Tell Me About It: My husband hasn’t been the same since his diabetes diagnosis
How can I get him to wake up and smell the roses instead of dragging us all down?
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Q After finally getting my husband to the GP with months of nagging, we found out he has Type 2 diabetes. I was relieved that we knew what was wrong at last.
But he has gone off the deep end. He has developed an obsession with reversing it, is exercising like a fanatic and starving himself, is putting his faith in “miracle” cures that invariably disappoint, worries constantly about the unpleasant complications down the road and compulsively tells everyone who will listen about his diagnosis.
I keep trying to reassure him, to get him to concentrate on the positives in his life. He has had no serious complications yet. He should enjoy our life as a family to the full for the few years we have left before the kids leave the nest.
But the more I try to calm him down, the more obsessive he gets. He is on a constant binge of self-denial and martyrdom, and has completely sworn off drinking and eating his favourites. It really takes the fun out of celebrations for everyone else in the family.
It doesn’t help that our family doctor doesn’t seem very clued-up on this disease. This causes a knowledge vacuum that my husband has rushed to fill with online quackery.
Can you suggest some strategies to get him to “wake up and smell the roses” instead of dragging us all down into an unnecessary pit of despair? I want the easy-going and jolly man I married back.
A Being diagnosed with diabetes is a life-altering challenge, especially because you are in control of your destiny to the degree that you can eliminate future complications by sticking to a healthy eating programme and avoiding being overweight. Some people go into denial and end up having amputations or kidney failure, so the plus with your husband is that he is taking the diagnosis seriously. Unfortunately, this means making himself and everyone around him miserable as he obsesses about his lifestyle.
This could be a natural phase in his reaction to the diagnosis, as people who receive potentially life-threatening diagnoses tend to go through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Your husband is working through difficult feelings before he finds balance. He needs more professional support than he is getting in order to boost his confidence and help him to relax.
Ideally, your GP’s surgery would have a practice nurse trained in advising on Type 2 diabetes, but you say your GP isn’t clued-up. There is a lot about diabetes on the web, much of it alarming or unhelpful, so I would advise your husband to use only one web source: Diabetes Ireland. It has a freephone number where you or your husband can speak to a dietician and a doctor.
Sinéad Hanley, a dietician with Diabetes Ireland, says your husband’s anxious reaction is typical, but he needs to realise that his diagnosis “is not a life sentence of misery, it can be managed”. She advises that your husband get support from one of the three living-with-diabetes group programmes around the country – Desmond, Xpert or Code – depending where you live. People with Type 2 get together in a relaxed and mutually supportive fashion with a facilitator who is a dietician or nurse to discuss lifestyle and behaviour changes. Spouses may attend too.
“It’s very reassuring to be surrounded by people with the same condition,” says Hanley.
About 50 per cent of men with Type 2 experience erectile dysfunction and sometimes it is the ED that brings them to the GP. This doesn’t mean that such men experience ED forever, Hanley says. If the Type 2 is recently diagnosed, it’s unlikely such complications have set in, so ED can be caused by anxiety, Hanley suggests.
ED in men with Type 2 can be solved with medication, says Hanley. When couples can speak openly about this and get some help, it can stop feeling like life is nearly over.
Type 2 patients get annual reviews by a doctor of eyes, feet and other areas of the body that can be affected by diabetes, so these should be an opportunity to assess lifestyle and to get a pat on the back for doing well. If your husband’s current GP isn’t helping, perhaps you need to look elsewhere.
DiabetesIreland.ie, 1850-909909. Email your questions for Kate to firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Kate on Twitter, @kateholmquist. We regret that personal correspondence cannot be entered into