How it is ok to be yourself – by Helen Whitehouse

A few weeks ago I went to Cambridge University as part of a school trip, although it was in the easter holidays, for an English masterclass. It was a good experience, but a few elements of it definitely got me thinking…

For one thing, we went on our own. It was a train journey consisting of three changes- not an easy task at half past seven in the morning when all you want to do is go back to sleep, wherever your head may next fall. I had meticulously checked everything – plenty of needles and test strips, a friend armed with glucogel and glucogen just incase mine went missing, jelly sweets for midnight hypos… Everything. But I had an issue in the fact that the college where we stayed, Pembroke, was single rooms.

Set out in houses with four floors, four rooms to a floor, single rooms. The fact that I was diabetic seemed to confuse the leaders of the course a little on this issue – was I ok to be on my own? I reassured them to the fact that I have good hypo awareness. The matron checked on me at quarter to eleven, as she did everyone, and I was fine the whole time. It was refreshing to know that I could go somewhere and cope by myself, independently.

On the last day at breakfast time, I was sat just finishing when I pulled out my insulin pen. The leader of the course sitting opposite me looked at me with something that was intrigue and disgust mingled together as she spoke the words “Well, you don’t look like a sickly child.” I was gob smacked, I actually froze mid injection to absorb what she had just said.

Seemingly not sensing my utter disgust for what she had said, she continued, “Well, I knew from the forms we had one of those diabetics on the course, but I didnt expect it to be someone like you. You cope all by yourself.” Well yes, I do. This woman was meant to be highly regarded, intelligent, yet her perception of diabetes is something which makes people ill in themselves, unable to cope with the condition, bed ridden, dependent.

So I dialled up my insulin, and instead of discreetly sticking it in my usual stomach spot, I banged it right in my arm in front of her face. Probably not the most mature course of action, but I needed defiance- you look at all the famous sportsmen and women, actors, actresses, musicians… Do they look ill? Are they not independent? And again, as I pressed the plunger down into my skin, she said “You are so brave to be injecting in public.” Well why is that? Because I would be too scared of what people would think to put my health in jeopardy? Not likely. It is one of those things – are you prepared to not be happy just for someone else?

Okay, so a case point of this is… My favourite band, Arcade Fire. A smallish Indie Rock group, never really heard of in the mainstream, caused a controversy when headlining Reading and Leeds festival. Then, three months ago they became the dark horses of both the Grammys and the Brits, bagging two major awards for their album The Suburbs. To me, simply the fact that they did it for themselves inspires me. They don’t conform to the modern perception of what they should look like, how they should be. And why should anyone? It is hard when something like diabetes smacks you full force in the face and suddenly you have to deal with another thing on top of getting everything else right.

But it’s okay. It is okay to be yourself, to inject right at the dinner table without having to feel self conscious. If people want to say stuff and speculate, let them, its better to be the subject of conversation than just to blend into the background.

You might also like

i havent been diagnosed for that long really i got diagnosed a couple of months ago,you are very brave to do in infront of people,but i do it in my leg so it isnt the best idea to pull my trousers down at the table. I might be getting a pump soon, and us people with diabeties dont need to hide it we dont need to be ashamed about it we are who we are and we should be pround of that we need to stand up to people. Im only 12 and ive got type 1 and im not bothered what people say and do. I mean i have great friends the friends i love the most and i am close to so much,well they ditched me at one point and they left me to do it by myself and they said loads of horrible things about me i hated it it was horrible,but i delt with it and now we are close again and they have adapeted to what is going on.But after reading your story i am alot more confident now x thankyou x

Great attitude Helen. I am 52 and been Diabetic for 45 years and have largly avoided predudice by keeping it a secret until about 5 years ago until I decided to say screw you lot and came out into the open. I am quite happy to inject in public and if you dont make a show of it, I am sure nobody notices.(I inject into my stomach) Sorry to say if you are looking for a job its worth not mentioning Diabetes.

Ive been diabetic for about 7 years now but still always hide when i do my jab try keep it a secret scared of what people might say you are braver than me but i have to do mine in my leg so prob not a good idea to drop my Trouser at the dinner table and the toliet aint the cleanest of places.

I too have only just discovered your blogs, i too am also type1 and i just let anyone and everyone watch me inject if they happen to be looking. The way i see it is that there are other things they could be looking at and not just me!, if they are looking then they are surely taking an interest. Next month on the 18th i will be taking part in a 24hr mountain bike race for my 3rd time racing in a team of 5 as part of a relay team which involves cycling 8-9 miles at any time in the 24hr period. I’ve thought about looking to find an inflatable insulin pen to strap to my back then i can show everybody that yeah i’m diabetic and yes i too can be like them :-)

I have only just discovered your blogs, but shall come back! I agree with your comments wholeheartedly. I am not diabetic but live with two people who are, one who just needs tablets and one very badly affected who injects regularly.She has had a couple of hypos recently and I need to understand more and cope more, so reading anything like this is always good. I shall come back!

Helen, I think you are fantastic! I so enjoy your blogs they do cheer me up and your comments are always so apt. Would anyone with a headache hide away to take a tablet, so why should we hide away to take our insulin? Also if we have diabetes are we supposed to have it tattoed on our heads so that people know. Dealing with diabetes is an ongoing pain in the neck, but we have to get on with our lives so why should people be surprised that we just get on with it, we don’t have a choice but to do so.