I was standing in a conference room at work the other day, waiting for a meeting to start. The room looks out over the Inner Harbor here, and off in the distance I could see a sailing class. Lots of little sailboats tacking back and forth, all with different brightly-colored sails being filled out by the harbor breeze.
Watching that scene made me think about this thing called diabetes. There are a lot of us out there faced with the daily, relentless onslaught of this chronic condition. Tens of millions of us just in the USA. According to the International Diabetes Foundation, there are over 300 million people affected by diabetes across the globe.
But we’re not all the same. Like the little boats in the harbor with green sails and blue sails and pink sails, there are people living with Type 1, Type 2, LADA (Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults), and other forms of this disease. The therapies and drugs available to treat our conditions are even more different than the types themselves.
A Type 1 may be on MDI (multiple daily injections), or may be taking advantage of insulin pump therapy. A Type 2 may be taking a pill to help keep their glucose levels down, or they may ramp up their exercise regimen and change their diet significantly after diagnosis. A person with Type 1, 2, or LADA may consider making the decision to wear a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). Or not.
Some, unfortunately, do not have these decisions to make at all. For many in developing countries, a diabetes diagnosis is a death sentence, either due to lack of insulin, the ability to keep it cold or warm enough, or the lack of ability to pay for it at all, not to mention the absolute dearth of access to care and education. It hurts me to think of the fact that by pure luck, I wound up in a situation where I have access to care and drugs and technology that allow me to lead a good life, while others die for lack of basic necessities.
When it comes to research about diabetes and the search for a cure, there are many different courses charted too. Many doctors are furiously searching for the absolute source of the beginning of diabetes in a person’s beta cells, in the hope that they can stop whatever triggers the disease in the first place. Others are making progress in leaps and bounds by developing technology that, while not providing a cure, may change how we live with diabetes by helping us to stay safe and always keep our blood glucose in a stable range (I’m looking at you, Artificial Pancreas).
So just like those sailboats going east and going west, we’re all headed in different directions. We have our busy lives full of jobs and family and social media, etc. Some of us write about diabetes, some walk for a cure, some ride for a cure. Some have enough to do just fighting the demons within themselves… the ones that say “Give up” or “Why do you keep trying?”. The people who overcome that kind of challenge are champions just as much as those who make headlines and raise thousands and help others.
I’ve said it before: Diabetes comes in many flavors. No two of us are exactly alike. Except that we possess two very special qualities.
We are blessed with empathy. Living with D has made us acutely aware of what it’s like to deal with inexplicable highs and lows on a regular basis. What it’s like to deal with medical professionals who write off anything not great as entirely our fault. What it’s like to listen to people who spread misinformation, then think about it as an educational opportunity. I’m constantly amazed that I have not yet encountered anyone in the Diabetes community (online or not) who is mean or ego-driven. I think that comes from a place of empathy first. We know what it’s like… Your highs are our highs… Your lows are our lows… Your successes are our successes.
We’re also blessed with resilience. We all have the unique skill of being able to get up every day, tote our gear, and treat our condition. Every. Single. Day. How many of us think that before our diagnosis, we’d be able to keep this up for years? Diabetes teaches us resilience, and every day that we hang in there and do what we have to do is a victory.
The songwriter Jason Robert Brown wrote a lyric that goes “We have nothing much in common; but we are more or less the same”. In the song, he was talking about his brother. In my life, I’m talking about my brothers and sisters with Diabetes. We have many differences. But we are all the same.