Advice from the Trenches: Help Me Help Him!

diabetesDear C;

My friend Rick is driving me crazy. He has type 2 diabetes and knows that he should not be eating sugar or drinking on an empty stomach. But he does this over and over again. I’ll hear him complain about how he’s feeling lightheaded, or get an email saying that he almost passed out while driving after he had three glasses of wine on an empty stomach, and all I can do is get angry. It’s his own fault! How can someone have a medical condition and completely ignore the restrictions that are aimed at saving his life? He has a heart problem as well as diabetes, and has already had a heart attack and two minor strokes.

I almost feel like I don’t want to be friends with him anymore because he’s just an idiot and I am wasting energy worrying about him. But he is a really good person in so many ways — he is always ready to help someone else, and is generous to a fault…but he just won’t take care of himself. It boggles my mind, because he’s an incredible painter and you’d think he’d realize the effect his carelessness is having on his ability to work. I know there have been times his blood sugar problems have kept him away from his studio.

What can I do? It’s getting to the point where I honestly just want to scream at him.

Juiced Jacquie

Dear Juiced,

People are strange creatures. Despite the fact that we all know, intellectually, that we are perishable beings with an expiration date that will come even faster if we don’t take care of ourselves, part of the human condition is to live in denial of these inescapable facts. Men seem to be particularly good at this. I wish I could explain it to you, but I am hyper aware of my physical frailties, so I can’t imagine how Rick manages to not put two and two together when it comes to his episodes of weakness and his bad eating/drinking habits. So instead, I’ll relate something that my martial arts sensei told me.

My sensei was also a healer and had many people come to him for shiatsu and therapy. Over the course of 30 years of practice, he noticed something: People who want to get better, get better or they at least learn to live intelligently with whatever conditions they have. But other people just don’t want to get better, and they never will. These people spend most of their time bitching about their problems and zero time doing anything to solve them. The problems serve a purpose — their conditions are their source of identity, and part of how they relate to others. These people cling to their illnesses, and they use their problems to manipulate the emotions of others.

Then there is another category of people: those who are angry about their physical problems and are at war with them. They feel entitled to freedom of movement, without snags, and every illness or symptom is an annoying and unimportant piece of garbage on the sidewalk that they ignore and walk around. Their own agenda is all they see; everything that gets in their way is the enemy. They deliberately do things that are bad for them, if it suits their own purpose, to prove that they are in control and their bodies are lowly servants who should do the master’s bidding. They push themselves past their limits with stimulants, drugs and alcohol.

But neither anger, denial, nor a desire for sympathy will help anyone recover from a chronic illness such as diabetes. This requires intent, consistency and self-respect.

So, what can you do for your friend Rick? Well, you can make suggestions and attempt to enlighten him. But it will probably just frustrate the crap out of you. He’s unlikely to change. If you really value him as a person, ride out the friendship. But this situation could prove to be emotionally draining. And here’s something else that he — and you– should think about – if Rick gets dizzy or faints while driving, he could hurt not just himself, but also his passengers and others who happen to be in his way. Ask Rick how he’d feel if a 6-year-old child died, or his friend was crippled for life, because he wouldn’t pay attention to his blood sugar levels.

Rick seems intent on damaging himself; just don’t let him damage you.

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