February 14, 2012

Diabetes Support Groups Aren't for Everyone

Diabetes support groups can be a valuable asset for some and a pain in the backside for others. They do have advantages and disadvantages like any other group, club, or meeting. In the last four years, I have been involved in six different support groups in a 100-mile radius. I thought a regional group would get it going, but in three months it has flopped – fees for meeting places were probably to blame. Is it the region, area, or the general population that causes diabetes support groups not to succeed? I don't have an answer.

I do know what has been the bane of several of the groups – the diabetes police. No, I am not talking about the diabetes food police, as this is another topic. The diabetes police are well-intentioned spouses (male and female) that come to the meetings for whatever reason. Then at some point during the meeting, they make inappropriate comments that many dislike and do not want to put up with in a meeting for support. The atmosphere was supposed to be supportive and nourishing to allow attendees to ask the questions they needed answers to for assistance and to help guide them. However, these well-intentioned spouses cannot stand to be left out and feel they have to add their drivel even if they are wrong and demeaning to others.

This has happened at every support group I have been a participant in and it casts the death knell on the meeting, if not the group. This is one reason I will not allow my own spouse to attend – which sometimes means I do not attend. Some of the comments by the spouses have been very caustic and others have been almost innocent at the start, but later evolve into belittling attitudes of why we are not able to manage our weight, food consumption, and even our feelings. We do not need these comments when we are in a discussion about depression, testing, or changing lifestyles.

I thought one group (type 2 only) had moved past this problem until a new member came with his family – spouse and her parents. Not even ten minutes into the meeting, and his family was berating people for allowing themselves to get diabetes, inability to manage their diet, and lack of self-discipline. It only took five minutes for the meeting to disband, and people were gone. This group does still meet (thanks to the doctor that leads the group), but they are not allowing new members until they have been talked to by several of the members and understand that spouses and other family members (non-diabetic) are not allowed.

Another death sentence for diabetes support groups is certified diabetes educators as group leaders. Those that insist following the American Diabetes Association guidelines cut off discussions that are outside of the guidelines and stifle personal experiences being shared. They will not allow discussions about low carb, high fat, or other discussions that are of interest to members of the group.

I have now limited myself to the small – intentionally – informal group that I participate in and we are now seven members. Two are women and do not attend that often. All but one of us now are on insulin and we are all type 2, with the newest member now officially off all medications thanks to her diet and exercise regimen. Two of the group are still working and therefore unable to attend every time we get together. We do get together more frequently now that all of us have Skype. We exchange emails and all of us do research and we discuss this among ourselves. I am the only one of the group that blogs publicly, but I am supported by the group. In a way they can be my best supporters and harshest critics, but I thank them.

This is just a guess on my part, but another reason for limited participation in diabetes support groups is the secrecy that people want to maintain. This may or may not have anything to do with the diabetes police or the diabetes food police.

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