To tell, or not to tell? That is the question.
April 2007 —
Who do I tell?
It's the question that many diabetics ask themselves when debating disclosing their disease. Who needs to know? For me, diagnosed as a kid and under the care of my parents, it was important that anyone taking care of me knew about my diabetes. Before I could sleep over at my aunts' houses, they had to learn how to test my blood sugar, give me an insulin injection, and recognize and treat low and high blood sugars. Same for the people who babysat for my brother and sister and I. Same for the school teachers in my classrooms.
My parents were quick to tell people about my disease because that knowledge gave other people the power to protect me. A heightened awareness led to a higher level of safety for me. As far as my parents were concerned, how could anyone protect me if they didn't know?
As I grew up, my little social network was educated by my parents. Friends knew because they went to school with me and I had given little "talks" to my classroom. Until I was about 18 years old, my life was contained to one small town, so everyone already "knew."
College, and life after college, begged the question, "Who do I tell?" College roommates, new friends, people I was dating … they all needed to be brought up to speed. I needed my friends to know. I needed the people I dated to know.
How do you tell?
"Hi, my name is Kerri and I have diabetes."
It sounds more like the beginning of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting than a way to tell people I have diabetes.
"This is my insulin pump. Here is my meter."
Smells strongly of "I'm A Little Teapot." Isn't there an easier way?
I've found that diabetes comes up easily in conversations, since it is a disease that touches so many parts of my life. This integration can make it easier to disclose. Having dinner with new friends or business associates provides me with an opportunity to gently disclose diabetes. A quick finger prick under the table may catch someone's eye, allowing me to say, "I'm a diabetic." A conversation about how many carbs are in a certain dish with another dinner guest (convenient, since so many people are carb-conscious these days) lends itself easily to saying, "Well, I have diabetes so I'm pretty familiar with carb counting." Pulling my insulin pump from my pocket may have someone say, "Nice phone," and I can counter with, "It's actually an insulin pump." These moments, if handled gracefully and openly, can let diabetes slide quietly into a conversation without forcing me to give some kind of long explanation.
One of the things about being a diabetic is that it's hard to tell I have it unless I opt to share it. If you're in a wheelchair, you don't really have to tell people "I'm in a wheelchair," because they can see that for themselves. If you're diabetic, people may not see the outward signs unless you point them out. Little finger prick spots on your fingertips aren't that obvious. An insulin pump can be tucked neatly into a pocket, and insulin pens and meters can be slipped into purses or glove compartments or desk drawers. Even the signs of hypo- and hyperglycemia can be written off as "just sweaty," or "exhausted," respectively. This disease can be kept close and quiet, if that's what you choose.
So why do I tell?
I tell people because it's a big part of my life. Everything I do is tingled slightly with the smell of insulin or a rogue test strip. Diabetes doesn't define me, but it helps to explain me. It explains the mess of glucose tabs and test strips in my car and at the bottom of my purse. (It also explains why my closest friends have smushed granola bars at the bottom of their purses, too.) It helps explain why I bring juice to the gym. It also helps explain why I'm constantly thinking forward, taking care now to ensure a healthy future. Part of that forward thinking is realizing there may be moments when I am unable to help myself. Telling people helps to keep me safe, allowing people to help me in those instances.
Education and advocacy protect me. And so do the people I choose to tell.
Visit Kerri's website.
dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.
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