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.