I am a diabetic. My friends and family know this about me, but to the rest of the world, those I choose not to tell, my illness is invisible. That’s the way I like it.
But today, I read a post on the blog of a fellow participant in the month-long haiku-a-day challenge on Haiku Heights, and I realized that “coming out” might help someone else.
The week of September 10-16 is National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week. As a part of their campaign, they have designed a 30-question meme called “30 Things You May Not Know about My Chronic Invisible Illness.”
This is not something I normally do. I blog to write: fiction, poetry, and non-fiction creative pieces. But I seldom blog with one of these questionnaires. When you get to question 29, you’ll know why I did it this time.
1. The illness I live with is: diabetes. It runs in my family.
2. I was diagnosed with it in the year: 2001. Most diabetics are on insulin about seven years after diagnosis. It’s been eleven years for me, and I don’t yet need insulin.
3. But I had symptoms since: This is one of the deadliest things about this disease. There are no symptoms.
4. The biggest adjustment I’ve had to make is: I watch everything – everything – I eat and make choices based on how food will impact my glucose levels.
5. Most people assume: that I am just like them.
6. The hardest part about mornings is: I have what is called “dawn syndrome.” I begin each day with glucose reading that is too high and have to work from there.
7. My favorite medical TV show is: I like several, but it has nothing to do with my illness. I just like them.
8. A gadget I couldn’t live without is: my blood glucose meter. Maybe literally.
9. The hardest part about nights is: occasional insomnia. I have no idea if it is related to my diabetes, but I never had before I was diagnosed, so…
10. Each day I take 27 pills & vitamins. (The instructions say “No comments, please,” so I’ll refrain… until the next question.)
11. Regarding alternative treatments: “Treatments” for me are all in my control. I am not on insulin, and take only two pills a day to control my diabetes. But those other 25 pills? Some are doctor-prescribed to ward off known risk factors of the disease. But most are supplements some believe will help with glucose control, and are perhaps a little weird. For example, I go through the day with cinnamon breath. That’s not such a bad thing, right?
12. If I had to choose between an invisible illness or visible I would choose: neither, obviously. But since I have to choose, I’d say invisible.
13. Regarding working and career: I was closing in on retirement when I was diagnosed. The adjustments I had to make were all dietary so, in general, it didn’t interfere with my work.
14. People would be surprised to know: diabetes can be a bit of a blessing in disguise. I eat a much healthier diet and get more exercise now than I did before. Other than the diabetes itself and cranky knees, I may be healthier than I was 15 years ago.
15. The hardest thing to accept about my new reality has been: never losing sight of the consequences of letting down my guard just because I feel OK. Diabetes can cause some really horrific things to happen to your body.
16. Something I never thought I could do with my illness that I did was: to indulge in sweets now and then. I grew up watching diabetics make huge sacrifices, never eating anything sweet and substituting those foods with nasty-tasting alternatives. I’ve learned that’s not necessary. Oh, and I walked 30 miles over two days in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. 30 miles! Who knew I could do such a thing!
17. The commercials about my illness: Commercials? What commercials?
18. Something I really miss doing since I was diagnosed is: There’s not really anything I’ve had to give up that I miss. I suppose I might say that it would be nice to just be without the constant vigilance, but really? It’s not so bad.
19. It was really hard to have to give up: See # 18.
20. A new hobby I have taken up since my diagnosis is: hiking, when my creaky knees permit.
21. If I could have one day of feeling normal again I would: Meh. I already feel normal.
22. My illness has taught me: you are what you eat. Really. And you can do anything if you put your mind to it.
23. Want to know a secret? One thing people say that gets under my skin is: not much, except maybe the things the would-be (non-medical) “experts” have to say. I’d rather they kept their opinions on what I “should” be doing to themselves. Diabetes is a challenge for even the real experts because everyone has a different experience.
24. But I love it when people: don’t suspect that I am anything but a healthy person.
25. My favorite motto, scripture, quote that gets me through tough times is: “I can do this.”
26. When someone is diagnosed I’d like to tell them: Learn as much as you can. Read, read, read. Ask questions. Pay attention to your body. Take control. You can do this too.
27. Something that has surprised me about living with an illness is: It’s not as bad as I thought it would be. When I was first diagnosed, I’d walk through the grocery store feeling like there was nothing good that I could eat. I’ve gotten over that.
28. The nicest thing someone did for me when I wasn’t feeling well was: I am a controlled” diabetic. So far, I feel fine. It doesn’t hurt, thank heavens. But if (when?) things begin to go wrong, and odds are they will, I hope people will understand and accept.
29. I’m involved with Invisible Illness Week because: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimate that 6.5% of adults over the age of 20 living in the US have diabetes, and that number is on the rise. Remember I said diabetes has no symptoms? One third of them don’t know they have it. Many of those who do know they have it don’t do anything to control it because they feel fine. Make no mistake. Diabetes is a killer. But it doesn’t have to be.
30. The fact that you read this list makes me feel: hopeful. Odds are you know someone who is a diabetic or will be. It might be you. You know what to do.