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November 14, 2018
Today is World Diabetes Day.
It’s a day intended to promote awareness and education about diabetes, especially type 1 diabetes.
I have been a type 1 diabetic for twenty-three years. You can read more about my experiences in these posts:
- 25 Truth Bombs to Make You Re-Think Type 1 Diabetes
- 4 Things Type 1 Diabetics Have to Watch Out For
- The Stress Associated with Type 1 Diabetes
- This is What My Day as a Type 1 Diabetic Looks Like
- How to React When Family Members Joke About Diabetes
- What is Type 1 Diabetes? And Why You Should Care
Today I want to talk about something a little different — why it’s important to be willing to speak up about things, especially our invisible illnesses.
I was once friends with a girl, also a type 1 diabetic, who did her very best to keep her autoimmune disorder a secret from her college classmates, roommates, and resident advisors.
She, as far as I know, had no allies in college.
No one to reach out to when the stress of dealing with this disease became a little too much.
Like many diabetics diagnosed later in life, I think she feared being someone different.
Someone not normal.
But that idea — normal — is a lie we tell ourselves to fit in.
This girl had hopes of never having to explain why she needs to press a few buttons on her “pager” (insulin pump) right before eating. She probably never wanted her roommates to worry that she might never wake up from a midnight low blood sugar.
The idea that type 1 diabetics are worried about seeming “different” is a real problem.
Kids are bullies, and kids bully anyone who is different, including those with autoimmune, invisible illnesses like type 1 diabetes.
Most people have heard the word “diabetes” before.
It’s become a meme in the form of Wilfred Brimley’s “Diabeetus.”
I’ve had family members joke about getting diabetes from eating an entire cake.
There are snake oil salesmen selling cinnamon and okra water as if they’re a “secret cure to diabetes your doctor doesn’t want you to know about”.
But where does this leave us?
Confused and confusing types 1 and 2 as if they’re the same disease, asking if one is worse than the other, and offering well-meaning but woefully ignorant and misplaced advice based on a grandmother who had a foot amputated because of diabetes.
And the newly-diagnosed kids are the ones who lose.
Welcome to a crash course in your life never being the same.
We deal with insurance companies so often we’re the experts, even if we didn’t want to be.
We get excited about new pump technology and clinical trials for pancreas transplants.
And we all get a little frustrated when others try to make us feel uncomfortable about checking blood sugar or injecting insulin in a public place.
For my entire life as a type 1 diabetic, I have never hidden my disease. My mom, every year of elementary school, hosted an assembly at the beginning of the school year to teach my classmates about my disease.
In high school, I gave presentations on it during science class. Every single one of my teachers received a bag of low snacks the first time I walked into their classrooms. No questions asked, if my number was low in the middle of a lesson, I could go up and grab an apple juice.
In college, I created pamphlets to help people understand the history of type 1.
All of this because people just don’t know.
They don’t understand.
They have family members with diabetes, but can’t tell me which type it is. And when I ask for more information, they say they’ve never been able to remember the difference.
Isn’t one of them the “worse” one?
I hope that I’ve been able to educate you on Type 1 Diabetes, and why it needs to be talked about. Why it needs the awareness brought by today, World Diabetes Day.
This post is also on Medium.com, published the same day because of the relevance.