I WAS DIAGNOSED with type one diabetes in May 1997. Maths geniuses out there may now have surmised that my diagnosis is celebrating its 20th birthday and I felt I should probably mark it in some way, given that on its tenth birthday I was probably too busy drinking Tesco vodka in a UCD bathroom.
Because, yes, diabetics like to get drunk too. We like to gorge on doughnuts, get high on yokes, and eat a Dominoes meal for three in a single sitting.
The difference is that if I’m not careful I could legitimately die.
People are misinformed about diabetes
I fully accept that a perfectly healthy human being could also die from any or all of these activities. The main difference for a diabetic is that it would be like playing a football match when you don’t have a foot, or feet for that matter. Hence, you’d probably just fall over, cry a little and then, be forcefully removed from the playing field.
I like to use analogies a lot when I talk about diabetes. This is mainly because nobody seems to really know what it’s about, except that it means you’re fat.
I am slightly overweight at best; I am not fat. This did not, however, save me from the complexities that come with being a teenager who has diabetes.
I realised early on that every time I informed someone of my condition, they began to measure up my appearance with what I had just said. Some would say: “But you’re not fat?” And others would say nothing, leading me to belief that yes, I was fat, their silence had confirmed it.
Type One versus Two
All of this, for the most part, was projection on my part. I am sure most of the people who I told I had diabetes had no clue what it was, just some funny word that Scott Malkinson said on South Park. But the judging was there for some people and they were trying to see if I fitted into the cookie cutter mould of what a diabetic looked like.
Now don’t get me wrong, this common image of what a diabetic looks like is not incorrect. If you are overweight and/or treat your body abysmally, you can develop diabetes. But there is an enormity of a difference in what type one diabetes and type two diabetes are.
I think that it may be time for another analogy. If you have type two diabetes you have a severely broken arm. It’s going to cause complications in your life, but you still have an arm and luckily there are certain things you can do to make it as functional as it can be.
If you have type one diabetes, you don’t have an arm at all, not even a shoulder and worse than that, you had an arm for a little while and that arm was grand. Then one day you were rehearsing for Big Chief Red Feather in your school hall and your mam came in and took you to hospital. She said your arm had disappeared and sure enough, you look down and your arm is gone.
I want to broaden public perception
Is it coming across like I have an obsession with limbs? I probably do but this is largely due to the fact that external parts of our bodies tend to garner most attention when it comes to injuries and illnesses. They are understood more clearly and vindicated much easier than my poor dead pancreas.
If the public’s only calling card for me as a diabetic is an expanding waistband, I’d rather not talk about my illness and I don’t think that’s right. And I’m not millennial bashing anything because jokes are grand, I love a good joke.
At the same time I’d like to think the bloke who tells me “My Momma’s so fat when Dracula drank her blood he got diabetes…” also understood that he is purely poking fun at a stereotype because really he gets that diabetes both one and two are complex conditions, unique of themselves.
I inject myself roughly eight times a day and yes sometimes I have to do it in public and sometimes people do wince. I don’t always behave myself when it comes to doughnuts or wine or deep-fried cheese. But I am doing my best. Just because your pancreas is dead doesn’t mean your mouth is.
Twenty years later and I feel if I’m forever to be associated with my long-term illness, I need to broaden its public perception, even if that’s with terrible limb fuelled analogies. Because at the end of the day it really is just like Scott Malkinson said: “I’m Scott Malkinson I have diabetes.”
Caitríona Daly is a playwright from Dublin, she blogs at medium.com/@caitrionadaly.