Growing up, I had a pretty normal (and lovely) childhood, despite my diabetes. My parents always made me feel supported and equipped with the tools I needed to advocate for myself, even at a young age. They played an instrumental role in educating my relatives, teachers, friends, and friends’ parents as to what my diabetes looked like and the ways it might make me different from the other kids – different, but never excluded from anything because it didn’t necessitate that.
Thanks to my parents’ help and the fact that they fostered self-advocacy skills for me early on, I almost never had a problem with my peers when it came to my diabetes. In fact, I’m lucky that just about all of my friends were very understanding and accommodating of my diabetes, even at young ages. It’s not often that I think about the ones that weren’t, but when I do, I can’t help but label them as my childhood “dia-bullies”.
I dealt with two of those kinds of kids growing up: Once in elementary school, and again in eighth grade. In both scenarios, these dia-bullies were cruel about my condition. They often told me the things that I couldn’t and couldn’t do – whether it be participate in gym class, eat a shared classroom treat for a birthday, or maintain any semblance of a conventionally healthy lifestyle. These comments were infrequent, but when they were vocalized, they hurt…and obviously had quite the impact on me as I remember them all these years later.
Back then, I “dealt” with these comments by not responding to them in any way, shape, or form. I didn’t tell my teachers or my parents what was said and even though I knew how to talk about diabetes by then, I didn’t quite have the voice to stick up for myself and tell these dia-bullies that they were wrong.
But now? I have a voice. A powerful one, at that. So as I reflect on what was said to me when I was younger, I can’t help but wish I’d said this very simple phrase to my dia-bullies:
I wish I’d told them that there judgments were not only incorrect, but harmful. I wish I could tell them to just watch as I moved throughout elementary, middle, and high school at the same pace as everyone else, participating in the same sports, extracurriculars, and honors classes, seldom missing out on anything due to diabetes. And I wish I could’ve told them that those words would stick with me for years to come, motivating me to prove to myself and the world that diabetes does not mean living within limits.
Most interestingly of all, a small part of me does wish I could tell them…thanks, I guess, for being an unexpected source of inspiration to conquer my diabetes. Isn’t it funny, the strange places you can get encouragement from?