My name is Rachel. I'm young and healthy and energetic. I exercise daily, eat organic and vegetarian and believe in the magical powers of a good night's sleep. I'm also a type 1 diabetic who has wrestled with my disease for nine years and counting.
When new friends or acquaintances learn I'm diabetic, I'm met with one of five predictable responses. Unfortunately, none of these are helpful or encouraging.
1: Proclaim your fear of needles.
I've heard, "I could never stick myself with a needle! Needles are so scary!" I've never been a big fan of needles myself. I mean really, who is? But when it comes down to life or death, literally, I'm positive you would be able muster enough courage to administer insulin. Certainly my disease is hardly comfortable, but it is my reality, sharp metal included.
2: Deem yourself captain of the Dietary Police.
I might be at a holiday feast, at a party, or selecting what I want to eat at a restaurant when I'll be asked, "Are you allowed to eat that?" Listen, I can eat anything I want. I'm a grown woman. There is no person in charge of my diet except for me. Of course, choosing to consume a lot of carbohydrates isn't healthy for a diabetic, nor is it healthy for any person. I think sugar-free foods taste like chemicals, so instead I eat lower-sugar foods with the occasional all-out-dessert-fest. Please don't attempt to go all IRS on me and audit my dietary choices.
3: Mention the word "control."
Type 1 diabetes is about as easy to control as a 4-year-old in a candy store. My disease begs for 24/7/365 management, but it's hardly easy. Obvious factors, like how much activity I do, how much sleep I get and how many carbohydrates I consume can have a major impact on my blood sugar control. However, things like the weather, my stress level,and my menstrual cycle can also cause my blood sugars to be unsteady and unpredictable. I can do everything "by the book" and still have erratic blood sugars.
4: Tell me your elderly relative's diabetes horror story.
I've heard it all, the stories about grandparents, great-aunts and elderly neighbors having toes, feet or legs amputated due to diabetic complications. None of these stories end well. (I'm never approached and told what a great job Aunt Betty has done managing her disease.) You won't hear me rendering a verdict on a fellow diabetic, whether that person has type 2 diabetes, the most prevalent form, or type 1 diabetes like me. Diabetes is a very difficult disease that can wreak havoc on a person's body.
5: Offer me medical advice.
I've been asked why I don't just take pills (since needles are so scary) and told how certainly a cure is due to be discovered "any day." Type 2 diabetes (which is sometimes managed with medications taken in pill-form) and type 1 diabetes aren't the same disease, though they share some similarities. I am insulin-dependent, meaning, without injecting insulin or administering it with an insulin pump, I will die. My body makes none of the life-sustaining hormone. Additionally, I use a continuous glucose monitor and a glucose meter to manage my disease. There is no weaning myself off insulin, taking pills instead of injected insulin or alternative treatments. And as of now, there is no cure for type 1 diabetes.
As a person with a chronic disease, it's generally appreciated that you treat me as a person, not a patient. Feel free to ask how I manage my disease, how I'm feeling, or what my disease has taught me.
Better yet, offer to buy my dinner, no matter what I choose to order.