I secretly took out my glucometer, smiling at my friends sitting across the table from me, and without having to think about what I was doing, tested my blood sugar on my lap. I did this for years. Years of LITERALLY hiding my diabetes underneath the table.
Maybe you’ve felt this too, or maybe you’ve been empowered to manage your diabetes with pride. But for me, I held great shame in my type one for the majority of my life. Why you ask? What I’ve come to realize is that I held shame in displaying my chronic illness in front of others in order to protect my self-image. If I didn’t poke my finger or give an injection in front of them, I wouldn’t be making anyone uncomfortable; I wouldn’t give them any reason to think I was different or give them the chance to make assumptions about my health. Because of this, I neglected my disease. I put myself in a position where I cared more about the comfort of others, than I did my own health.
If you had asked me 5 years ago to wear a device that clearly showed that I WAS DIFFERENT, I would pass it up without hesitation or thought. The idea of outwardly expressing my chronic illness brought up feelings of insecurity, fear, and discomfort. I didn’t want to be different. I didn’t want to be known as the “sick” girl.
So what changed? How did I go from hiding and neglecting my diabetes to empowering others in the community and openly sharing my lived experience with type one diabetes?
I WAS EXHAUSTED. I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. Neglecting my care meant that I felt ill. And I guess because I felt this way for so long, it became my normal. But once I started to realize how good I felt with more controlled numbers, the more encouraged I felt to manage my disease in any situation.
THE ONLY CRITIC THAT MATTERS IS ME. I came to the realization that the only person anyone cares about is themselves. Everyone has their own stuff they are focused on and they are too preoccupied worrying about themselves to worry about you! How I feel about myself and how I view myself is the only opinion that matters – I cannot change other people’s thoughts, and at the end of the day, their thoughts don’t impact me.
I AM A SUPERHERO. Sounds kind of silly, but to live with a chronic condition that requires constant monitoring and ZERO breaks takes super human strength. The fact that I needed to get through school, go through puberty, maintain a job, etc etc etc, all while having the full-time job of diabetes on top of that?! THAT is huge.
Once I accepted these as my reality, I began to view my diabetes in a different light. Here are my top tips to help break the self-induced shame of living with diabetes:
- START THE CONVERSATION. Have conversations with close friends or colleagues about your diabetes. Open yourself up to the idea of educating those who you can trust. Give others the opportunity to support you with your diabetes.
- START WHERE YOU ARE AT. If you wear any devices, try wearing it in a visible spot for a couple days and take notice to how you feel when you are acknowledged for your device. Do you get defensive? Do you take it as an opportunity to educate others? Same for if you are using MDI and finger pokes: whip ‘em out at dinner and show the world what you do to take care of yourself. No doubt, there will be those that have questions or insensitive comments, but…
- TRUST IN YOURSELF. You are an expert. You are the expert of your body, your disease, your life. Have confidence in your ability to educate others, or the confidence to walk-away from anything that doesn’t make you feel like the bada$$ you are!
We can’t control the thoughts and opinions of others, but we CAN control how we feel about ourselves. It takes practice, courage and time, but it is worth it. It is worth it to feel empowered every day (or most days) with this disease. It is worth it to educate others and to feel safe in our environment. It is WORTH IT to have self-love and confidence.
YOU’VE GOT THIS!
xo Coach Jenna