Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Burden of proof

The warning signs flashed brightly.



There were the most obvious - excess weight and sedentary lifestyle - but also the mention of constant thirst and a family history. And while relatively young, I couldn't help but fear that someone whom I love and care for deeply could be living with a life-changing yet manageable condition.

Type II diabetes.

While my trip home this past weekend was filled with many good things, I feel haunted by the connections I made about this person. They are connections I didn't dare make out loud, not to that person, but quietly and fearfully. First, on a quiet morning run with Mark and, later, with my grandma.

"You were facing the same things," she said. "Until you got some sense."

Sense I did get, which is where the problem (so to speak) lies. The changes I have made, the life I lead, the things I eat have helped me to avoid some of the bad things I thought I was destined to carry. Type II diabetes. High blood pressure. Heart disease. High cholesterol. In doing so, though, I'm now able to sit in a place with a different perspective on a situation like my loved one's ... a place where it feels easy to judge and feel less tolerant. I can look at that person and, with experience, say, "You can do better, be better. Just like me."

And, I know, that's not fair. Change is hard, and everyone has to do it in her own way and in her time. Looking back, there's part of me that thinks that it was a stroke of luck or divine intervention that allowed everything to click the way it did. I know I worked and worked hard but finding how to do it for me is a key I have yet to copy. Without it, to pass around, I can't expect anyone to unlock the door to change. No matter how badly and genuinely I wish I could.

It's a tough spot to be in, and it almost makes me feel guilty. It probably sounds ludicrous but in a way it's like coming into money while your family is still poor. You can do the best to help them but you can only do so much. You can desire to influence the things beyond your control but you can't. You have to accept it and live your life, your best life, regardless. You can't do it for them.

I can set a good example. I can bring healthy dishes to gatherings. I can send out a group invitation to run a family race. But I can't get a person to follow it. I can't make a person eat carrots and hummus. I can't get a person to cross the starting line.

No matter how much I want to. And I do want to.

Some might say that I should talk to this person, to share my hopes and dreams for a life without a diagnosis. It's not an easy thing, though - to open up like that or to hear such concerns. A person could get angry or upset rather than feeling motivated and inspired. A person could feel judged and jaded rather than hopeful and cared for. Worse, a person might not be receptive at all ... because they don't see it as a problem.

This I know, because I've been on the receiving end. It might be the only thing worse than wanting change for the person I love.


  1. I could've written this about my mom, who has type 2 diabetes, heart disease, all of the above. I could've also written this about my mil who I have suspected has had diabetes for awhile now and finally came out and said so. Have either of them changed? Nope. It's very very sad and so hard to just sit by and watch. But you are absolutely right, there is no way you can force someone to change unless they truly want it. Being a good example is all you can do.

  2. I know exactly how you feel. It kills me that I can't make some of my loved ones change their habits. They don't seem to understand that I do it because I want to be around for the long haul and I want them to be with me!

  3. In medical school, I learned that people enact change in stages (Google tells me what I learned is the "transtheoretical model") -- pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance. The teaching was that you can't move someone more than one stage at a time. If a smoker isn't even considering quitting, all you can do is plant the seed of an idea. If a loved one isn't yet ready to consider a weight loss program, plant the seed, let them know you're there if they want to learn more, and then let the seed germinate. It's agonizing when you want someone to change and they're not ready. But you're right, they have to make the change. You'll be ready to help when the time comes.

    Good luck.