A friend I’d not seen for many years contacted me the other day. Apart from occasionally seeing her name pop up on my Facebook feed, we have had no contact for over ten years.
Out of the blue, she got in touch because she had recently had a miscarriage and was feeling pretty down. She wanted to speak with someone who had been through the experience and she had seen some of my posts about how I felt immediately after I miscarried a couple of years ago, and some follow up posts since.
As we spoke – well, I mostly listened, because I knew that was what she needed – it struck me that it is always the subjects that are taboo that are the ones we need the most support with.
In diabetes, it is still complications that seem to be a topic we are uncomfortable speaking about. We speak about them in hushed tones, as if by not giving them a name we don’t give them weight.
We are scared to ask questions, because we are afraid we will say the wrong thing. We don’t want to upset people and we don’t want to look like we are prying.
But perhaps that is what we need to do a little. We need to pry.
And we can do that in sensitive, caring ways that can and do help.
I learnt how valuable having someone gently pry could be back in 2003 when I had my first miscarriage. As I was enveloped in grief and trying to work out what to do and get through the days, a friend picked me up and took me out for a coffee. She had her new baby boy with her, which was just what I needed. A gorgeous little smiling poppet, who was happy to sit on my lap and be cuddled and have his chubby cheeks kissed.
‘Renz,’ she said. ‘Tell me what happened.’
It was the first time that someone had actually asked me that. Most people asked if I was okay, which clearly I wasn’t, but that wasn’t the answer they wanted, so I would smile through my tears and nod.
But here was someone actually asking me to tell them exactly what had happened. And I did. She listened, reached out and held my hand when the tears gently started and hugged me at the end. She didn’t offer any advice, didn’t tell me it was ‘for a reason’, (seriously – the worst response ever), or tell me that everything would be okay.
She just listened. And then she said, ‘I am really sorry’. It was just what I needed, and I nodded through that too, thanking her for giving me permission to tell my story, even if it was difficult for her to hear.
I have employed this tactic over the years – not only when I hear about pregnancy loss, but other things too. It is really hard to stay silent sometimes, because we want to reassure people, we want them to know that they will be okay and we want to take away their pain.
However, I have found that that is not what people want. Often, they are just looking for an outlet; a way to tell their story and be heard.
It doesn’t even need to be something really big for this technique to work. When I tell people that I have had a hypo, I don’t want them to look for solutions. I don’t want then to workshop what happened leading up to the low or to talk to me about what I had (or didn’t have) for lunch. I just want them to listen.
I really don’t expect them to fix things. I know for me, I just need someone to legitimise how I am feeling. And acknowledge that it is tough.
My husband has the best response when I tell him I’ve had a crappy diabetes day. ‘Diabetes sucks,’ he says to me, leaving it at that. And he’s right. It absolutely does.