I was running late one day during junior year of high school and our Spanish teacher, Ms. K., questioned me in front of the class.
“Why were you late again, Ally?”
“Umm… we got out of Math late today.”
“Fair enough. And who is your Math teacher?”
“Okay, I’ll chat with Mrs. H. later on today.”
Umm, what?!! Well, there goes my great excuse! Mrs. H. knows that we were not late today!
As my classmates filed out into the hall at the conclusion of class, Ms. K. held me back, deciding to give me one more opportunity to come clean.
“Ally, why were you late? For real.”
“I didn’t want to say it in front of the class, but I was having issues with my blood sugar,” I replied, staring at the floor.
“I’m so sorry. I wasn’t thinking of that earlier. Anytime you have to leave the classroom and do whatever you need to do- please just take care of yourself, okay?” Ms. K. responded, suddenly concerned.
“Okay. I’m sorry again.”
When I tell that story to my coworkers, I usually tell it as a joke. In my head I know full well that it is a rationalization: Hardy har har, see, diabetes comes in handy sometimes!
The truth of the matter is, being so far removed from that incident in high school, I’m not entirely sure what actually transpired when I look back now. My best guess is that diabetes became a convenient excuse when I saw that I was going to be disciplined; there was not a major diabetes emergency going on that made me late for class. In that case, I owe Ms. K. a coffee/beer with my apology the next time I see her.
At the same time, did diabetes sometimes make me late because I had to make an extra stop at my locker to check my blood sugar, or go to the bathroom when my blood sugar was too high, or scarf down a granola bar when I was low? Absolutely. The mature thing would have been to discuss this with my teachers beforehand so that they knew that I was trying my best. Alas, I was a dorky high school kid just trying to fit in.
You are in the driver’s seat of your life; diabetes is just the pesky younger sibling trying to hang out with the cool kids. Do not let diabetes be the excuse that gets you out of detention. If you mess up, take responsibility. But also recognize that diabetes does like to throw some wrenches into the mix of life, and you should be upfront with those who may need to understand. Tell your teacher or your boss if you are not feeling 110% one day and need to take a breather outside. I wish that I had fostered that discussion in hindsight.
In grad school I have been blessed with professors who have taken a keen interest in my academic development. I am open with them about diabetes because I am more comfortable in my own skin now compared to high school. On the particularly rough days with my insulin pump problems in the fall, my instructors showed me selfless compassion. They respected that no matter how sick I was, I was going to get my work done on time and do it well. (Something about stubborn Italian pride, right?) Yet on many occasions, they held me back after class- not to scold me for being late, but to make sure that I was okay. Every ounce of hard work that I put into my degree is a reflection of the confidence that my instructors hold in their students’ abilities.
I can. You can. We all can.
I can because academic instructors believed that I could- diabetes and all. In the process, I started to believe, too.