One Monday per month, I’ll take a trip down memory lane and reflect on how much my diabetes thoughts, feelings, and experiences have unfolded over the years. Today, I remember…
…that one time in college when some random kid sitting near me in class said that having diabetes means “you’re screwed”. In other words, you can’t live with it, it’s a death sentence.
Before I talk about how I responded to that, I’ll provide some context. It was my freshman or sophomore year of college. I was in a discussion group for my Nutrition 101 seminar. It was early enough in my college career that I still felt painfully shy around most of my classmates, unless they happened to live in my dorm or I had known them in high school (even though I went to a college with an undergraduate population of more than 20,000, I’d still occasionally encounter a high school classmate – it’s a small world after all).
But when it comes to diabetes…well, I have a reputation for not being able to shut up about it. So when it inevitably came up over the course of the Nutrition class, and the teacher’s assistant asked us to define it, I felt a natural impulse to say everything I knew about it. I had to suppress it, though, because my fear of raising my hand in class was stronger than my desire to spew out an overly in-depth definition of diabetes.
So I let someone else answer the question, noting what was right and wrong about the response. As the T.A. launched into her notes on diabetes and nutrition, I overheard a muttered, ignorant comment from the kid next to me:
If you have diabetes, that means you’re screwed!
While the dude sitting next to him laughed, I felt instant rage surge throughout my body. Without even thinking, I blurted out loud, just audibly enough for him to hear, “No, having diabetes does not mean you’re screwed. Whether you have type 1 or type 2, you can live a perfectly normal life with it. I would know, I have type 1.” I felt my face flush as I turned my attention back to the oblivious T.A. in the front of the room. In the corner of my eye, I saw that the kid was sitting there, mouth slightly agape, probably surprised that the quiet girl in discussion group spoke up to shut down his idiotic way of thinking.
It’s been several years since I was in this particular class, and I don’t remember much of the materials that were taught in it. But I do remember this exchange. It stands out to me because it’s a reminder of how far we’ve got to go as a society to defeat diabetes stigma and prove that you can do more than survive with diabetes – you can thrive with it.