Sometimes, having diabetes can feel crazy lonely. And since type 1’s are so rare, chances are we might not even know another person with diabetes. This is certainly the case for me. I think I know like, 6.2 total diabetics from various corners of my life. And as someone who thrives off of big, relatable groups of friends, I gotta be honest, having so few diabetics in my corner feels prettyyyyyy, prettyyyyyy, pretty bleak.
Spotting diabetics in the wild is what I imagine going on Safari in the dark, on foot, and without a guide must feel like. Freakin’ pointless.
Diabetes is an invisible disease. It’s not like all of us have one recognizable physical trait like a nostril that’s slightly larger than the other. Or a freckle just above our right shoulder blade that’s shaped like the taco emoji. Even the parts of diabetes that are tangible (our pumps, test kits, CGMs, etc.) are typically hidden under our shirts so that strangers won’t ask us why we still carry around beepers.
But last week, when I was crossing the street near my office, I saw a lone little test strip left abandoned in the middle of the street. I immediately thought, “HELLO FROM THE OTHER SIIIIIIIIIDE. Whoever you are, I love you! JK, I don’t love you. That’s insane. I just wish that I knew you!” And even though I never saw the actual human being responsible for dropping this little guy on the street, I felt a little less alone if even for the teensiest, most fleeting second. Someone had flashed their anonymous diabetic calling card.
I thought about that moment for a while. And about why I don’t know any diabetics and why that feels so lonely sometimes. It’s pretty simple, though. People don’t see my diabetes because it’s hiding! And therefore when I don’t talk about it openly, or seek out other people with diabetes, it just…continues to hide! It’s very easy for me to seek shelter behind this blog. It’s very easy to convince myself that by simply venting at the Internet, that is “enough” to make me feel fulfilled and less like a lone wolf navigating this vast dark diabetic desert. I rarely talk about having diabetes at work. God forbid I wear my pump on the outside of any articles of clothing. I’m not involved in any advocacy groups in NYC. And frankly, I avoid the truth because sometimes it’s just too painful to talk about or too intense to integrate into my day to day life. Not to mention that insanely awkward moment when someone tries to hide the confusion and concern on their face when you drop the bomb that your pancreas is broken and they don’t want to admit that they don’t know what a pancreas is. And so, contrary to popular belief, I’ve chosen the more private approach to managing this whole thing.
However, October was a weird month for lil’ ole me. For the first time since moving to NYC, I was forced to speak up about having diabetes and at first it suuuuuuuuucked. Because I got a CGM and was adjusting to a pretty major change in my routine, there were some after affects that I had no choice but to deal with. I cried every night out of pure frustration. I had to be honest to my team at work about why I needed to stay home and recover after a horrible day of highs and lows. I was asked to help someone write an article for another publication about living a diabetic roommate. I waited outside of a spin studio when I saw that my instructor was also a type 1, talked to her, and attended a charity ride she hosted for Beyond Type 1. And overall, it felt like I talked about or thought about my diabetes almost all of everyday. It was exhausting. Shit got so real that I walked out of my office one day and straight into a nail salon for a 20 minute shoulder rub. I was that desperate. (Sidenote: WTF. We should do that way more often. It was amazing….) I had overwhelmed myself by the attention thinking and acting on my diabetes was taking away from other things. But looking back on it, I made a lot of personal progress during this growth spurt even though there were days I hardly felt like myself. My head hurt. My emotions were whack attack. And I think this is what it must have been like back in the GLORY DAYS of puberty.
Speaking up about painful, personal shit is not easy. It’s like admitting to the world that something is wrong with us or that we’re not okay. But once I got right with myself about not just exposing but embracing this side of myself again, a side that I have absolutely no reason to be so secretive about, or carry such intense self-consciousness towards, the support started to feel good instead of embarrassing. Doors started opening. I started meeting people that I knew could significantly impact my journey with this illness. And I was finally able to feel more confident about lifting my head up, looking around me, and letting people see me for eeeeeverythang I am… even what I’m hiding under my shirt. (No, guys NOT THOSE, the other two things. Well, I donno. Depends on what you’re into I guess.)