’t be doing something because it could mess with their management, remember that they have to deal with diabetes every single day of their lives, and it’s impossible to do everything right all the time. Be a friend, not a taskmaster.
9. People with diabetes like jokes! As long as they’re funny…
Even type 2 diabetes is not caused by “eating too much sugar.” There are a lot of factors, and the cause of type 1 is still not fully understood. Since the disease is both chronic and life-threatening, joking about about getting diabetes from eating a bunch of Halloween candy or gaining weight is not cool. Also, your friend probably doesn’t really want to hear about any of your relatives with diabetes unless it’s actually relevant. And while they may occasionally crack a joke about diabetes, be careful before you do so. You know how you can make a joke about your family, but if anyone else does you want to punch them in the nose? Same principle.
10. Be hip to the lingo
People with diabetes are just that, people. No one wants to be defined by their disease, so while you’ll see the word “diabetic” used often and some people don’t mind it, most people don’t want to be referred to as “diabetic” and prefer to be a person with diabetes—if you have to reference the disease at all. You don’t call a person with Alzheimer’s disease and alzhetic or a person with a cancer a canceretic, so no need to label your friend. Besides, saying “diabetic” is so 1999.
11. A bit about carbohydrates and sugar…
Carbohydrates are sugars, and sugars are carbohydrates. There are different types and different forms, and some carbohydrates have more or less of an effect on blood sugar than others, but the main thing to remember is that your friend with diabetes is not concerned just about foods that are thought of as sugary like candy and cookies. Healthy foods like oats, fruit, and vegetables have carbs. All carbohydrates will have an effect on blood sugar and need to be accounted for, whether it’s an apple or a milkshake.