Millennials and Medical Conditions: How to Keep Your Social Life and Health a Top Priority

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By: Sam Bickford

Not being able to drink a margarita when everyone wants to have margaritas is hard! But It doesn’t have to be that way.

Sam Bickford is a North Carolinian creative and professional writer. He is a Type 1 Diabetic who enjoys riding bicycles and drinking white wine. Find him on twitter @sambickford7.

I would know. I have had type 1 diabetes since I was seven years old. Yet, I can do anything anyone else can do. I just have to be careful about when and how I do it.

Having a chronic illness can create uncomfortable social situations. Explaining needs that are different from your peers, and maybe not understood by them, can feel lonely, scary, or embarrassing.

Pizza is delicious but terrible for my blood sugar. When I was younger, I would eat it no matter what, not wanting to rock the boat. Now, I talk about my medical and dietary needs when I’m with my friends to make sure I’m feeling my best!

Discussing the specifics of your chronic illness may deepen your relationships and allow you to feel more comfortable in your own body. It certainly has for me.

Here are some tips I’ve learned for how to bring up the medical condition you are living with in social situations and have a great time out.

Name Your Condition

It can be scary to put a name to the condition you have, especially in front of others. But remember what it was like when you were first diagnosed. While learning the name of what was going on with your body was intimidating, it was also powerful. It was for me!

Knowing exactly what is going on inside allows you to know how to treat it, and how to live your best life. And telling people in your life what your condition is can have the same effect. Simply saying, “I can’t eat pizza,” is vague. That statement allows room for judgment because you’re not giving the details of why. And it’s that judgment which is often what we’re afraid of in these circumstances. So, naming why you can’t eat pizza not only removes some of that room for judgment, it also makes you more comfortable

Saying, “I can’t eat pizza because I have diabetes and it messes with my sugars,” is a clear and non-negotiable thing to say that other people can easily respect.

And besides, you’ll be surprised that once you explain what’s going on with you, how excited people are to accommodate you. Our friends almost always want to help us!

My friends never question or say no to my medical requests. In fact, they like that I trust them enough to tell them what I need. Besides, everybody knows a salad can be just as good as pizza!

Explain the Difficulties

When we are out with our friends, everyone just wants to have fun. For those of us who have certain medical conditions though, we have to behave in a way that gives our body what it needs so that we can have fun!

Let’s say you have irritable bowel syndrome (also known as, IBS), and you’re not feeling your best one night when you go out with your friends. In these situations, alcohol doesn’t make you feel great, but you’re out and everyone is ordering margaritas. You decide to pass. But when you don’t order a margarita your friends begin to egg you on, “Come on, come on. Have a drink with us!”

Instead of shyly saying “no,” say, “I’m not feeling that well tonight, and if I drink it will make me feel worse. So much so, that I might have to leave if I drink because I will get sick. I would rather not drink to make sure I can hang out with you guys!” Now, who could disagree with that?

Suggest Different Ideas

One good thing about having a medical condition, is that after time, we pretty much know what works for us as well as what doesn’t work for us!

Sometimes saying just “no” can be hard. It makes us feel like we are shutting down our friends. A way to avoid this, combined with the other two steps above, is to suggest a different activity that is more medically friendly for you.

Let’s say your friends want to eat pizza. Only you have diabetes and pizza isn’t going to work that night. Instead of only saying I can’t eat pizza, or feeling shy as you look over the menu, say, “guys, my sugar is crazy tonight. I don’t think I can eat pizza. What if we got sushi instead?”

If you’ve practiced the other two steps your friends will be aware of your condition and understand that you’re not trying to be a stick in the mud, but rather you want to feel good when you hang out with them!

Better for Everyone

People without chronic medical conditions often don’t understand how much diligence and thoughtfulness it takes to live with a chronic condition.

By explaining your needs clearly and giving ideas for a plan that might work better for you, you aren’t only educating them about your condition, but also, you’re giving them important insight into how different people have to live differently.

We can’t expect people to be more understanding if we don’t give them the tools for understanding!

Explaining your needs in social situations is not only kind to yourself, but kind to the people around you.

To learn more about life with type 1 diabetes as a millennial, visit our Diabetes page.

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