Huffpost
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Riva Greenberg Headshot

Help Take Diabetes Out of the Closet

Posted: Updated:

2010-10-29-Screenshot20101029at3.24.34PM.png

November 1st ushers in Diabetes Month. Diabetes organizations are in full swing to raise public awareness about this preventable disease, spreading epidemic and fifth leading cause of death in the U.S.

Here's the global symbol for World Diabetes Day, November 14th:
2010-10-29-WDD_logo_100px.jpg

What to Know:
If you are overweight, sedentary and have diabetes in your family, get a blood test at your doctor's office that tests for diabetes and pre-diabetes.

Having diabetes, I fly around the country educating fellow patients formally through talks I deliver, and informally when it comes up in conversation. (Yes, that's me above.)

But I recently noticed that in public I have a tendency to hide my diabetes so I don't make others uncomfortable.

The only public place I don't hide it is when I'm out at a restaurant with friends. I take my insulin injection at the table. Yet even though I don't skulk off to a dimly lit ladies room to shoot up, there's something almost furtive about my quick hand gestures: I remove my vial and syringe from my handbag under the table, put the syringe in the vial, draw up my dose, flick air bubbles out of the syringe, pull back a tuck of shirt and inject so discretely that nine times out of ten no one notices.

Injecting in public, however, when I'm not with friends or don't have a table to buffer me, is something I do hastily and try to be unnoticed. Why? Good question and I'm not sure I know the answer other than taking injections and piercing yourself for blood is not something we usually do in public.

Yet, I'm tired of hiding. Aren't you? And aren't we doing the public a disservice by not allowing them to see what managing diabetes is and requires? I know I'm doing myself a disservice; making myself physically smaller by managing my diabetes on the sly, while I have so much to stand tall about living with this disease successfully for almost four decades.

Two years ago, for the first time, I forgot to be discrete. I was sitting in Orlando airport when having just stuck the needle in my stomach, a woman and her young son were standing directly in front of me. They were staring at me in what looked like horror. She's a junkie, I'm sure the woman was thinking. Without thinking myself, I apologized profusely for what she was viewing and scurried away.

I sat down a few rows away with the shadow of evil hanging over me. According to my diabetes etiquette handbook, I don't shoot up without first checking that no one will see -- at least not from the vantage point of standing right on top of me.

A few minutes after switching seats I had another thought. I wished I had said to her, "Don't worry, I have diabetes. I'm taking insulin, and yes, I'm moving out of your seat (I mistakenly ended up in it when she took her son to the restroom) as soon as I get this needle out of my stomach." I wish I had used that moment as a learning opportunity -- for her and her son -- and a validation of myself for all that I do managing my illness.

A few more moments passed when I wondered what it must have looked like to her. It's so out of the ordinary to see people with diabetes, who use insulin, injecting themselves and poking their finger to get a drop of blood to test their blood sugar in public.

I couldn't blame her for her dismay, and it made me wonder where are all my fellow diabetics? Why don't I ever see anyone testing and injecting? It's not just type 1s who use insulin. Forty percent of type 2s use insulin also. Yet I feel we are all squirreling away out of sight doing our dirty deeds.

No wonder we need a Diabetes Month to help the general public see what this part of diabetes is.

I think it's time to open that bathroom door, to stop sneaking off to the restroom (particularly as the lighting is so bad) every time we need to inject or check our blood sugar.

So I'm calling, this month, for people to come out of the bathroom. Let's make it a grassroots movement to raise diabetes awareness. Let's use performing our diabetes tasks as teachable moments. Let's let others see that diabetes is serious business, and at the same time manageable. And, that we're doing our business even if they're standing there.

I wish I could go back and tell that woman in the airport what I thought to tell her minutes later. "I have diabetes and this is what I have to do to take care of it. Do you have any questions I can answer?"

If you bump into me this month don't be surprised by what you might see. And have you got any questions I can answer?

Stay tuned for my next post which will feature a great new video that's part of a campaign where you can help get life-saving insulin and diabetes supplies to children in need around the world.