I’m not a diabetic, I have diabetes

Photo by Tim Bogdanov on Unsplash

A few years ago I ended up at one of those annoying parties where the only person you know is the one busy throwing it. I walked in, recognised no one besides the host and decided I’d do the right thing and at least be seen before gracefully making my exit. I got myself a drink, nodded at the host on my way, and found nice, quiet seat slightly removed from the all the action.

After a good ten minutes of drink swirling and half-smiles to half-acquaintances a woman, clearly in the same situation of myself, sat nearby and promptly launched into your typical stranger-generic conversation.

“Hey, how are you?”, “What’s your name?”, “How about this weather?” and, as if the conversation wasn’t inane enough, “Tell me about yourself.”

“Well…” I started, “I’m a diabetic.”

“You shouldn’t say that you know.” she interrupted before I had the chance to continue.

Shouldn’t say what?” I asked.

That you’re a ‘diabetic’.”

I shouldn’t? Who does this woman think she is? Why shouldn’t I? What’s she got against diabetics? I mean sure it’s a disease and all but it’s not like you’re going to catch it from me lady!

“Is there something wrong with being diabetic?” I said with curt tone. Annoyed at the rather sharp turn the conversation had taken.

My reaction was clearly less than subtle. She stared back at with a vacant look in her eyes, confused like a puppy cocking its head to one side whilst she replayed the conversation in her head.

“No, no, no, no…” she began, her arms flailing about in a please-forgive-me-you’ve-misinterpreted-me kind of way. “You shouldn’t say you’re a quote, diabetic, end-quote. You should say that you have diabetes.”

I should?”

Now it was my turn to look like a bewildered dog. What was she on about? Did everyone else know she was loopy and avoid her?

I couldn’t help myself, I bit. “What’s the difference?”

“The difference is that when you say ‘I’m a diabetic’ that defines you. It pigeon holes you and puts a full stop on anything else that follows.

“Saying that you ‘have diabetes’ on the other hand, well that says to me and others that diabetes is a ‘part’ of who you are but not the be all and end all.

“I’m sure there’s more to you than just being a diabetic?”

Explanation delivered, she excused herself to greet a friend before any of it had sunk in. At the time I chose to largely ignore it. If anything I was irritated by the whole thing, but it stuck with me, as irritating things often do, and the more I thought about it the more it began to make sense.

I am a diabetic. That’s an unfortunate fact that can’t be changed. I’ve been a type one insulin-dependent diabetic for more than half of my life, but that certainly doesn’t tell you everything about me. To start with, for the first thirteen years of my life I didn’t have diabetes. My forming years were completely carb-counting free and I had as happy an upbringing as any parent could hope for their child.

Since my diagnosis I’ve been a teenager, studied at university, pursued a career, had relationships, travelled the world and more! Diabetes or no diabetes, I’m living a full, rich life that’s the culmination of every experience and not just one alone, so why should diabetes be any different?

It’s difficult to not let diabetes influence or overshadow everyday experiences though. Take travelling for example; it’s not quite as simple as popping luggage into a suitcase as any diabetic traveller will know. There’s supplies to consider, backup equipment, extra insulin and doctors letters to start. If less than half of my suitcase is diabetes-related I’ve done well!

Exercise is another. Never again will going for a run be as simple as deciding to and just walking out the front door. It’s a never-ending, tiresome and often depressing wrestling match you fight with your own body. It will undoubtably feel overwhelming at times but despite it all, it never truly prevents you from doing anything. Only you do that.

There have been times where I’ve let it beat me, times where diabetes has defined who I am. They’re the times that I’m at my lowest, where just the thought of dealing with it another day hurts so badly I want to scream. They’re also the times that everyone will have. That constant fight with our bodies that makes the perfect diabetic control so elusive. Those horrific mood swings that our patient loved ones so mercifully accept. It’s at those times I truly am a ‘diabetic’.

It’s not fun. I don’t think you’ll find anyone out there that’ll say it is, but it’s not the end, and it should never define who you are. It’s taken me over twenty years and having the most generic conversation in the world to understand that I am more than my biggest ailment. You friends already know that. Your family love you for everything that you are and not the one thing you resent the most and you should too.

Learn that you have diabetes, you’re not a diabetic.