Katie and I have been chatting for a few months regarding a recent trip that she has coming up. Katie, still in college, was concerned of people’s reactions when she inevitably had to be very open about her diabetes socially around her classmates – many of whom did not know that she was a diabetic.
Following her experience I invited her to write a post for this website as I believe the reaction she got will ease a lot of other young people’s minds regarding opening up to their friends about having this condition. I’m truly very proud of Katie – she has shown great maturity handling this and I’m honoured for her to have written this for the blog!
Katie can be found on Twitter @KatieJeanTaylor if anyone out there would like to have a chat with her regarding something similar.
I’m going to New York with my college and can’t wait to experience American culture, in particular the performing arts, for the first time and to see if New York really is like how it’s portrayed in films (I’m reliably informed that it is!).
Inevitably, the question on everybody’s lips at college is “Are you looking forward to New York?” and my initial answer is always an enthusiastic “Yes!” until in my mind I start to calculate all the complications of travelling with diabetes.
Having been diabetic for 12 years I have travelled countless times with the condition and in the last few years even though my parents have been with me I have taken sole responsibility of my condition just as I do in everyday life. As the trip nears it has occurred to me that although diabetes does becomes harder to manage whilst travelling due to time differences, changes of schedules, new foods etc., I have enough knowledge to control it. Therefore my main worry that is making me most anxious to be that very few people out of the 55 of us going know I’m diabetic.
I’ve never exactly been ashamed of my condition, however I’m of the opinion that it’s no one else’s problem even though it’s not a secret. I will never go out of my way to announce it to others hence why up until very recently it was only my teachers at college that knew of my diabetes and even then we never really discussed it.
I have now concluded though that ‘hiding’ diabetes would be pretty much impossible whilst spending 24/7 with a group of people, so my classmates are going to have to find out. This in itself is not an issue. I’m fortunate to be studying at a very inclusive institution where I can honestly say that I trust and love the vast majority of people I am training with (inevitably there’s always those one or two people who grate on you) and I’m positive that they’ll be non-judgemental and in fact very open, supportive and inquisitive regarding my condition. This is great but how do I inform 50 odd people about my condition prior to whipping out the finger pricker and insulin on the plane to ensure that they don’t get a shock!?
In my mind announcing it would make too big a deal out of it yet I don’t want people to become alarmed if they witness me experiencing a bad hypo or see a needle unexpectedly. So after weeks of fretting and consulting close friends, family and seeking advice from the ever supportive Dan, I have planned to adopt the plan of ‘normalising’ diabetes and merely ignoring those around me when taking my medication as normal.
I’m by no means oblivious to the fact that this is much easier said than done but I’ve told myself that whilst away I will not do any of my finger pricks/injections in the toilet (as I have been doing at college since September) and will for the first time with this group of people be open about my diabetes.
Admittedly, I’m probably inflating the issue out of proportion as at the age of 16/17 most people are likely to have at least heard of diabetes if not experienced it through a friend or family member and as I said I’m certain they’ll all be supportive and lots of them genuinely intrigued to learn more.
Therefore, I believe my qualms lie in the fact that to me and, I’m assuming most of you too, it’s just life and it’s only when you sit down to think about it that you realise carb counting, hypos and needles don’t feature in everyone’s lives.
In an ideal world I’d skip the section of life where I have to inform my new friends about my diabetes and go straight to where both they and I are comfortable with me injecting and not even blinking an eyelid as all of my friends/family that I’ve grown up with are. However, this obviously can’t happen and so I am about to embark on a daunting, yet essential part of my diabetes journey in which I hope the outcome revolves around acceptance and confidence.
Diabetes is a part of me. I can’t change that fact. It’s definitely nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about. Concealing it from others is limiting my control of the condition; therefore I am going to overcome my fear of telling others.
Back in England (29/02/16):
Last Wednesday I arrived home from a fantastic trip to the Big Apple and I’m delighted to say that everything worked out incredibly well diabetes wise. My sugar levels responded remarkably well to the 5 hour time difference and the re-introduction of McDonald’s to my diet but perhaps more importantly – socially – diabetes did not negatively impact the trip at all.
No one reacted badly to the sight of blood and needles (always a bonus) and most people derived themselves from the equipment that I was diabetic which eliminated a lot of the explaining I was fretting about. Those that did ask questions were very matter-of-fact and fortunately I managed to escape without encountering too many of the classic ‘You poke yourself with needles how many times a day!?’ and ‘I could never do all that before everything I ate’ style exclamations (note I said ‘not too many’- inevitably there were still a few faux sympathetic comments).
Admittedly some people questioned if I could eat certain things and if I needed to eat at certain times, but it was all in a very sweet and endearing way; not the over-protective, freaked out kind of way I had anticipated. I think once everyone could see that I was in control of my condition they felt at ease and like me thought little of it.
So I guess the best thing that I have learnt from this trip is that diabetes isn’t that much of an abnormal condition and providing that one is surrounded by genuine and supportive people, talking about it really is not that big of a deal.
Having diabetes and going away with a relatively new group of people in my life hardly varied at all from going away with my closest friends that have grown up with knowing I have the condition.