When I was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at age 7, it was 1980 and I lived in one of the larger Montana towns (an oxymoron all onto itself, as the whole state has less than a million people). The diabetes education classes put on by the hospital were full of people my parents’ ages, and I was taught alongside of them in exactly the same manner. We learned diabetes exchanges and signs and symptoms of being in ketoacidosis, and the rest of the class would talk together and bond at breaktime. If any of them spoke to me, the common first question was “you’re so young–are you on insulin?” When I said yes, I got the requisite “oh, you have the really bad kind” or “I could never give myself shots” or even “I’d die if I had to do that.”
At the same time, the awful endocrinologist I saw from the time I was diagnosed until I went to college started with the “you could really stand to lose some weight” advice. (Hindsight being whatever it is, I now know there are about a zillion different things Dr. Crappy could have said that might have been helpful to me, along with acknowledging that while I may have been a couple pounds more than ideal for managing type 1 diabetes, I was not obese.) My mom, caring for me and only wanting what was best for her diabetic daughter, and wanting to follow doctor’s orders to the best of our ability, signed me up for regular dietician appointments and even weight loss programs at the hospital. There I met even more middle-aged or older people with type 2 who said a lot of really hurtful things (even if they didn’t realize it) about me, my type 1 diabetes and/or my weight, and helped me start down a harmful path of really terrible body image, learned helplessness, and serious denial that I could do anything about either managing diabetes or my body weight.
So there’s my type 2 damage. Then when I was in my mid-20’s, I made a friend who was a hard-core volunteer for a non-diabetes-related nonprofit where I worked. She was forty years my elder, but acted like she was exactly my age. She was a talker, like me, and loved to meet new people. We started getting together for lunch and chatting every so often. She noticed that I had an insulin pump and asked me about it. She shared that she had type 2 diabetes, which she was trying to manage with diet, exercise and metformin. We talked about both of our diabetes (mis-) management issues. We bonded over (too many) doctors like Dr. Crappy and other misinformed and unhelpful medical providers, and she rejoiced with me when I found my first Dr. WonderfulEndo. She didn’t make assumptions about what I was dealing with, and I learned not to do so either when it came to her life with type 2.
My friend E. did something that no other type 2 had done for me before: She asked about my experiences with type 1, listened to my answers, and bonded with me over the similarities, both negative and positive, with her type 2. She was the only person with whom I spoke at length about diabetes for months at a time, as I was out of touch with my diabetes camper and counselor BFFs during my 20’s, before the internet and Facebook were really cooking. She talked with me about how various exercise and food combos made her feel; how doctors and dieticians who were condescending and know-it-all about diabetes were almost worse than the ones who were ignorant; and my own fears and struggles with food and weight (all that early education and “awareness” having gained me about, oh, 65-70 pounds since high school…along with whole ton of shame and stigma and self-hatred). We shared about our all-too-common frustrations with insurance (or lack thereof) and HMO plans, medications that did one thing when they were supposed to do another, and HbA1c results that didn’t match the amount of time we were spending on diabetes. She loved hearing about my new pump or meter technology, and I cheered her on when she exercised at her gym or took a new movement class.
E. was an inspiration to me, and one of the best people I’ve ever known, with or without diabetes. She died a few years ago after fighting colon cancer for several years. I miss hearing her voice on the other end of the phone, asking “So how’s your diabetes going? How have your numbers been? Have you had any Chick-Fil-A lately? When did you last see your dr?” She taught me that people with types 1 and 2 have so much more in common than we are different. We just need to be open to asking questions about each other’s experiences, and gently listening to the answers.
(Love you, E. My last HbA1c was 5.8, can you believe it?!)
Note: I’m sorry to say that I haven’t read a ton of blogs by people with type 2–yet–but I must say that Bob Pederson’s t minus two blog is just what the web address says: Worth every penny. Also insightful, funny, thoughtful, and real…very much like life with any type of diabetes. I’d refer E. to Bob’s blog (and his featured blog at Diabetes Daily, too). She’d like him as much as I do.