So a friend of mine was diagnosed as diabetic a few months ago. He is one of those uber-masculine guys who takes care of his family, is into sports and is mildly chauvinistic. Since his diagnosis, he has resisted all lifestyle changes, continued to drink and smoke, and is pretty much living as he did before he knew he had this condition. If you know anything about diabetes, you know this is a recipe for disaster. His wife is very concerned, and in fact she is the one who drew me into the conversation hoping that I could speak some sense into him. She says he blows up into a tantrum every time she tries to bring up possible and necessary lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise. She really does not understand his resistance to acceptance to his diagnosis and after months of this, she is losing her patience.
I was hesitant to get involved and to speak to this guy. I am not a doctor or a counsellor, and in fact I feared that I might make things worse. His wife asked me a few times and finally I acquiesced, so we met for lunch. The meal started off well, catching up and laughing, and finally I brought up the reason for our meeting – and you should have seen this guy. He went off on me in a fit of rage saying I had no right to speak about his health, and that I should only worry about my own. He then brought up the fact that I had been a smoker for years and that I am a pregnant woman who has been craving red wine instead of nutritious food. The lunch was obviously over at this point, so I simply walked away.
Later on when I spoke to his wife, I told her that her man was in deep denial about what he was going through, and that he was angry about being sick and having his body let him down. I suggested that she treat him with more patience and give him space to mourn his former idea of self – that of an invincible man. Yes, it is all easier said than done especially if the tantrum he threw in the restaurant was anything to go by.
I have been thinking about this couple for weeks now – her trying to improve her man’s health and lifestyle, while he resists and rebels against her efforts. Him dealing with the emasculation of illness and a deep sense of vulnerability, all the while pretending that he is fine. The diabetes might seem like the hardest thing to deal with in this situation, but a closer look shows that the emotions surrounding diagnosis may actually be harder. Denial does not, however, last forever and this man will go back to his regular self. He might even apologise for his abrasive behaviour. This glimpse into their marriage has shown me that commitment means that you will keep forgiving your partner unless and until you decide to exit the relationship. It means that there will be moments when they take advantage of you and you let them.