I’ve interviewed more than 100 people who have diabetes in the past two years. At first I found my subjects just by asking friends if they knew someone with diabetes. Before long, I discovered everyone knows someone with diabetes.
I also went to two support groups for the first time. At Divabetics, here in New York City, I met Phyllis. I liked her right away. As we went around the room giving our two minute introduction she said, “I got juvenile diabetes at 58, now go figure!” I loved her spunk and sense of humor.
Yet below the kidding, she was having a tough time. A few years with diabetes, she was confused, carb counting was hard and she was more than annoyed with the difficulty regulating her blood sugar. And Phyllis was working hard at putting all the pieces together: visits to her doctor and educator, reading web sites, talking to others. Sometimes the pieces don’t interlock the way we expect. Case in point: several months ago three of usDiva-betics spent a weekend at Phyllis’s country house. It was an unintended, non-stop, Diabetes 101 workshop. “What’s your blood sugar?” “98,” “You’re kidding, we ate the same lunch how could I be 250!” “You’re kidding, you only need 1/2 a unit for that bowl of cereal?” “Let’s go take a walk, my sugar’s 198 and I want to get it down.” “No way, I think I’m going low. S__t, 45! Where’s the candy?” It was like a version of that old TV show with Beatrice Arthur, Betty White and Rue McClanahan, only ours would be called, ‘The Diabetic Girls.’ Maybe that will be us in our golden years.
But then I think it’s better to enjoy our golden years now, in a stream of golden days. So last week Phyllis and I gathered to celebrate my birthday and her fifth year anniversary living with diabetes. It was she who merrily made the suggestion. Today Phyllis not only talks intelligently about carb counting, Smylin, pumping, etc, she’s one of the women-behind-the-man at Divabetics, and she’s helping others newly diagnosed get their hands around managing diabetes. Next week she’s accompanying a “newbie” to coach her through her doctor visit.
Living with diabetes is a process. You don’t wake up one day and know it all. Gosh knows, I didn’t. But you could wake up one morning and “get it.” In other words, see there is a gift in having diabetes. The road to there though will come with much learning, trial and error, bumping into yourself, your mistakes, lucky accidents, big-headedness, empty-headedness, and all the teachers out there who have proceeded you. Then 1 year later, 5 years, 10 or 20 years later, you’re the veteran helping someone else. You have shed your old skin, transformed into a newer you, and discovered part of the secret living with diabetes is making every day as golden as it can be.
Were we celebrating having diabetes? No. But we can all celebrate having the courage and humor to responsibly make diabetes part of our lives and enjoy the things, other than the tsouris (stress), that diabetes brings into our lives. Like a new friend with a really wicked tongue.
So that’s the book I gave Phyllis, (photo) a compilation of personal stories from Diabetes Forecast magazine. Just some light reading for the bus. Meanwhile Phyllis gave me two hours of laughs, kinship and our birthday/anniversary lunch.