It’s A Small World After All
A few weeks ago, a couple of my readers asked me where on Earth I find all these diabetic people. I mean, at the rate I’m going, I’ll probably know every diabetic in Manhattan by Christmas (and with the World Diabetes Day celebrations occurring on November 14, that’s actually not too far of a stretch), I’ll know every diabetic on the East Coast by my 25th birthday, and every diabetic in the friggin’ world by the time I retire.
With the advent of snazzy social networks and the proliferation of blogs written by anyone who has an opinion about something, it makes meeting people on the Internet oh-so-easy.
When I was 13 years old, I met someone on the Internet for the first time. No, it wasn’t some skeevy old guy who wanted to “come over” to “watch TV” and “hang out” (thank you “To Catch a Predator” for enlightening us on what that really means) or even an lame-ass who was dumb enough to actually admit on the Internet he wanted to “do me now,” as they say. This someone was a girl who called herself Kate. She said she lived in Philadelphia and we talked for almost a year when I found out that my family and her family would both be in Washington D.C. on the same day – her family just arriving, my family on the way back to the West Coast.
Kate didn’t have diabetes (and she still doesn’t) but she was my introduction into the “spooky” world that is Internet strangers. Fortunately (or maybe that should be “unfortunately”), my experience meeting Kate was wonderful. We toured the Lincoln Memorial, met our respective families and just hung out for a few hours.
I continued to meet people on the Internet through high school. None of them ever claimed to be men. I was always wary of any guy that I didn’t know in real life chatting with me online, whether or not he claimed to be my age or not. Every time I met someone, I always had a family member with me. Heather, my webmaster from Diabetes Teen Talk, and I met online when we were fifteen. Her mom and dad came with her to my house, where my mom and dad also were.
When it came time to meet people with diabetes, I had already met a total of four people from the Internet, and spoken to three others on the phone. Amy Tenderich and Jon Schlaman were the first people I met from the Internet, when I happened to be on vacation over Spring Break in San Francisco. A few simple emails and a couple phone calls confirmed not only proper identity but also location, both of which occurred in public.
Now that I’ve met almost two dozen people from the Internet, I suppose I’ve become rather comfortable with the idea. I don’t typically distinguish between “IRL friends” and “internet friends” when telling stories with people. If I’m talking on AIM with George and he tells me something funny, and then I decide to tell my dad, I don’t start with “Well, my internet friend George said…” I just say “My friend George.” Because he is. He is my friend. I don’t need to qualify it with anything. How often do you say “my friend from work” or “my friend from yoga class” unless it actually has something to do with the story?
I have also met a lot of other people with diabetes in other places. Volunteering at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation during high school was great because I was also going to different diabetes events, meeting people and sharing stories. Once you start attend an event here and there, you start noticing repeat people. Probably the best place to find people in your area with diabetes is to visit the JDRF website and look for chapters in your state, and then call them up and ask about upcoming events. Or you can check out the American Diabetes Association, mailing lists at Children with Diabetes, or even Facebook!
The moral of the story is this: If you’re in the area of other known Internet friends and you want to meet them, do it. It’s really not as scary as it sounds. Just meet in a public place – partially because it’s safer but mostly because it’ll actually give you something to do besides sitting on your couch – and have a phone call beforehand. It helps with both identity verification and you get to know their actual personality rather than their online persona (because admit it, you are way funnier when you spend fifteen minutes to editing and re-editing that pun you’re about to post).
Also: get out and meet people! Don’t rely too heavily on the Internet if you want to actually see how other people are living their lives with diabetes. A blow by blow description of a continuous glucose monitor is great, but actually see one work is amazing! If you’re not on a mailing list with your local JDRF and/or ADA chapter, sign up and take the opportunity to go to a Walk to Cure Diabetes or a Gala or a golf tournament. There are over 20 million Americans with diabetes, and at least two million have type 1 diabetes. Trust me, someone with diabetes lives near you.
Not that you have to be anywhere near the person to actually meet them. Take me and Joseph for example:
Taken from a four-year-olds perspective
I met up with the Miller family on my first day in Chicago. I have been meaning to post about it but only recently received pictures from that evening. Sandra and Co. generously picked me from O’Hare airport as they were passing through on their way home from their trip to Massachusetts. We spent a couple of hours near a deli in Chicago, just hanging out and talking about diabetes, insulin pumps, blogging and social networking and privacy issues, Chicago, moving and my new job.
Evan, Sandra, Joseph and me
Afterwards, they drove me to the train station (have I mentioned that they are generous?) and then Ryan bought my train ticket and Sandra insisted that I call her when I arrived at my hotel. Once parents, always parents. To everyone, apparently.
But that’s not all!
On Sunday, I met Christine, who came all the way from Buffalo, NY with her father to visit her family for her grandmother’s birthday party. Christine and I met up this past Sunday morning at Union Square and had breakfast at a charming little restaurant called Friends of the Farmer on 18th and Irving Place, just a block away from Gramercy Park. Afterwards, we walked all the way to South Ferry (that’s about five miles), passing through Washington Square Park, Tribeca, and the World Trade Center site. We then took the ferry across to Staten Island where we bid farewell (for now).
Meeting people with diabetes is pretty much the easiest thing you can do, you see.
You just have to ask.