With the exception of maybe an insulin pump on our hip, to look at most of us, you would never know that we have diabetes. We may be standing right in front of you, and you may have known us for years, yet barring some extreme circumstance you will only know that diabetes is a part of our life if we choose to share that with you. Let me introduce you to the dumbest secret ever.
Being an advocate for people with diabetes, and increased awareness and understanding of what life is really like with this disease, I’ve become quite outspoken about diabetes. I’ve become outspoken about my own diabetes. I’m proud of our amazing Diabetes Online Community (DOC), and the contributions we make to ultimately improve lives with diabetes, and am honored to be just one of the voices in that chorus.
I get bothered though, because I know we all still try to keep diabetes secret sometimes. We don’t like to bring attention to ourselves in a time of need, show what we often (and mistakenly) translate as being weakness, and have to admit to ourselves that we actually need someone else to help us take care of us, if only for a few moments. I recently wrote about a low at work, and if I hadn’t had low brain and was more comfortable with turning on the billboard with all the flashing lights on it that says, “Diabetes alert, I need a little help please!” then I might could have avoided hours of feeling like my behavior made about as much sense as a Charlie Sheen interview.
I don’t think any of us were taught to share our diabetes like that. Our interactions with people and our condition made aspects of our situation become taboo. Yes, we know that when we feel low we should treat first and ask questions later. But in a world of structure, especially for children with diabetes who have a specific snack time, lunch time, this time and that time, it draws unwanted attention to us when we have to sneak to the back of the room or go to the nurse’s office because our blood sugar is low. Not all people understand that. Not all people with diabetes even understand that. Having to break routine seems like no big deal to the mom & dad of the child with diabetes, because they know how important it is that Junior gets his blood sugar level up before something stupid happens. But they don’t know what Junior has to deal with, the looks he gets from his friends, the questions about where he went and why he gets to have a snack when nobody else does, the lack of being able to explain why he gets special treatment in a way that his peers can accept. To us adults, those are easy questions to answer; to Junior, answering those questions risks not being accepted, and becoming (Heaven forbid!) different.
I lived with diabetes all through those grade school days, and still I don’t know what the solution to this problem is. The only thing I know for certain is that it taught me behavior that I wish I had never learned. We should never, ever feel like we have to hide our diabetes and needs. Yet we do hide it, and that requires us to make a conscious choice to act against instinct when what little bit of clear thinking remaining is what we need to save ourselves from a low blood sugar disaster.
Being diagnosed with diabetes, regardless of type, requires us to retrain ourselves. There are things that we formerly took for granted that we cannot ignore anymore. The more I talk about diabetes to people around me, the more comfortable I get with the idea of sharing what my diabetes needs are. Whatever it takes to get to what we need, we have to remove the barriers, even if those barriers are us.