Let's be honest -- caring for someone with diabetes can be tough. Along with the good times there are periods of worry, frustration and exhaustion – for everyone concerned. If these feelings sometimes get the better of you, you are not alone. Diabetes Australia estimates there are as many as 2.4 million Australians whose lives are touched by diabetes, either through being diagnosed themselves or because they care for someone who lives with it. If your loved one’s diabetes is grinding you down, put your health and happiness back in the spotlight by tackling problems head-on. Here’s how…
PROBLEM 1: "Having to manage everything is completely overwhelming!"
This is a common pressure for carers and it increases if the person you love has other issues such as heart problems, diabetes complications or dementia. Help yourself by:
● Setting a schedule: being in a regular routine can help life run smoothly and reduce symptoms of depression.
● Writing it down: keep track of the medications your loved one is taking, when they need to be taken and when scripts should be renewed. Record the details in an organiser or in the calendar on your smartphone.
● Contacting health services: government-funded community care organisations can often provide help to carers to handle things like wound dressing, chores or personal care such as showering.
● Practicing mindfulness: whether you’re having a shower or simply eating your lunch, try to live in the moment by noticing sensations and details about your surroundings. This can help you stop focusing on issues like your credit card balance or something insensitive your partner said this morning.
● Exercising daily: moving more is a potent stress buster. Tricky to leave the house? Then use an exercise DVD at home or sign up to an online program or fitness app. Where possible, get out for a walk with your partner – even if it is just around the block. Check out our Weight Loss section for more exercise inspiration.
PROBLEM 2: "My partner is often moody and depressed"
‘Living with a chronic illness like diabetes and coping with self-management and the threat of long-term complications can double the risk of people with diabetes developing depression,’ says diabetes educator Sue Leahy from Diabetes NSW. Just as diabetes can have a knock-on effect on carers, so too can depression. The result? Your own emotional wellbeing may nosedive as well. The first step in managing your partner’s depression, and lifting your own mood, is to make small, healthy lifestyle changes. You know the drill – eat well, minimise alcohol and ensure you get enough sleep and exercise. Doing this will also give your loved one’s blood glucose levels a helping hand, as fluctuating blood glucose can cause fatigue, frustration and disappointment, says Leahy.
It’s important to get the experts involved, too. Remember they are there to support you, not make judgements about you. The first step is to talk to your GP about how your partner’s depression is affecting you both, and to discuss medication and/or building a Mental Health Treatment Plan for them, and perhaps for you too, so you can access counselling sessions at a reduced fee. You could also join a support group for carers – ask your GP or your partner’s diabetes educator about groups in your area, or try an online group if getting out of the house is too hard. Talking to others in the same situation can help you feel less alone.
PROBLEM 3: "Diabetes is expensive, which can be stressful"
‘Diabetes can cause financial burdens because the person with diabetes and their carer may have to reduce work or give it up entirely,’ says Leahy. ‘On top of medications and equipment, medical fees for visits to health professionals can really add up over a year.’ You can reduce your costs and your stress levels by checking with your GP and diabetes educator about whether you qualify for any rebates, allowances, schemes or discounts. This could be a Carer Allowance (through the Department of Human Services) a GP Management Plan (for subsidised visits to a podiatrist or exercise physiologist, for example), or the National Diabetes Services Scheme (for cheaper diabetes consumables).
Shop around for everyday expenses and make sure you’re getting the best possible deal for your mortgage, credit card, phone bundle and utilities such as electricity and water. Comparison websites like www.energymadeeasy.gov.au can help.
PROBLEM 4: "It’s like my feelings and needs don’t matter"
Most carers have to grapple with days when their partner snaps or rebuffs them. Meanwhile, their priorities often end up on the backburner. Sounds familiar? Give one of these solutions a try:
● Avoid accusations: ‘aim to use “I” statements to talk about something that upsets you so that your partner doesn’t become defensive and stop listening,’ suggests psychologist Sue Yorston from Relationships Australia Victoria.
● Learn to listen: ask what your partner would like to do so that the care feels more collaborative than combative.
● Organise respite care: ‘if you feel you can’t take a weekend, it’s still beneficial to have a short break once a week to have your hair done or to catch up with a friend for coffee while the person you care for enjoys time out in a different setting too,’ says Elena Katrakis. For information on available services see www.carersaustralia.com.au or call 1800 242 636.
● Take a break: the washing up can wait! Taking a 10-minute ‘me break’ will recharge your batteries. Read a book, meditate or just sit outside to enjoy a cup of tea.
PROBLEM 5: "We no longer have sex – and our relationship is suffering"
Being together all day with your partner, particularly if he or she is not well, can leave you both feeling too tired for sex. To keep intimacy alive, show your love in other ways. Go for a walk, enjoy a shower together or read to each other in the bath. ‘Holding hands, cuddling and kissing with no strings attached encourages physical closeness, helps you both relax and can foster more intimacy and desire, which may lead to more lovemaking,’ says Yorston. And when you are in the mood for sex, try setting a date for it. Anticipation can be the ultimate aphrodisiac!
By Stephanie Osfield