I remember writing an Instagram post on World Diabetes Day a few years back, not long after I began dating a really great guy who is now my husband. I spent days contemplating if I was really going to post it for him and the rest of the world to see. Was I brave enough? Was it too much information? How would he react? I look back on that post and realize that it was directed solely at him – it was everything I wanted and needed him to know, but wasn't quite sure how to just come out and say in our very new relationship.
In the post I shared my history, my struggles, my screw-ups, my insecurities, and even my successes. I posted it on every social media platform I had. I felt completely vulnerable and it was terrifying and rewarding at the same time. My post did exactly what I had hoped – it started the conversations between us about my health, my life, and even my future managing this disease.
Type 1 diabetes is surrounded by misconceptions. And one of the biggest tasks we face when entering a new relationship is the process of righting all the wrongs. I work as a nurse and still I am surprised by the countless uninformed, naïve, and just plain wrong comments people make on a regular basis about type 1 diabetes.
When I need to tell someone about my illness I always start with the basics. No, I did not eat too much sugar as a child. No, I was not fat or overweight when I was diagnosed with this disease. Yes, I CAN eat sugar, in fact I can eat ANYTHING I want (provided I give myself enough insulin).
Next, I explain the baggage to him. I come with baggage figuratively and literally. Baggage like my past experiences, hospital stays, late night lows, and uncontrollable highs. And my actual baggage, or as my friends refer to it, my Mary Poppins bag, full of test strips, monitors, insulin, glucose tabs, and always some gummy bears. I can never just leave the house on a whim, or get in the car and drive for a spontaneous road trip. I have to make sure my supplies are stocked, in my bag, and that I have backups of EVERYTHING in case something goes wrong or if there’s some sort of emergency.
“Planned spontaneity” is how I’ve always explained it. I love being spontaneous, as long as it appropriately planned. In addition, there’s the baggage of having a mom and dad who worry a LOT about my health.
This baggage is another part of my life that I can't change, so he deserved to know right off the bat.
I was upfront and honest with him about these things from the beginning. And while I talk about my confidence and "own it" attitude, I only took a few months for him to realize some of my insecurities and constant fears that come with this lifelong disease. As our relationship became more serious, it was easier to let him see that side of me. Letting him know that I choose my outfits based on how visible my pump or CGM monitor are or that I hate the prick marks and calluses on my fingers from checking my blood sugar and the scars permanently residing on my backside from hundreds of pump insertions. He reacted like any good boyfriend would, assured me that I was beautiful despite these insecurities and that he just wanted me to be healthy and take care of myself. And what more can I ask for? While no one will ever quite "get it" unless they've lived it, to find a partner willing to listen to you, learn from you, and be with you on this lifelong journey is a pretty cool thing.
Not all of my dating experiences have been this open and honest. I was less confident as a young teen trying to fit in. Getting older and dating a few different people helped me build confidence and the conversations got easier. I will admit I got lucky with this guy, but regardless, my relationship with this wonderful man taught me and continues to teach me more and more about myself and I feel like I have a real partner in my struggles.
It is never easy to begin a conversation about such an important topic, but when so much of your life is impacted by a chronic, life-long (and sometimes life-threatening) illness, it’s a conversation that must be had.
My husband is still discovering things about me and my diabetes, but it's no longer an awkward and uncomfortable topic. Now it is just as much a part of his life as it is mine. Diabetes does not discriminate; it does not reward you for your success, but it will punish you for your faults and lapses. It is a constant battle, with no days off. I am in a fight against my own body, and I am winning. It has also given me strength, confidence, lessons and opportunities and now even a career, that have made me the kick-ass human that I am today.