If I tell you I’m an Aquarius, you may recall hearing that Aquarians are known for being very social and great communicators. You may also recall hearing that they are typically, annoyingly indecisive. So, you know moving forward that you’ll have to pick the restaurant, but we’ll have a fabulous time when we get there.
If I tell you I was born and raised in Scranton, you may immediately reference the last rerun of “The Office” you happened to catch and ask me if there is any truth to the stereotypes. You may also file me under “small town girl” and figure that either my education or my man served as my vehicle in transporting me to this metropolitan area.
If I tell you I’m an ENFJ (a total guess on my part; I haven’t done a Myers-Briggs assessment since high-school), you’ll know that I’m extroverted and intuitive. You’ll also know that I tend toward the emotional and judgmental.
Astrological signs. Geographical origins. Personality assessments. These all provide clues as to whom we’re dealing with in a boardroom or at a cocktail party. And we need these social context clues as we try each other on, so that we can figure out if we fit, or if it’s worth stuffing ourselves into shape-wear to find out more.
And so it is with medical diagnoses. I don’t announce that I’m a diabetic when you meet me, but I don’t hide it either. And when it comes up, I always say the same thing: “Blah, blah, blah because I’m a Type 1 diabetic.”
I’m very careful to include the “type 1” identifier, although most people don’t know the difference. But I do. And I have noticed that other type 1 diabetics do the same thing, which is perhaps where I picked it up in the first place.
But why? What’s the difference if you have breast cancer or colon cancer? I don’t view your illness any differently based on the type of cancer you have. I just feel compassion for you that you have cancer.
But then again, I don’t have cancer. I have diabetes, and the truckload of personal baggage that comes with knowing the intimate details of one’s own illness.
I know I can’t reverse my diabetes through diet and exercise the way some type 2 diabetics can. I know that my pancreas is not napping on and off; mine is completely asleep.
The real reason I say it is because I want you to know that when you hear reports about our obese America and how people are eating and drinking their way into diabetes, that’s not me. I didn’t get here because I gorged myself with cheeseburgers and soda while lying on the couch watching TV all day. I was otherwise healthy and fit when I was diagnosed, and since I’m no longer a size 4, it’s really important that I clarify this for you.
I’m essentially screaming “genetics, not lifestyle!” when I add in the “type 1” qualifier (although many cases of type 2 diabetes are genetically-based). I just don’t want you to think I was lazy or gluttonous when I was diagnosed. I don’t want you to think I deserved it.
Of course you don’t think this. Somewhere in me, I think this.
This self-judgment is compounded by my identity as a mother. I want you to see me as dedicated, loving, and good at it. Because I am. I don’t want you to judge me as selfish or uncommitted or less than because I somehow allowed a chronic illness into my life.
Of course you don’t. You have compassion for me that I have to deal with this. You have respect for me that I don’t let it define me. You have support for me when my symptoms take over on any given Tuesday.
While Type 1 and Type 2 are different, and mean different things in terms of management, treatment and long-term effects, no diabetic deserved it, just as no person with any chronic illness deserved it.
Could we all have been more vigilant in the early years? Definitely. Can we all take more steps to better manage the challenge today? Sure. Did we learn a few things from this shift in reality and wellness? You bet.
But isn’t that true of anyone? You, with your daddy issues (“Men are unreliable bastards”). And You over there with your messy finances (“Our economy is a train wreck; how is anyone supposed to get ahead?”). And You, hiding in the back with your functional alcoholism (“I work hard and play hard”).
We all drop key words and phrases in conversation to protect ourselves, but we do have the option to let go of these and confront the fact that 1) it’s all about what’s going on within us and 2) if someone really is judging us so harshly, they won’t advance to the next round anyway.
Better managing the challenge of being a diabetic mom for me requires releasing the self-judgment around what the word “diabetes” may mean to other people I encounter in the world. There is freedom and wellness in that.
So today, unless I am speaking to my physician, I am a type-less diabetic. No adjective and no judgment.
What adjective will you release today?