Diabetes in the Work Place: Letting Others Know
Yesterday I had an intriguing conversation with one of my coworkers, which made me think about how other people perceive my diabetes. Here's what happened:
At lunchtime, I was on my way to run a couple errands after eating lunch at my desk. On my way out, I stopped by the reception area to grab a Werther's Original hard candy out of the candy dish. The woman who was covering the front desk has been employed at our office since the first of the year, so I've only really gotten to know her in the last four months since returning from maternity leave.
As I got my piece of candy, she asked me, "Is that the only piece of candy you eat all day?"
I wasn't sure what she meant. The "guilt ridden diabetic" part of me thought she was making a judgment on why I, as a diabetic, was eating candy in the first place.
Meekly, I answered, "Yes, usually I'll just have one or two pieces in a day..."
"Oh, I wish I could do that. If I have one piece of candy, I'll be eating it all day." She replied. "I've always been intrigued by people who can only have a piece and not crave it afterwards. I'm too much of a sugar addict!"
Again, I was sort of at a loss for words. Then, I explained, "Well, you know I have type 1 diabetes, right?"
"No! I didn't know that," she exclaimed.
"Yes, well, I could have more than the occasional piece of candy, but then I'd have to give myself a lot of insulin for it. So, basically, I just have a little bit now and then." I concluded.
"Wow, I didn't know you had diabetes! Did it develop during your pregnancy?" She asked. (This is the new line of questioning that's inundated me since getting pregnant.)
"Nope, Type one is also known as juvenile diabetes. I've had it since I was 13."
She looked at me with pity and said, "Oh, that's so sad."
"Actually, I've quite used to it. I have an insulin pump and it's really something that I have under control." I cheerfully retorted.
"Oh, good. Well, I'm surprised, you don't look ..."
I knew where she was going, so I interrupted her, "It's good that I don't look sickly!"
We both smiled as I headed out the door, but the interaction stayed with me for awhile. Diabetes is such a part of me and how I function daily. It's surprising to me when other people don't understand my relationship with the disease. On the other hand, that's way too much to expect of someone who's just learned that I am diabetic.
There are two typical responses when I share my condition with someone new. Either they take my word for it when I explain how seamlessly my care fits into my life. In this case, they act like, "Oh, you've got it under control, then it's no big deal." This reaction makes me defensive, like I want to shout, "Actually, it's hard and frustrating sometimes and you should be more impressed with my ability to control this difficult disease!"
The other reaction was like my coworkers. Their eyes fill with pity and they act as if I'm sick and fragile. The comment, "That's so sad," is a hard one to hear. I suppose it is "sad" to have diabetes, but once you've lived with it for 15 years, you're past the feeling of sadness and nobody wants to be pitied.
Ultimately, what I'd like people to do when I tell them about my diabetes is to ask questions, be compassionate, and walk away thinking that I'm a competent person who handles their disease with dignity. Is that too much to ask?