Living with Diabetes Care or Codependency?

Written by Eliot LeBow, LCSW, CDE

Meet Jane. Jane is 25 years old, and got engaged last year. She has Type 1 diabetes, and is currently on medication for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Jane came to me to address her fear of checking her blood sugar. She also expressed concerns about her relationship with her fiancé.

We addressed her more pertinent blood sugar issue first. During her first session, Jane’s A1c was 14, and she admitted she hadn’t checked her blood sugar in over a month. With the assistance of her fiancé, Jane began to check her levels regularly. The two worked together—Jane would put the drop of blood on the strip, and hand her meter over to her fiancé to read it. Eventually, Jane was able to do it on her own. Over the weeks, Jane’s blood sugars got under control, her memory and focus improved, and she attended therapy sessions with increasing regularity.

Everything was going well health-wise, so we began to tackle Jane’s relationship issues. As we dove into the various aspects of their relationship, an extremely codependent and unhealthy picture emerged. Jane’s fiancé was addicted to opiates. When high, he was abusive and incapable of taking care of himself. Jane would spend more time thinking about his health than her own, and she knew it was impairing her diabetes management. But despite her fiancé’s behavior, Jane felt responsible for him. After several months of therapy, Jane cultivated the strength to leave him.

During the next two weeks, Jane’s blood sugars further stabilized, her memory improved and her anxiety dropped. She felt better than she had ever felt before, and was able to keep her blood sugars in range for the first time in several years. However, she felt guilty about her own success and happiness. Jane took her fiancé back, thinking things would change. A few weeks later, she stopped attending therapy altogether. Then, one week ago, Jane came in to see me. She was out of control, struggling to get out of bed and unable to function at work. We came up with a plan of action she could take to regain control of her life—one that did not involve her fiancé.

When you’re living with diabetes, your support network is an invaluable resource. Your family, friends, and loved ones may be able to help you manage your care, listen to your worries, and keep you on track by cooking healthy foods and joining you in healthy activities. Without a good network, the road to recovery is long and lonely.

However, codependent relationships can make good health impossible. If a loved one is sapping your energy instead of supporting you, it’s time to reevaluate that relationship. If you aren’t sure if your relationship is codependent, here are some red flags:

If your relationship is affecting your ability to care for yourself, reach out to a mental health professional. Therapy can help you set boundaries within a less than optimal relationship, or find the strength to walk away.

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