Friday, 11 June 2010

Expanding circles of friendships

Diabetes is a strange thing. For almost 23 years I felt very much alone, as though I was different and fitted in this world in an awkward way. Not awkward in the same way an angsty teenager would claim to be, as though no-one understands them and as though the world is fighting against them. It was quite the opposite in fact. I had a fantastic group of friends, a wonderful family. I had hobbies and interests. I could melt into music like ice cream in the desert. I could get lost in a really good book, imagining myself in the story (usually as a fly on the wall following the characters around from page to page). And I could party like the best of them.

The awkwardness I mean is the way in which explaining diabetes to people can make you feel like you were the first person to ever have the damned disease. The blank stares on faces usually mean I have confused people more than explained anything. But it's not always easy to explain, particularly when myth often has more of an impact than that little thing called the truth.

The awkwardness was the psychological battle of wills between my conscience and my free will. The one that told me one minute to get some exercise, and the next was eyeing up a giant box of sweets at the local store. I'm sure many people battle this kind of 'devil on one shoulder angel on the other' thing on a regular basis, but for diabetics the constant reminder of what could happen if the the devil wins, means you fight the guilt battle more often and with greater consequence.

The awkwardness was that even though diabetes is 'out there', I only knew of one other diabetic as a child, none as a teenager and one as an adult. And with all of those people, I found out through accident, not because I could tell they had diabetes. There is a lot to be said for having a condition I can disguise. I don't look any different, I don't act any different. But sometimes, I feel different. And without that physical difference, it can be hard to find other people out there who know what this side of you really entails. I often wonder how many times I have queued up for the paper with other diabetics, have spoken with other diabetics or have shouted angry comments at the logicless drivers who sometimes offend me so. Would I have reacted differently if I had known?

The funny thing is, despite the fact that I recently bought into diabetes even further by way of getting a pump and wearing a visible label with 'Diabetic' scrawled across it, the world has opened up to me at last.

Around 4 months ago, on the 24th of January, I started a blog. This blog. It took me no time at all to become very proud of how it made me feel. It took very little time to realise this blog was helping me make sense of wearing a pump, and make sense of the changes my life was going through.

It also took very little time for me to start making friends.

On the 19th of June I will be joining Lee Nevitt and Claudia Allison, 2 type one diabetics who are travelling 20km in a wheelchair and on a bike, to raise money for diabetes and it's related conditions. At this event, I am already arranging to meet someone to talk about the pump, because they want to know more, and God knows I love to talk. I am hoping to meet a number of the people I have been conversing with on an almost daily basis.

I have gone from knowing one other diabetic, who was much older than me and never seemed to struggle, to knowing about 20 of you, by first name and with plenty to talk about. My blog, and the people who have read it, have opened up to me a way of talking to people who have been on the pump for years, have started thinking about it, and who want nothing to do with it. But it doesn't matter to me 'where people are' with their own diabetes, what matters is that I don't feel 'alone' anymore. I know that things will only grow from here. And as I get to meet more diabetics, it can only get better.

A year ago if someone told me they were diabetic, I would have been surprised and would have been pleased my contact with diabetics had doubled. Now, I consider them an extension of my friends. Not because we hang out, not because we talk all day, not because we share all the same hobbies, but because we have one thing in common.

We have diabetes. It is no longer 'I' have diabetes. WE have diabetes.

Human beings have a natural propensity to gravitate towards people we feel something in common with.

as a child I had no one with that in common with me.

As a teenager I had no one with that in common with me.

As an adult, I have this in common with a whole bunch of people.

One thing I know is, there ain't nothin' awkward about this!


  1. Great post, I think it rings very true for a lot of people (myself included). Growing up I didn't know any other t1s, except for when I went on a couple of DUK holidays. As a teen I didn't know any others. Only over the past year or so have I really got to know the online community and I've made some amazing friends.

    I don't know if you'd be interested/available, we're (by we I mean the folks of having a meet in Brighton on July 3rd? There's going to be a fair few of us, including some pumpers!

    Best of luck on the 19th! I wish I could come down for it but I just can't afford the train fare, and I'm also volunteering with JDRF at their Discovery Day in Birmingham on the same day!

  2. Hey Siobhan,

    It's funny how talking to people by way of a keyboard can open so many avenues isn't it!

    The 3rd July sounds fantastic to me. Have no plans and would love to come meet you.

    Let me know the details and I'll be there!

  3. Awesome! The plan is to basically gather in Brighton at a yet-to-be decided pub, and spend the day chilling out, going on the beach, I'm trying to get a round of mini golf in there too!

    If you go to the forum and check out the 'events' section there's a thread in there about it.

    I'm getting into Brighton by train at around 10.25am, and I know the main admin of the forum is also arriving then. Whereabouts are you based? Other people are trickling in over the course of the day and leaving at various times. I'd be happy to give you my number so you can call to locate us when you get there!

  4. Is that the diabetes UK Forum on Facebook?

  5. No, sorry, the link is this one:

    then into the events section.