SUGAR SURFING LESSON #5: ONLOOKERS vs FIRST RESPONDERS

  Through the years I've met thousands of families and adults with diabetes of all types and ages. Over the years, I would go on to know many of them very well on a personal level. This life experience has provided me a front row seat to see how others perceive and engage their diabetes (of all types).

 

A few years ago, Volkswagen advertisers created the “drivers wanted” advertising meme. The implication was that 'in life there are passengers and there are drivers'. Interestingly, I've observed a similar dichotomy of diabetes engagement which I call "onlookers" and first responders".

 

 Diabetes self-care involves collecting all kinds of information. This can come in the form of a single blood sugar reading, ketone meter or dipstick result, or a 'delta wave' seen on a sensor trendline. Beyond these data, we continually gather copious amounts of collateral information. Examples include our immediate state of mind, internal energy levels, time of day, anticipated actions, and the events swirling around us. Collectively, this is known as situational awareness.

 

When new to diabetes, most persons start out as onlookers. Onlookers see what is happening. They may have an opinion about how and why something is occurring. They might even be shocked or stunned by the events of the moment. However, this mental activity is often not associated with or connected to a proactive counter-response. Onlookers may actually withdraw from the situation, not challenge it. For whatever reasons, onlookers are not inclined to act aggressively. Their rationale might be sound. Inaction might reflect a lack of training or confidence in one's abilities. Howeever, in some cases apathy drives this lack of action.

 

But after training and time, some onlookers change.  They become what I like to call “first responders”. This is in reference to all our valiant and brave public servants who run headfirst into a challenge as opposed to running away. In my experience, some people with diabetes are innate first responders. They start out that way. But most I've known start out as onlookers. Transformation from one state to the other is a very personal process which defies easy explanation. But I do see it happen, even if it takes years to occur.

 “Lighting a fire under someone” is a metaphor used to describe how one person motivates change or action in someone else. Diabetes specialists often seek to

"light" that fire under their patients struggling to take charge of their diabetes. However, this can often backfire. Diabetes first responders differ significantly from their onlooker peers since the 'fire' of motivation generally burns brightly “inside” them, not "under" them.

 

The fire of motivation burning within us waxes and wanes. Sometimes we are onlookers, other times we are first responders. Sugar Surfers tend to be largely first responders. It’s part of the mindset Sugar Surfer’s cultivate. Sugar Surfers see change as a choice. What is YOUR onlooker-first responder ratio?

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