As someone who for many years would usually go to the bathroom when in public to do my injection, and who hid being diabetic from my boyfriend so well at the beginning that he thought I was joking when he finally found out (!), I’d say I’ve come a long way with my diabetes recently. Diabetes was never something I was particularly fond of as a teenager – it was just something that I had, something that I had to get on with, and something I was very aware that none of my friends had – but lately, that’s all changed. I’m not really sure what’s triggered it – perhaps a number of things – but these days, I couldn’t be prouder of being diabetic (seriously – I talk about it like, a lot – find me anyone who hasn’t heard of the Freestyle Libre and I’ll happily bore them to tears about my new and improved life as a diabetic version of a contactless card reader 🙂 ).
Saying that – If I’m honest, I still don’t find it the easiest thing to whip out my stomach to inject in front of people I’ve just met. Take the training day I had with work last month, for example – in a room full of new faces, as lunch was served, I stood up to take me, my little FlexPen and needle to the bathroom – this way, I’d be able to get on with my injection, no questions asked, and focus on getting back to eating the delicious little chicken skewers that had just been served. But I stopped myself – because why should I have to go to a grubby old bathroom or be embarrassed about having diabetes? The answer is, I shouldn’t, and no one should. So I sat back down and bolused up.
Of course, literally before I’d even put the injection back on the table, the boy opposite me asked ‘What’s that for? How did you know you had diabetes?’ (Eyes of a hawk this fella), and there I was, finding myself telling a table of strangers how I used to pee like a racehorse. But that’s fine (!), and that’s what this ‘refusing to be embarrassed’ thing is all about – being honest and open about T1D, and not being afraid to tell people what it really involves. And that’s why I was so thrilled to hear from the BBC 2 weeks ago.
The weekend before last was a bit surreal if I’m honest. Walking into work to find I had an email from the BBC saying – that out of ALL the huge and wonderful diabetic blogs out there – they had found my teeny little 3-piece number I started a couple of months ago, was pretty shocking – and to know that they wanted to get me involved in an article that was aiming to raise awareness for T1D only made it better (if you haven’t had a butchers yet – you can find the article here).
It all stemmed from a recent Facebook post by Madeline Milzark, hashtagged #WhatDiabetesReallyLooksLike, in which she gave her insight into T1D, and which went pretty viral pretty quickly. The reporter was keen to know what my experience was with the public and T1D, and whether I agreed that it’s somewhat misrepresented or stigmatised.
Now one of the problems with T1D is that even for us guys who deal with it every day (you’d think would be EXPERTS at this by now, right?) – it’s confusing, follows no rules, and can frankly be a bloody nightmare. So when people ask me how I feel about how T1 is portrayed in the public, I sometimes think, ‘well how the heck can we expect others to have any idea of what we’re dealing with here?’ But at the same time, when the reporter asked me about stigmatism, I couldn’t help but almost laugh. In the last few weeks alone, I’ve ‘enjoyed’ dealing with the following situations – and I’m in no doubt that most other T1’s have gone through similar:
‘Why aren’t you obese?’
This is what my client asked me when he saw me testing my blood sugar and I explained that I had type 1 diabetes. At least he wasn’t asking ‘why are you obese?’ I guess.
‘So when you’re shaking, you need more insulin?’
This is a common one, which is understandable – hypo and hyper are veeeeery similar words, and if the main preconception linked to diabetes is that ‘you had too much sugar’, taking more insulin when you don’t feel well probably seems like a sensible idea. This quickly led onto a conversation about someone else’s Dad’s cousin who (many years ago, mind) ended up – well, not ending up at all – after his friends, not knowing what to do, did give him insulin to treat a hypo. Not ideal.
Probably my least favourite one I’ve had to fake-smile through and try not to get overly frustrated at recently. Referring to ‘having to get my stomach out and inject in front of everyone’ (as this guy so delicately put it), I was told, in front of about 10 other people, that my injections ‘sounded gross’. And yeh, they probably do. And no, I don’t particularly like getting my stomach out for you to screw your face up at either. But I also quite like my eyesight. And my feet and kidneys. So yeh – #sorrynotsorry for this one I’m afraid.
After laughing about these ridiculous (yet almost normal to me now) comments, one thing I really wanted to stress with the reporter was actually how much of a support social media has been for me. One thing that really helped push me to start taking my T1D more seriously is when I started to stumble across some of the amazing T1 blogs and Instagram accounts out there. Being reminded for the first time in a long time that there are SO many of us dealing with/struggling with/nailing T1D was a huge eye-opener, and is what spurred me to start my own social platforms – and honestly – they have been ace. The support and kind words I’ve received over the last couple of weeks about the BBC article, blog and Insta account have been overwhelming, and really, really touching. Reading stories of other people’s T1 experiences, receiving recommendations on pump therapy and blood sugar management with exercise, and even having close friends saying how interesting it is, or how they had no idea I had to do this and that, has been incredible, and so, SO refreshing!
So seriously – thank you to all of you who have read the article or even as much as glanced at this blog. Hearing that people have enjoyed reading it makes it a hundred times more enjoyable to write, and so after a bit of a whirlwind response, I’m going to keep cracking on with it. Besides – things are always better when people talk about them, and that’s no different for T1D – and I love a good chat.