Psychosocial

Diabetes Support Groups Connect Us

When we get diabetes we are even more isolated from our culture than most people are. While this makes finding a solution more difficult for us, but we have a way to get out.

People around the world are fast losing their cultural ties, as I wrote in my most recent articles here, “Diabetes Lessons from Indigenous Cultures” and “Separation from Our Culture Leads to Diabetes.”

Most of us are becoming more isolated from our cultural roots. Consequently, we are losing our sense of community: Community and culture go together.

Diabetes is a symptom

The diabetes that we have is a symptom, says Richard Oster, senior research coordinator with the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry. He is the lead author of a study among First Nations people with diabetes in Alberta, Canada.

Like me, Dr. Oster believes collective and intra-generational trauma is at the heart of the diabetes epidemics seen both indigenous and Western people around the world. The loss of culture, values, and close connections with others as well as traumatic wounds are affecting diabetes rates for all of these peoples.

Poor lifestyle, stress, genetics, and physical activity play a role in the collective and our individual development of diabetes. “But the social determinants of health are deeper layers,” Dr. Oster says. “Disparities in the social determinants of health — including income, education, employment, support networks, living conditions, and health care access — lead people to have a poor lifestyle.

“We can go even deeper than that,” Dr. Oster continues, “and ask why are there inequalities in the social determinants of health especially in so-called developed nations? This is where we begin to have conversations about trauma, oppression, disempowerment, discrimination, racism, loss of culture, loss of land, loss of self-determination, and so on. Non-indigenous people are not immune to these phenomena.”

Most people don’t see diabetes in this light. Rather, the typical response is “why doesn’t he or she just have some willpower?” And let’s not forget this classic: “Just eat less and exercise more.”

The connection solution

Dr. Oster believes the solution lies in reconnecting us to our cultural roots. In this light, he put his finger on the key for those of us already burdened with diabetes, when in an interview with the Edmonton Journal he pointed to the next step in his work with First Nations people with diabetes: “Oster said the next step is to work with aboriginal groups to look at those success stories and find solutions to improve connections to culture.”

You and I know of success stories who motivate us, and we can find our own connections. My prime success story is Dr. Richard K. Bernstein. When he was 12 years old he developed type 1 diabetes. Now, at the age of 80 he maintains an A1C level of 4.5 to 4.6, and in his practice as a diabetologist, he has helped thousands of us achieve normal blood sugar levels.

The support group connection

We can help ourselves to connect to our culture, and we can do that most closely when we connect to people who manage their diabetes well. Perhaps instead of looking to nutritionists for guidance on all we can eat, we can look instead to people who successfully manage their diabetes.

Having a culture means that you belong somewhere that you are accepted for what you are and not for what you offer. It means that you have the guidance of wise elders who walk the walk. It means that you know what you are expected to do.

Look for a local diabetes support group. If you can’t find a positive one that gives you hope to manage your diabetes well, it’s better to walk alone or start your own group. That’s what I did until years ago when I founded a very low-carb support group where I live, and I wrote about it at “Inside a Local Support Group.” You can do it.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

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13 Comments

  • Reply Jane April 2, 2015 at 3:48 pm

    @Tricia. I wish I lived in your locale[where ever that might be]. I’m looking for emotional support and friends too.

  • Reply Jane March 31, 2015 at 3:33 pm

    Hmm. Starting a support group may be in my future. Glad to hear how others are doing it. The conversations here are very helpful.

  • Reply Jane March 31, 2015 at 2:03 pm

    I’ve hesitated to bring this us up but here goes. I haven’t found a Diabetes Support Group but would love to. My experience with other support groups and their effectiveness is whether they focus on a solution or focus on the problem. I am a compulsive overeater and go to meetings which address this. Some meetings are solution based others are not. As a diabetic with this issue, I know that how I manage myself can be different from others, yet I know I need help understanding the chemistry, physiology, psychology of diabetes. However it wasn’t until I accepted that I had diabetes instead of being resentful. I didn’t make much progress when I was in the resentment. Instead of seeing myself as a victim, I try to live today. Not that I’m ever 100% successful at it[big smile] I can be a wah-bear too.

    And to Larry about advertising your support group; how about any health food stores or food cooperatives? Those are the places I do additional shopping for specific foods.

    • Reply David Mendosa March 31, 2015 at 2:51 pm

      Dear Jane,

      You make two great points that I would like to comment on.

      Your acceptance of your diabetes is a key step. The way that I read the first step of AA is that it is acceptance. Literally, it is “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.”

      In my practice it is the second step after recognizing the problem. The third step is to investigate the problem, which you are indeed doing (the acronym RAIN is what I am talking about; see for example https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-wise-brain/201405/let-it-rain ).

      Of course a knowledgeable support group would help you. But you don’t have to have one in order to learn all that you need to know about the chemistry, physiology, psychology of diabetes. Support groups do provide the emotional support that we all need, but you can teach yourself the facts that you need to know through the Internet and books. I know you can, because that is the way I learned about diabetes. In 1994 when a doctor told me that I have diabetes, I didn’t know the first thing about it and taught myself with almost no help from medical professionals.

      Your second point about advertising support groups in natural food stores is also a good one. I think that you are almost ready to start yours. Am I right?

      Best regards,
      David

  • Reply Carol March 31, 2015 at 7:29 am

    My problem is that the groups in my area all focus on the “old” nutritional standards touted by the ADA! Not low carb friendly at all! And certainly no help to me! No support at all! So I’m left to myself!

    • Reply David Mendosa March 31, 2015 at 9:07 am

      Dear Carol,

      Thank was my experience too. So that’s why I started my local low-carb group. I no longer go to the meetings, but the group is going strong.

      Best regards,
      David

  • Reply Larry Owings March 31, 2015 at 6:12 am

    David, We have formed a Support Group at the Church I attend. How do I list it to offer it to anyone that would like to join us. We meet at First United Methodist Church, Grand Prairie, Texas, Our meetings held on the last Monday of each month. If anyone would like more information they can contact me via email. ALL are Welcome.

    • Reply David Mendosa March 31, 2015 at 9:10 am

      Dear Larry,

      Great! I would list it, if I were you, in all the local outlets — any newspapers, Craigslist, maybe doctor’s offices and hospitals if they would go along with it (they might if you ask them to speak to a meeting).

      Best regards,
      David

  • Reply Jane March 22, 2015 at 3:44 am

    I’ve read one of Lamott’s books: Help, Thanks, Wow & liked her. Here’s what I don’t understand: the hospital where my doctor is affiliated touts itself as being patient focused, etc. Yet, they don’t offer a support group for people with diabetes. None of the area hospitals do. I can guess it has to do with resources but I also have a cynical view that diabetes is still seen as just a physical malady.

    In many areas of life I encounter resistance to the soul, mind, body connection. So, yes, I guess it’s up to us to make this happen. Just needed to vent.

    • Reply David Mendosa March 22, 2015 at 9:39 am

      Dear Jane,

      I like the way you are thinking! How about venting one step further with a letter to the CEO of the hospital pointing out the contradiction?

      Best regards,
      David

  • Reply Jane March 19, 2015 at 2:25 am

    Congratulations on having a support group. I haven’t found one in my area. One of the things I hope to find in a support group are people who can interpret some of the complicated information.

    I also relate to the recommendation of finding a group that is positive. My own approach to healing and health has changed over the last 5 years. In all aspects of my soul, mind, body I take a loving approach rather than a warrior approach. It’s working for me as I deal with chronic pain and I’ve applied it to diabetes as well.

    Certainly each person is responsible for themselves and is free to choose their own actions. You’ve gotten me thinking I might try and find an on-line group support. In the future I may try to start a face to face group. One day at a time.

    • Reply David Mendosa March 19, 2015 at 8:52 am

      Dear Jane,

      Yes, “one day at a time,” as you write! Or the way that I think of the same approach is “bird by bird.”

      I got that from a book by Anne Lamott. She wrote, “”Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'”

      If you think of starting your own support group as connecting with one person at a time, the task is much lighter.

      Best regards,
      David

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