For most of my life, I never spoke about my Type 1 Diabetes. From the time I was diagnosed at age 16, until I was 27 years old, it was a topic I never discussed except with close family members and my doctors. I was afraid that it would be used against me, or that I’d be the subject of pity and unsolicited ‘protection’ so I kept it my own secret silent struggle for many years.
I always felt like I was alone in this; like I was the only girl in the world with Type 1 Diabetes and that it was something to be ashamed of. As a result, whenever I’d be asked to talk about myself, I’d usually stick to the sweet nothings – I’d say things like…I like to read, write, cook, dance, paint and eat street-side box food.
The fact that I’d been a Type 1 Diabetic for most of my life never usually worked its way into the conversation, because ONE: it’s not one of my favourite attributes, and TWO: I never really thought it was anybody’s business but mine.
I’ll tell you why.
The very moment someone inadvertently finds out about my condition, they transform into an expert on the topic, certified of course by the University of Hear-Say, or the School of ‘I-Know-Because-That’s-What-Killed-My-Granny.’ And I’m not getting mad because I don’t want to hear what people have to say. Not at all. As someone who is counting down to the day a cure is found for Diabetes, my two ears are always wide open.
However, when people start to ask me questions like, ‘So how you did you catch Diabetes?’and ‘…so, why are you eating that if you’re diabetic…’, it really just raises my blood sugar! But that’s not even the worst of it – There’s the,‘Oh my gosh, but you don’t even look like a diabetic!’ and ‘…so you start thinking about adoption yet? Cause you know you can’t get pregnant, right?’
The worst one I’ve heard so far was when I went to a job interview and the HR manager took one look at my application form and says, ‘This says you’re diabetic…so why are you applying for a job in marketing?’
I wish I had made up these questions! But no, every last one is straight out of a real life nightmare – and I’ve heard a lot more like this. Then I joined Toastmasters – and decided it was time to break my silence, and share a few things from an insider’s perspective. I started by giving a speech on what I thought were five of the worst myths about Diabetes, with the hopes of clearing up some of the misconceptions that existed, starting with my Toastmasters group.
I want to help dispel five of the most popular myths people have about diabetes, while raising awareness of the disease and helping people to be more sensitive to those with the disease. The feedback I got from that presentation was so overwhelming that I found myself opening up more and more, and in doing so, I met others who were like me and learnt so much more about myself.
Here’s an excerpt from the speech I gave:
Say it with me – you CANNOT catch Diabetes; it is not a fish in the river or the common airborne cold. The internet will tell you that Diabetes is a chronic, incurable disease that occurs when the body doesn’t produce any or enough insulin, which causes an excess of sugar in the blood. For those of us who are not so au fait with all these terms from biology, insulin is a hormone, produced by the pancreas, which helps the body to manage the amount of sugar in the blood.
So, for people like me whose pancreas doesn’t show up for work on the daily because that’s the way it’s been in my family for years, I get really dark unamused when I see you guzzling down an ice cold bottle of Pepsi and an entire pizza while laughing that you’re not trying to catch Diabetes.
As a Diabetic with an incurable passion for food, I can assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. The only thing a Diabetic cannot eat is poison. Or cookies with poison, cake with poison, or ice cream with poison. Everything else is a go! The trick, however, is in moderation – because diabetic or not, everyone should strive to eat a balanced diet.
While persons who suffer from obesity are more likely to develop Type 2 Diabetes, the disease is not partial to overweight people. People of all shapes, sizes, colours, ugly and pretty can have it. Diabetes doesn’t have any preference.
I’ll share a quick story with you – when I was about 16, I realised that I was really thirsty all the time. As soon as I drank something, I would go to the bathroom and pass it right back out. I was losing weight rapidly, and felt some severe hunger pangs, even right after I ate. My vision became blurry to the point where I couldn’t see out of one eye, and I was weak, itchy and had a trail of ants literally following me everywhere. People told my mom that it must be obeah, while others were sure I had AIDS. Even my late uncle would joke about the ants and say they only bit me because I was such a sweet girl.
Please note, that if you experience any or all of these symptoms, knowledge is just a pin-prick away. Get your blood sugar tested at least twice a year and watch out for these symptoms in those around you.
Diabetes, in all its forms is a chronic condition – but it doesn’t have to be a limitation. You can get any job, donate blood, have 3, 4, 5 and 6 children, you can get a tattoo, operate heavy machinery, play a sport and drive a car safely. I’m not trying to make it sound like a walk in the park either – because there are good days and bad days.
But Diabetes doesn’t have to stop anyone from living the sweet life.
This blog is an extension of that speech. After Toastmasters, I started getting to know the online T1D community and the support I’ve received so far has been incredibly encouraging. I’d love to be able to meet and exchange notes with other T1Ds in Jamaica, and this is my way of reaching out. I look forward to linking up!