Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Telling (A Diagnosis Story)

I'm discovering that being comfortable with diabetes requires telling others about it, a discovery that I came to really late -- only in the last 6 years or so. Maybe it's because everything about my diabetes was secret for so long -- first because I tried to hide it (not knowing fully what "it" was) from my parents, and then because I tried to hide it from my peers.

I was diagnosed in March of 1989 -- Easter Weekend, to be exact. But I had been sick since November, and really sick since January. No energy, general ickiness, rampant thirstiness, frequent urination -- the whole bundle. Now, as a ten-year old, there was a lot I didn't know; but as a ten-year old feeling this bad I knew that something was wrong. And, I didn't read The Babysitter's Club for nothing. Stacy McGill had had all of these symptoms. But it's not like I said, "I think I have diabetes." More like there was a growing conviction that I kept pushing away, the idea that if I didn't say anything to anyone, nothing was really wrong.

There is a lot of shame that goes along with these symptoms, especially when you're ten years old and wetting your bed at your grandmother's, or worse, peeing your pants in the back of the van on a family road trip because you've already lied once to have a bathroom stop just after the last one. I think shame defines my diabetes experience for the first several years -- mostly because I let it.

So finally, Easter Weekend of 1989, I have no gumption to move. Mom takes me to the doctor while dad takes my brother to my grandma's (I think) because they must know what's coming. Blood Sugar is 467. It's off to the hospital.

At the hospital, they poke and prod; they check my blood sugar every two hours (my blood is very dark); a sweet nurse tells me I can never eat sugar again. She really was sweet, just misinformed. The hospital gown is way too big, and the pajama pants fall off of me. I weigh 57 pounds. I look like an alien in pictures from that time period.

Everything is confusing -- like when I feel so light-headed and shaky that I'm sure this must be a "low blood sugar" but I don't know what to do. I certainly don't tell. So I sneak to the snack basket, very carefully, and eat a couple of pretzels. When I mention my small snack to the sweet nurse, she is concerned -- "just don't eat too much."

Back at school, I am the Special Subject of Attention. The teachers fawn over me, the students look at me, and the school nurse comes in to show the class how I have to test my blood sugar. I go to the nurse's office every day before lunch to test, and I visit frequently for snacks.

High Profile Publicity wanes when it's off to middle school the next year. Thank goodness. And that's when my policiy of not telling begins. It's when I begin carrying a large purse with my blood sugar supplies; it's when I sneak my snacks from the desk rather than leaving class to eat them (and when I get caught by a peer, my teacher gets mad at me for offering her a snack); it's when I let myself drop lower and lower instead of excusing myself to get a snack, and when I learn that if you let yourself go long enough, you will come back up (clearly, no knowledge of hypoglycemia unawareness). It's also when I am teased for being a druggy ("what's in that big bag?") by my loving peers, and when I am too stubborn to just say, "Hi, my name is Nic and I'm a diabetic."

Thanks be to God for college dorms and the visibility of insulin pumps! I'm not sure when it exactly began, but it dawned on me that having diabetes was nothing to be ashamed of and that talking about it could help educate people (and by golly, we know that that is needed). And so now I do. This blog is part of the telling.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Following Kevin's lead, I am transitioning from my lurker status in the diabetic blogosophere to a real participant in the wonderful conversations going on here. So often, I've been stunned by the ways in which those in this blogging community articulate something so perfectly (like Scott's "6 things I hate about low blood sugars" or Kerri's "Minutae of a Moment") and I've wanted to editorialize and comment back, and the comment function just wouldn't cut it. I feel like I have real connections to these bloggers, yet as a lurker I don't really exist. And so here I am.

But...I'm here with some mixed feelings. I have major apprehensions about blogging, in part because of my profession, in part because of the weird ways of cyberspace. So, I'm going semi-anonymous on this one. I also do not primarily identify myself as a diabetic. If one were going to ask me who or what I was, diabetes would not be the first (or fifth or tenth) thing to make my list, maybe because it is just a part of me and has been for so long. But this is the blogging community that I feel most comfortable on. It has none of the pretension of the academic blogging community and none of the vitriol of some of the others I've lurked on or participated in. And I feel like here I can be a person defined by something more than my diabetes, or my profession, or anything else. And that, I am finding, is what is most important.