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Self-Identification

May 14, 2008

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.

4 Comments
  1. May 15, 2008 10:02 AM

    I’m very happy that you got to have that break. Consider thinking of it this way: you are required to tell everyone that you meet where you live, every day, all day. You have to teach the history of that place every day. You run tours all day, stopping to let everyone walk through your house.

    Then, one day, you get to go to the next town. No one knows you. You have a fresh start to make some friends, and take a break from the everyday. You have been so accustomed to having to lead everyone through your private life, that you haven’t had a chance to relax in a long time.

    When you are an educator of any kind, it’s sometimes very hard to stop being an educator. Doubly so, when you are educating people about something that you actually deal with every day; it becomes all consuming.

    I’m glad you got a break. If you stay friends with these ladies, they’ll figure it out sooner or later, and that’s fine. For now, they get to meet just you, and they’re all the richer for that gift.

  2. May 15, 2008 10:38 AM

    Great post Allison. Makes me think about that stuff from a different angle, and I too wonder what kind of self-talk goes on.

  3. May 15, 2008 11:08 AM

    Thanks for posting this. I have always thought that the more people who know about Daniel’s diabetes the safer he would be. The last few months of him having to meet with the speech therapist, occupational therapist and rearranging things at school because of Asperger’s has really made me more aware of how much his life is centered around his health. While I don’t see there is a choice at this point to keep it on the down low, I certainly don’t want him to feel like his diabetes or Asperger’s is all anyone sees. He is moving into the whole puberty part of his life and I am sure this might compound the issue as well.
    I am so glad you are finding your way to a place you feel comfortable and happy. For the record, believe it or not, I don’t see someone with diabetes first when I think of you. I see a young woman with a ton of drive, a huge heart and a unquenchable thirst for adventure in her life. Diabetes just seems to be the vehicle you have utilized to get your start, and why not, it was there, it might as well serve a positive purpose. =) You will definitely be successful in life whatever path you choose.

  4. May 15, 2008 8:42 PM

    I have to admit, I look up to your openness about your diabetes. I still haven’t really told anyone other than my very close friends/family. Even with them, I don’t discuss it at all, and sometimes I want to. I need to. That’s hard. I wonder if it makes me dwell about diabetes on other levels. I read and read. I found the OC. Somehow it seems there is freedom in being open.

    On the flip side, I can see where your coming from too. Once I feel I’m being labeled, I feel like I’ve lost myself. I become overly conscious about it, and suddenly I realize I’ve been more guilty about labeling myself, than those around me. I think everyone has something they are overly aware of, and most of the time even if others know, they are less concerned about it. I used to feel that way about my weight. I was so concerned about what flaws my clothes might be revealing. One day, my friend put it in great perspective for me. She asked me how I felt about the way all my friends’ appearance. Could I tell her what size they were or what their butt looked like that day. Of course I couldn’t, but I could tell her what they said that made me roll with laughter, or what we talked about at lunch.

    In truth, whatever happens in our life, good or bad, shape us into we are. It becomes part of our fabric, but it is only a part. We are what we make of it. I think you can be proud. You are strong, friendly and an inspiration to many, not because you are a person with diabetes, but because you are you.

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