It’s not easy to tell someone I’m diabetic. Over the years I’ve had such a variety of reactions, I never know what to expect. I don’t like making a big deal of it because I don’t see it as one, but your peers just have to know. Put it the other way round, I’d want to know if one of my mates had it, and I wouldn’t want to find out the hard way i.e. when they’re writhing around on the floor in a fitting frenzy.
I’ve had some interesting responses to my first diabetic revelation. The one I absolutely hate is,
“Is that the one where you’ve got too much sugar, or not enough?”
Hmmmmm. This is a very basic way of viewing diabetes. I guess they are kind of right, my pancreas doesn’t produce insulin so without injecting I always have “too much sugar.” I don’t really know what the other condition they’re alluding to is – the one where you have “not enough sugar.” Perhaps that’s the feeling that leads to type2 diabetes? Where basically you scoff your face with sugary food and drink until your pancreas just can’t deal with it anymore. Enough about type 2s, they’ll have their day from this hummingbird, but not today.
Some, and I have to say it is the minority, have no idea what diabetes is when I tell them I have it. Others completely overreact, as if they’d read an article once about how it can lead to blindness and loss of limbs, and they automatically think it’s already happening to me. *
“Oh wow I’m sorry to hear that, that must be awful. How do you cope with it?”
It’s not that bad, calm down. I haven’t lost any limbs, not yet anyway.
It’s made me realise there is a lot of ignorance when it comes to diabetes, but I’m sure it’s the same with most conditions and diseases. My friend developed rhabdomyolysis the other week, and I had no idea what he was on about. It’s a long word, so I thought it was fairly serious, and turns out it can be. I still have no idea how to pronounce it. But with diabetes, I (probably selfishly) expect people to know something about it. If they don’t though, I like educating people about it. After all, it could stop a person panic-jabbing me with my insulin pen during a hypo. This assumes I haven’t lost my pen by this point, which happens far too frequently. It’s like they jump out of my pockets! In fairness, my friends know what to do and have saved me from a serious hypo on multiple occasions. Alcohol is dangerous for diabetics – I will share some experiences of this in another post.
As great as my friends are with my diabetes, I’ve had a lot of banterous jabs in my time too. It’s only natural that people can be sympathetic, but they can also be nobs. Whatever insult you can think of, I’m sure I’ve had it.
“Can we use your blue badge to park in the disabled bay?”
“I’m doing my insulin right now too” (closes eyes)
“That missed putt was about as good as your pancreas”
“Where did you get your pancreas from, the toilet store?”
… And so it goes on. I don’t let it bother me, because I can give as good as I get. We diabetics have ways of getting our own back too. The threat of a finger-prick or an impromptu injection usually does the trick. But if not, 60 units of insulin in a glass of water is enough to make anyone hurl. Just ask my mate John!
As for girlfriends, that was a different story. My love life was a constant battle of confidence and embarrassment. If I was out for dinner with a lady I would be torn between nipping off to the toilet to inject or getting my belly out in front of her and waiting for the reaction. Would she care? Would she think it was weird? Is that the 2nd date cancelled? If my chat hadn’t done that already. Or, why is he going to the loo (again)? In hindsight, these were all fairly stupid worries to have. If injecting in public weirded out a girl then it wasn’t meant to be, but to be fair I don’t think it ever did. It’s actually a good conversation starter. Over 5 years ago now I had my first date with Rosie, I was planning on keeping the diabetes a secret until she commented on my necklace,
“Is that a dog-tag? Hello 1990s…”
Well, actually it was my Medic-Alert pendant. Cue the most awkward 10 seconds of our relationship to date. At least the diabetes was out in the open early doors (aaaaaand relax). She felt so bad about what happened, that’s why she’s still with me today.
Injecting in public is like the diabetic version of breastfeeding. I don’t pretend to know how a woman feels about getting her boob out in a cafe, although many would argue this point on account of my huge pectoralis majors (private joke, sorry). I imagine it’s one of those things where it takes a lot of courage to do it the first time, but as soon as you do it, you don’t hesitate in doing it again because it’s so liberating. Sure, every now and again you get some funny looks, but it saves a lot of hassle and it shouldn’t have such a stigma attached to it. Googling photos for this post I came across a number of ‘breastfeeding in public’ campaign pictures. It’s surprising to think it is still such a topical issue in today’s society **. I say the more boobs the better, and the same for diabetic injections!
If I think back to all the extreme things I’ve done to avoid being seen injecting, they are all fairly ridiculous, and some I still do today. At times I just didn’t inject. There was never a convenient time, or I didn’t think the people I was with would understand. I calculated that it was better to take the hit on the high blood-sugar than experience those 10 seconds of unbearable awkwardness.
Toilets are a diabetic’s best friend. People must think my bladder is the size of a pea, but for the record, half of those toilet-trips are me going to inject in the safe haven of the men’s cubicle. Sometimes I would wait for ages until a cubicle was free, all because I didn’t want people to see. What is wrong with me?! Even today, I have a general rule that with strangers, I won’t inject in front of them. Sod’s law would be that the time I decide to break that rule is when I’m with someone who faints at the site of needles. I don’t want that blood on my hands.
For the people that know me – think back to the first time I told you I was diabetic. Was I nervous? Shy? Drunk? (Normally helps). I’d like to think I’m confident in getting it out there, but clearly I still have some work to do. For other diabetics out there who have the same worries as I had, just got for it. For all the diabetic new mothers out there, go into a cafe, get both your boobs out and give yourself a big fat injection.
From that persistent old hummingbird. Cheers.
Please follow my Instagram @ persistent_hummingbird
* If you fail to properly control type1 diabetes it can lead to many complications in later life including retinopathy, heart disease, kidney disease, nerve problems to name a few:
** A guide to breastfeeding in public: