Living with diabetes… or just living? – by Andy Broomhead

Andy BroomheadIn some ways, living with diabetes can be all consuming.  A daily routine of finger-prick tests, carb calculations, injections or button presses and the occasional shouting match with some food packaging… (seriously – how hard is it to put both the weight of something and its nutritional info on one packet?)

And whilst labels on food matter a great deal to us, so too do those we attach to ourselves (or allow others to attach to us).  We’re not ‘diabetic’, we’re ‘people with diabetes’.  To those of us in the club, it’s a badge of honour; an imperceptible nod to the demands of managing a (mostly) invisible condition, and doing so with minimal fuss.

I was thinking about that important distinction in the language we use and it got me wondering whether we do ourselves a disservice sometimes.  Does the ‘…with diabetes’ caveat diminish what we do, or amplify it?

It’s not diabetes stopping me, it’s apathy

I’m very much of the school of thought that diabetes won’t stop me doing anything I want to do (although I’ll concede it might slow me down from time to time).  Admittedly I’m a relatively recent convert to that way of thinking.  Back in my darker days I’d tell myself that having diabetes was a pretty good excuse for not even trying to do things – I rarely got as far as the point where it might actually stop me.

“I can’t” I’d say to myself, “I’ve got ‘this’ to deal with”.  And I’d wave an arm vaguely in the direction of some diabetes paraphernalia.  These lancets don’t change themselves right?

But it was never really diabetes.  I mean sure, it made things harder – especially at the beginning when I was adjusting to the extra demands of it all.  But inside I knew it was really just me.  My apathy stopped me for a long time and I’ve often regretted that it took me so long to confess that to myself.  It’s why I’m so adamant these days that I can do anything I put my mind to.

But just living with diabetes is enough for most people…

Of course it is.  No-one (least of all me) thinks that being diagnosed with diabetes means you suddenly have to become super-human.  It’s not obligatory to start planning the site of your Everest base camp as you cart boxes of supplies home from the chemist.  But if you’d always wanted to climb Everest, don’t let the diagnosis dissuade you.

I think we all set ourselves personal challenges to remind ourselves that we’re not living with diabetes; we’re just living.  Diabetes might be coming along for the ride these days, but we’re stubborn and strong enough to be the ones dictating the terms.  It might take us a while to be that forceful; to be that confident that we will go on living however we want to, but I believe we all can.

What does it mean to you?

I think this is another deeply personal thing for each of us.  I increasingly feel like I’m living.  The scars of managing my diabetes (both the literal and figurative ones) over the last 14 years have set me free.  I’ve battled through the grief and despair, I’ve shunned and ignored my responsibilities, I’ve listened, learned and triumphed too.  And I’m still living.

I can’t shift this condition, this once heavy millstone around my neck. But I’ve adapted to it, and now I do things on my terms.  I feel like ‘living with diabetes’ gives it some sense of equality; a seat at the table when it comes to making decisions.  I feel that by choosing to just live I’m deciding to take responsibility – to have the power to say “come along if you want, but I’m going anyway”.

In this world of needles, prescriptions, tests, checks and calculations it feels good to be the one in control.

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