“I would if I could, but you know what His Lordship is like.” Mrs A moaned, sighing dramatically. “He’s as tight as a you-know-what.”
I didn’t, but I knew better than to ask.
“If it was up to me, I’d exercise every day and buy only healthy food,” she continued, “but my life is not my own. I’m at the beck and call of that fat, inconsiderate, pain-in-the-you-know-what.”
I had a better idea about the “what” this time.
We’d arrived at this junction before. Many times. Stalemate. Mrs A’s diabetes was poorly controlled with a HbA1c hovering just under 10%. She seemed to be relatively compliant with her medications, but had not changed her sedentary, high-fat-and-sugar-consuming lifestyle one iota since her diagnosis 5 years earlier. The excuse was always the same – “My husband calls the shots.”
“No, he won’t let me go walking out on my own.”
“No, he insists on having bacon and eggs each morning and expects us to eat the same meals.”
“No, he won’t pay for an exercise physiologist.”
“No, he won’t come in to see you and discuss it – he hates doctors!”
And on it went. Her tightly controlled life seemed to be causing her diabetes to be the opposite, clearly demonstrating the message that without support at home, lifestyle changes were almost certainly doomed to fail.
Nonetheless Mrs A seemed quite resigned to her domestic situation and always whinged cheerfully. She laughed off any suggestion that she had other options.
Mrs B also had poorly controlled diabetes, but a very different relationship with her husband. He often attended appointments and seemed both concerned about Mrs B’s health and motivated to assist her in making the recommended lifestyle changes. Mrs B never said much and didn’t seem to share her husband’s enthusiasm. Her weight and HbA1c refused to budge. I was reminded that family support was only part of the solution. You can lead a horse to water…
A year or so passed in these status quos, when coincidentally both Mrs A’s and Mrs B’s lives were turned upside down within weeks of each other. One became a widow and the other finally left an emotionally abusive relationship after 40 years of marriage.
Eighteen months later, the widow, Mrs A, is 15kg heavier, has an HbA1c of 12% and is lonely and forlorn.
“I miss him dreadfully. He was always such a good husband – loved me to bits. We were the best of friends.”
Interestingly, the excuses had a somewhat familiar ring.
“No, I can’t stop eating bacon and eggs – cooking a decent breakfast helps me feel close to him.”
“No, I can’t possibly go for a morning walk – I’m too tired after cooking breakfast. No, I can’t go later – it’s too hot. No, I can’t go in the evenings – he told me it wasn’t safe to walk alone at night. I can’t ignore his wishes.”
“I know I’m eating too much chocolate, but he’s not around to tell me not to. I have no willpower of my own, you know.”
On the other hand, the divorced Mrs B is a different woman. When her hands finally held the reins, her horse well and truly started to drink. She lost weight and gained a smile. Her HbA1c dropped from 8.9% to 7.2% and she is no longer on antidepressants. She is eating well, exercising daily and looks fantastic! It hasn’t been an easy time – the divorce was ugly, messy and protracted – but Mrs B marched through it all with dignity, fortitude and an unwavering sense of purpose. I have to admit, I was astounded at the amazing creature that emerged from its cocoon.
Yes, family support is very influential when it comes to lifestyle change – just not always in the way one might assume.