When I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes I was VERY particular about who I told and when. The four people co-workers that I told, I swore them to secrecy and even resigned from that job without everyone knowing. It’s just not easy or comfortable for some people living with diabetes to let the world know .
The semester before I was diagnosed, I had a student with Type 1 diabetes show me her pump in private as she explained why she was absent from class. I had another student with IBD share his condition with me so that he could be excused from my strict restroom policy (1 student out at a time) in case he had a flare. And, I had a student on dialysis who shared with me that some days he’s so drained from the process that it is hard for him to concentrate and may need an extension on homework. I remember thinking how brave these students were to share their conditions with me and how unfair it was for them to have to share with their professor if they didn’t want to share. I did my best to let them know that accommodations would be made without a problem and I thanked them for informing me.
In reality, I had no clue what those moments of sharing fully meant until the next semester when I needed accommodations made for me and I had to tell my supervisor. I remember not knowing how he would receive the news and how I was carrying the emotional weight of a diagnosis and now anxiety about what that will mean when I share it.
It’s just not an easy journey.
Because it’s not an easy walk to walk, the path of exposing a “new normal” to people, I believe that people should not take it upon themselves to assume it’s okay if EVERYONE knows. Which brings me to this…I was flipping through pictures the other day and came across this picture from my first international flight on Delta Airlines.
I ordered a diabetic meal and they put this bright white sticker on my seat so that everyone who walked by could see it. I remember on that same flight, the flight attendant yelled “WHO ORDERED A DIABETIC MEAL?” before she placed the sticker there. I was embarrassed. I never confessed this to anyone before now, but I was. I wasn’t yet at the place where I felt comfortable to “let it all hang out” and her yelling my condition on top putting this scarlet letter on my seat was so unpleasant.
I have flown dozens of international flights since then and I have never had another airline company do the sticker thing or assume that I don’t mind raising my hand when loudly asked, “WHO ORDERED A DIABETIC MEAL?” To make myself feel better about being embarrassed, I told myself “you don’t know these people and will never see them again.”
Seeing this picture made me wonder if this happened to me today would I feel the same. My answer is, not as badly, but yes. I want to be in control of who knows and who doesn’t in a given moment and I certainly don’t want everyone on an airplane knowing that I ordered a diabetic meal. See, a diabetic meal sticker isn’t the same as a vegan or vegetarian meal sticker. It would be nice if we got to that place, but we aren’t there yet. The DBML comes with negative assumptions and stigma and sometimes I am just not in the mood for it.
For some people, being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes can be emotional and it takes a minute (or years or never) for people to be comfortable with it the diagnosis. If someone tells you that they are living with diabetes in person, through a survey, or on a meal option, please don’t broadcast it for them. Allow them to share their condition. Don’t put their diabetes business in the street.
*I haven’t flown internationally on Delta in many years. I hope they don’t this anymore.