Diabetes has a knack for eliciting the barter games, those if/then compromises we make with ourselves, with God, with anyone who will listen. Parents wish to switch places with their diabetic children, to endure all of the needles in their places. Authors like Gail Caldwell document the phenomenon: “It broke through my disbelief, my God bartering, my every other defense, and for this reason I both needed and hated to go there.”
When it comes to diabetes, I’m not sure I want another person to go there, either.
During #IWishPeopleKnewThatDiabetes day, organized by the lovely Kelly Kunik, I tweeted:
Diabetes is not all misery and sorrow, but let’s be honest: It would be amazing to wake up each morning and not have to prick our fingers, perform Calculus to determine a breakfast dose of insulin, rein in the effects of that insulin if it is inadvertently too much or too little, push back against misinformed stereotypes of the disease, and think about this stuff frequently as we lead the rest of our busy lives.
Frankly, diabetes is not “fun” enough for me to want to pawn it off on anybody else in good conscience. This is why #weneedacure for future generations. It is also why I invented the cloak of diabetes which hangs in the hall closet of my mind.
The cloak of diabetes is a way to explain that I want empathy with no strings attached- no harm, no foul. Empathy does not mean that my doctors or friends have to live 25 years of diabetes to know exactly what it feels like to me. Ideally, empathy means that they “get it” without having “it.” They do not need to have diabetes to understand how frustrating being awake all night checking blood sugars is; they can trust when I tell them that the level of exhaustion is off the charts when that happens. They can realize that sometimes saying the right thing means saying nothing; sitting with me in those moments is enough.
Even if diabetes is mostly manageable in the midst of living a full life, there are still the bad days where it hurts like hell. I do not want my family, friends, or doctors to hear the words “chronicity” or “no known cure” and to imagine that their diabetes sentences are lifelong.
Hence, the cloak of diabetes. They could throw on the cloak and briefly experience the grumpiness associated with high blood sugar, or going to bed hungry but unable to eat. The shakiness in their hands of a bad hypoglycemic episode would be an acute incident, resolving when the cloak of diabetes is returned to the coat check. The anxiety of the “what ifs” would dissipate when their lab work came back normal.
They could “get it” regarding diabetes, without actually having “it.” They could empathize while having a better picture of what diabetes physically and mentally feels like.
But then it would go away. Diabetes is not something that I want them to know intimately. A little bit is enough. So, I go back to the God-bartering games.
If I have to have diabetes, please don’t let them have to have it, too. Allow me to be accepting of their support.
Can I hang up Your cloak? The weather looks nice today.