Life with diabetes can feel heavy at times. At diagnosis, many of us felt like we might buckle under the gravity of our new reality. Even years after diagnosis, we still bear the burdensome demands of constant vigilance. We shoulder the emotional strain of coping with this chronic health condition’s countless intrusions. We lug around the weighty concerns about long-term complications.
What can bring lightness? What can promote resilience? Social science can provide some direction. Specifically, psychological studies show that social support buffers individuals from the effects of stress.
1. To bear all or part of the weight of; hold up.
2. To give approval, comfort, or encouragement to. (from www.dictionary.com)
Of the many sources of social support, the diabetes community itself has tremendous potential for easing the burdens of its own members. Whether informal or structured, in-person or online, one-to-one or in a group, connecting with other people dealing with diabetes can be relieving, encouraging, and empowering. Support can offer a sense of being understood. It can provide opportunities to share wisdom and practical information. It can provide a potent sense of validation. It can instill hope. Mutual support – seeking help and helping others in return – can be particularly impactful.
There are many different venues for finding that support. If you have been recently diagnosed, consider contacting the PEP Squad or local advocacy group to be paired with another D-family. Look for local social events or meetups through your local JDRF chapter. Attend a DRI support group or education seminar. Attend a family weekend retreat or conference (e.g., Friends for Life) and immerse yourself in a healing, inspirational environment. Attend a mom’s or dad’s night out. Start your own group through MeetUp. The opportunities for connection are there, but it’s up to you to seek them out and find what works for you.
There are also many terrific online opportunities for connection. Online discussion forums offer support for any of a number of special interest groups (e.g., athletes, kids, parents, grandparents, pumpers, CGM-users, parents of multiple T1D kids, etc.). Getting connected like this is a convenient solution to those who live in geographically remote or less populated areas. There are so many options, but a few great places to start include Children With Diabetes, TuDiabetes, Type One Nation, and the DRIF PEP Squad Facebook page.
Diabetes can be isolating and can make us feel alienated from the non-D community around us. This can naturally add to the burdens of the illness. Sometimes it takes making just one supportive D-relationship to form the foundation for a lasting, mutually supportive connection. Reach out. Get connected. Lighten the burden.
Peer support has clear benefits but also has limitations. Certainly, if you or your loved ones are overwhelmed to the point that your health, functioning, or emotional wellbeing are compromised, it is important to seek the services of a licensed mental health professional.
Provided by PEP Squad’s Dr. Gary Levenston, a clinical psychologist living in South Florida whose family has been impacted by type 1 diabetes. (2016)