In the past week, I’ve attended two social events from two different organizations. The first was a movie (Made of Honor) and drinks, and the second was a women’s networking dinner. So far I’ve met two dozen girls that live in New Jersey, all of them a little bit older than me (which, at 22, isn’t all the surprising), all working professionals, some of them single, some of them married, and none of them know I have diabetes (technically I told two ladies who I met at the beginning of the dinner, but then I changed my mind and didn’t tell anyone else – luckily they didn’t bring it up again). It was strange spending so many hours with so many women and not having diabetes come up once. I tested in my car and bolused covertly under the table.
For such a long time, diabetes was almost forced into the conversation. When I first diagnosed, all my friends knew because, well, I was just diagnosed with a chronic illness and was in the hospital and it was kind of a big deal. So they knew, and all my teachers and classmates knew because that’s just what you did. When I went to college, sometimes people asked me if I worked, for months my answer was Diabetes Teen Talk. When people asked me what I hoped to do with my degree in public relations, my answer was to work for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (I honestly had no plans to work for an agency, and I would still love to work for JDRF in the future). Without even meaning, diabetes became very much a part of everything I did. I didn’t exactly hate this solid integration of diabetes into the rest of my life, but I did get tired of teaching diabetes all the time, as you do.
When I moved here, most of my immediate friends were people I knew because of blogging. My social circle because almost entirely people with diabetes. At work, my boss knew I had diabetes before I even had my interview (the guy from DiabeticFoodCritic is the one who got me the interview, so it was kind of obvious). Which was actually kind of cool because I avoided that whole “So, I have this thing called diabetes… and sometimes I might need to take a break…” My co-workers knew right away, because one of the reason I got my job in social media public relations was because I was the “girl who blogged about diabetes.”
Now, I’m starting to make new friends. And I’m not telling them. At least, not yet. It’s strange. For a few brief hours, it’s almost as if I don’t have a disease. I answered questions about moving from Oregon, about my job, about where I live and what I think about New Jersey. I talked about how cool Hoboken is, I talked about movies I liked, I talked about yummy Indian food in Edison. I listened to the girls tell me about their jobs, their relationships and their hobbies.
I’m not sure what difference the silence really made. It’s not like I wouldn’t have talked about those same things if I had told them I have diabetes. But I think my self-identification, this idea in my head that saying I have diabetes automatically makes someone think I’m sick and weak, has made more of a difference to my self-esteem than anything anyone has actually said. I wonder if all of our concerns about telling people we have diabetes, all of our covert operations, are really just our way of protecting ourselves. We are protecting ourselves from wondering if someone thinks we are defective. Not that people actually think we’re different, or unlovable, or someone they shouldn’t be around, but that we think they’re thinking that. So if we don’t say anything, we have a barricade up. It protects us from the things other people are thinking and the things we think other people are thinking.
I don’t know if any of it’s true. I don’t know what anyone thinks when they look at me. I hope they see someone who does what she thinks is right. Someone who tries to help people. Someone who tries to tries to be strong, and someone who always gets back up when she falls down. Because that’s what I see.
That’s what I try to be.