ever come face to face with someone harboring a radically different perspective on diabetes?
one that doesn’t jive with yours?
one that you wish you didn’t still hear?
one that takes just a little something from you?
one that hurts your heart and reminds you of how much work there is still to do?
ever meet that person and find out that they host this damaging concept of diabetes even though they-themselves- are a PWD?
i work at a bar. i tend that bar. my uniform for work is a tank-top and shorts. with my diabetes alert tattoos always on display and questions constantly forthcoming, i am finding myself slightly fatigued. i remind myself of the fact that i got these tattoos hoping they would serve as a conversation starter, and thus as a mechanism of diabetes advocacy and education. i got exactly what i wanted from this.
what i did not expect was to be overwhelmed by the lack of knowledge rather than the warm fuzzes from doing the explaining and the desensitization and the re-defining.
having the tattoos is an invitation for questions…
questions i wish i didn’t need to be asked. like, ‘do you have diabetes?’
or ‘were you born with it’
it is so easy to forget how completely uncommon it is to know anything about diabetes before it touches your life.
i did forget.
tending bar reminded me.
week before last, i came face to face with another PWD who had radically differing opinions of diabetes than i.
it was one of the most difficult conversations i’ve had about diabetes to date.
he came in around 4, right after opening. nice guy. had about 2.5 pints before we got along to talking about it. he told me that he was considering a pump. asked me about my experience with it.
i told him it saved my life and even though it does come along with some little nasties-like having to sleep with it and bathe with it and swim with it- it is worth it. to me.
around that time when everything was still fine and dandy, another patron sat beside PWD patron and jumped in to share that he knows nothing about diabetes. there was almost a smile on his face.
PWD patron interjects by beginning to aggressively- bordering violently- explain the difference between type 1 and type 2 and how people always tell him to watch his weight even though his weight has nothing to do with it because he is ‘a TYPE 1’.
i think i went red in the face.
i was there once. i was the PWD patron about three years ago, truly believing that i was educating my peers by drawing a harsh and finger pointing distinction between my obviously more challenging disease and the disease of someone who ‘did it to themselves’
it took the honesty and ball-busting nature of the diabetes online community to show me that my efforts to educate people about diabetes and to raise diabetes awareness in THIS way not only functioned to harass those people who live with type 2, but also worked to emphasize the stigma i thought i was fighting. i was making that stereotype stronger by setting myself so clearly apart from it.
i know this because i watched the non PWD patron react; a sense of enlightenment bestowed upon him. “oh there are two kinds of diabetes and you got the bad kind that no one deserves”
i must have been purple by this point. exploding with a sense of self-loathing for having had this conversation and felt fine about it, i got their attention with a slight huff and puff. they both looked to me and i said something along the lines of:
‘actually, scientists are now finding that diabetes is more of a spectrum disease. a person can be both types if they do not produce any insulin and are also insulin resistant. there are people who are middle-aged, eat perfectly, exercise everyday who are diagnosed with type two. children can be diagnosed with type two. no one is to blame for their body malfunctioning. no one caused their own suffering, and even if they did, who is helped by being told they are the reason they are sick’
i didn’t stop there.
i talked and talked until i was nearly in tears telling them that diabetes is severely misunderstood and misrepresented by the media, by healthcare professionals, family and friends, and even sometimes other people who have diabetes.
and then my fatigue turned into a war cry.
you can imagine, can’t you?
let’s sum it up and just say i needed a 15 minute break to compose and self-help. i did return to work with a smile on my face that day, but a smile masking embarrassment and an uneasiness to oblige the next asker of questions.
in retrospect, i see this as a learning experience for me. you know how you can plan to get more than you planned? this tattoo is giving me more than i planned to plan for. i’m a-growin’ for it.
eagerly awaiting the next trial…
move onward, my friend, onward.
So happy and proud that you’re on my side. Thank you.
You go girl. Your work is changing lives not only those PWD’s but also the grossly ignorant non PWD’s such as myself. Forever grateful to be part of your journey.
And the moral of this story is this:
There will always be room to learn more, and there will always be reminders of when you knew less. Just keep moving in that direction from less to more. Recognize that there are others on that path, and they may be ahead of you or they may be behind you. What matters is that you keep trying to better yourself – even though you can never possibly reach the end of the path and achieve “best”.
I love your story and I love how you wrote it. I’m sorry about the break you needed to take to regain composure, but I’m sure it all worked out for the better.
Okay, um, awesome tattoos! I have lived this situation many times before; you are wise and mature to interpret it as you did in this blog post. Very nicely articulated, especially your point about T2D and stigma in society. Sounds to me like both of those patrons owe the bartender a drink or two after her next shift ends. 😉 Hang in there, and keep doing what you’re doing- it is so important.
What a powerful post, Heather. You’re able to captivate a reader immediately with your honestly. I’m sorry you had that uneasy encounter, but then I’m not sorry too. It was a learning experience for you and then writing about it, you are making it a learning experience for us readers. Thank you. ❤