Would you blame these two for their diabetes?
Doesn't it make you sad to think of good people blaming the two little girls in this picture for having diabetes, as if they could prevent it?
Well, the babies in the photo above are my sister and me as nine month old twins a decade before diabetes would hit us both. Hard. This past Easter marks my 21st year with diabetes and still the comments of a mostly ignorant public can leave me a bit off-kilter. Just the other day someone blamed me for my diabetes (at a restaurant). I had a few things to say to the lady. Unfortunately, it's a story that is anything but unusual. There are a lot of misconceptions out there and so much ignorance and confusion about type 1 and type 2 diabetes. It makes living with a chronic disease like diabetes all the more challenging.
Having diabetes takes its toll emotionally as well physiologically aspects of controlling the disease. As is stated in an article on Diabulemia (click to read), while the emphasis on food and weight in diabetes treatment is necessary, it can seem to mirror an eating disorder mind-set. No longer can we eat whenever we feel the urge. In the beginning especially, my entire schedule rotated around food, multiple insulin injections and dozens of glucose checks.
The University of Toronto proved the point when its researchers found that type 1 diabetic girls are two to three times more likely to develop an eating disorder than their non-diabetic peers. Unforunately, doctors and nurses who work with diabetic girls can be hesitant to use candor when screening those at risk for diabulimia because they fear that instead of preventing the disorder, they might plant a seed. Combine that with the tricky connection between depression and type 1 diabetes and we're in tricky territory.
It's a pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps mentality, and medical professionals seem to dismiss the fact that our health depends on how our head is taking it all in.
Endocrinologists should be more willing to refer patients with insulin-management problems to mental-health practitioners," says Deborah Mangham, M.D., assistant medical director of the Park Nicollet Eating Disorders Institute in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. "The mental-health part of diabetes can't be ignored," she says.
Most of us agree with the last statement. Like you, I have had my share of struggles. I've seen therapists over the years who help me deal with some difficult feelings around diabetes (among other things). While I was never diabulemic (a term I had never heard of before reading the article in SELF), I did contemplate skipping my insulin injections as a teenager. I remember feeling fat and wanting to be skinnier. I remember thinking if I just stopped taking my insulin I wouldn't feel hungry and I could lose weight. Luckily for me it was just a thought and I never did it, but the potential was there. Like many young girls in high school who are developing curves and unsure of a body that is filling out, my body image was distorted and getting diabetes when I was hitting puberty definitely influenced the way I handled it early on in my life.
I developed bad habits like sneaking sweets at school or friend's houses, not disclosing my diabetes to others and letting myself get dangerously low at school. I was painfully shy (it's true!) and I remember not wanting to cause a scene in my English class so I waited until the bell to treat my hypoglycemia. I made myself stay in my seat and sweat and shake until the bell rang because I didn't want to draw attention to myself by walking out of the class.
I guess no one noticed or felt comfortable asking me about my symptoms of hyoglycemia; I don't remember my high school teachers knowing much about my diabetes. I certainly didn't have a glucagon kit or a treatment plan in place during high school. I remember handling much of it on my own. I remember eating way too many double-stuff oreos with my friends on a high school field trip to Chicago so I guzzled a whole two liter of soda and had to make the entire school bus pull over at a rest stop so I could pee. I couldn't hold it in. I was too afraid to see the number, but I know I was majorly hyperglycemic. While in he bathroom, I shamefully hid and took an insulin injection to counteract the high.
I've come a long way since then, but every day holds challenges even after all these years. One little lapse in judgment, one accidental miscalculation can have serious consequences. Diabetes is no joke. Awareness is key. Ignorance is bliss for only so long, and then the harsh realities come crashing down on us. I'm glad we have each other to lean on, and a place to come for support, understanding, and unconditional love. Thank you to each of you who are in my life, for being there for me, either virtually or face-to-face. I know it's not always easy to love and care about someone living with a chronic illness, but thanks to many of you, no one would know it.
Published On: April 08, 2010