November 14th 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 since 1995.

This post is to talk about why it’s important to be willing to speak up about things, especially our invisible illnesses.

Be Open

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.”

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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 are the ones who lose.

Their parents? Their spouses?

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 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. 

10 Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing. I know people who have Type 2 Diabetes, but it’s also really misunderstood in terms of people thinking it’s because you eat too much or are obese. My mom has post-transplant diabetes from getting a kidney transplant, and my sister had pancreatitis and got diabetes, so it’s definitely not the same for everyone. I’m sure it’s really tough for kids to have Type 1 Diabetes too because most people don’t understand it.

    -Lauren

    1. I’m a counselor every year at a day camp for kids with type 1, and you’d be surprised how resilient and upbeat these kids are. It’s the parents who show and shoulder most of the concern. For the kids, sometimes it’s all they’ve ever known, but for the parents–crash course in change! We should all be advocates for ourselves and our fellow diabetics, for sure.

    1. It’s amazing how many people have it–or rather, how many people you learn have it once you start talking about it. The entire month of November is for Diabetes Awareness–the 14th is just Dr. Banting’s birthday (the doc who co-discovered insulin in 1921).

  2. My sister has been a Juvenile Diabetic for 57 years. She just had quadruple bypass and is recovering well.
    I remember in school giving a presentation about diabetes. I showed how to inject a needle into an orange. I never did have to put a needle into my sister but mom thought I needed to know how.
    Growing up it was interesting to see how my sister reacted. She exudes life – is funny and a very strong person. I got the serious side – maybe by seeing what my parents went through with both of us. I had bad asthma as a child.
    Great article and yes we are a lot more open about being who we are and accepting others. We need to keep on the same path.
    Blessings
    Janis

  3. Thank you for remind us about this day, I had a grandmother who was diabetic and my mom is also. It is so important to raise awareness for it and hopefully people who feel alone can reach out.

    Thank you,
    Liliana

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