What do these two extremely different pictures have to do with one another? On the left, my two beautiful and magnificent children. On the right, Miss Idaho who was recently crowned while wearing an insulin pump. And that was news. That she wore her life-saving device, the thing that keeps her alive, during a competition. Shocking. But that aside, the whole thing has got me thinking. A professor in class today said that you don’t understand stigma until you’ve felt it. I’ve certainly dealt with my fair share of stigma as a diabetic. Whether it’s questions like “oh wow. will you have to get amputations” or comments like “Man, that’s so sad my grandmother died a horrific and slow death from your very same disease”, I have dealt with the public’s opinion of my disease for all 20 years that I’ve been sick. Wearing an insulin pump has certainly brought about a fair share of commentary. Some of it kind and inquiring and some of it insensitive, and frankly stupid. I once had a guy stop me in the grocery store to ask if I was wearing a tracking device. I said yes, that my boyfriend was really overprotective and wanted to make sure I was “really going to the grocery store”. Strangely enough, he nodded in agreement with my pretend boyfriend.
So why did Miss Idaho make me think of my babies? Because I realized that a day will come when I will have to tell them what’s wrong with me. They touch my pump and stare when I inject insulin or test my blood sugar. But they don’t know what’s going on and they certainly, certainly aren’t judging me. But a day is going to come when I have to sit them down and explain to them that I have a life-long disease. And I don’t have anything amazing or prolific to say about that, just that it makes me sad to think about. A day will come when they come home from school after learning about diabetes, and they will ask if I’m going to die, or if I will get amputated or lose my eyesight. I will say absolutely not-that I will be here forever to protect them. But will I? As much as anyone else is I guess. We don’t know what will happen in our lives-what we are lucky enough to experience.
I learned an important lesson early in my life: everything can change in an instant. And I’ve been on the lucky side of unforseeaable tragedy. I have a disease. I didn’t get into a car accident, or die from cancer or lose a parent when I was a child. I just got diagnosed with a disease. But I still don’t want to tell my children one day that I have diabetes. I don’t want to show them what an insulin pump is, and how to tell if mommy is high or low. I don’t want to be their sick mother. I don’t want them to play with other kids and talk about me and say “oh our mom has diabetes”. That’s stigma. It’s the same gut wrenching stigma I felt when I was growing up with this disease. It’s what kept me hidden behind a bookshelf in sixth grade while I tested my blood sugar, terrified that another kid would see me and make fun of me or think I was gross. It’s what kept me from actually saying the word “diabetes” until I was almost in high school.
Now the truth is likely different from what I imagine. Like most stigmas, much of the problem originates with the host. We imagine the whole world is looking at our pimple, or our limp or listening to our stutter. The truth is, everyone is fixated on themselves, on what they perceive to be wrong with their body or their appearance. I could have injected insulin into my eyeballs in seventh grade in the middle of the girl’s bathroom and I bet no one would have looked twice. 13 year old girls are debilitatingly self-centered. And when I tell my babies that I have a disease and that my insulin pump is what keeps me healthy and happy, they will probably nod and go back to picking their nose. And so while I scoffed at the attention around Miss Idaho wearing a pump, truth is, she is brave. She felt the same stigma and insecurity that I felt and continue to feel 20 years later. So that’s inspiring. I’ll take a cue from her, as I sit in a crowded coffee shop today debating whether to test my blood sugar publicly or not. I will pull out my meter, and I will prick my finger and I will feel my face burn as the guy next to me looks down at my drop of blood. I will imagine what’s going through his mind as he assesses the situation and likely assumes I have type 2 diabetes (or that disease Paula Deen has). And then I’ll finish testing and move on with my life, because at the end of the day, who really gives a shit? Seriously.
Now, if I could only apply that same thought process to wearing a two-piece bathing suit 😉