When I tell someone for the first time I have diabetes, I try to be understanding. There's the initial shock, the processing as the person tries to recall everything they know about diabetes, and the momentary panic when they realize all of their information comes from nightly news stories about obesity and Wilford Brimley commercials. I'd like to inform everybody that that's OKAY. The fact that you don't know anything means you're life has not been afflicted in any way, and that's a good thing.
I don't mind when you ask stupid questions. I don't care if you mix up type 1 and type 2. And I won't get mad if you confuse my insulin pump with a beeper.
I don't care because I find myself in the same situation all the time. A friend may mention that a sibling has autism, or that their parent suffers from epilepsy, or that they had cancer when they were younger. I mean, really, if you can't relate, what can you possibly say?
What I find interesting is that I get two very different reactions.
I get the understandable, "Oh, that sucks." Naturally. This is a DISEASE we're talking about.
But interestingly, people will also say "Oh, that's cool." And not in a dismissive "I have nothing else to say," kind of way, but in an "I actually find this interesting and it's cool that your pancreas doesn't work" sort of way.
You'd think this is offensive, but it's not! It's weird people say this, and kind of funny in an awkward sort of way, but honestly it IS a little cool. And I find I want to say the same thing to others when in this position. Don't get me wrong, it also sucks, but I totally get the sentiment behind what they're saying. Especially at an engineering school, where I get this a lot.
Every day, I get to play around with thousands of dollars worth of technology. I keep up with the research and the advancements going on in the field. I'm experimenting on myself to perfect my treatment. I've basically been a scientist since I was 11-years-old. And yes, that's cool.
Do I suggest you tell diabetics it's cool they have diabetes? No. You will definitely get smacked. And maybe make somebody cry. Not every diabetic has a similar outlook as I do. But I get where you're coming from. Even though they suck, diseases are interesting. My diabetes makes me knowledgeable on a personal, in-depth level of a couple sciences. My diabetes gives me an interesting perspective on different areas of life, like stem cell research and health care. I assume that most diseases have a similar affect on other people, and I want to know how! I'm dying to understand what it's like to be you, and I'm dying to explain what it's like to be me. The world will surely benefit from our exchange of information.
And THAT is definitely cool.
I understand people's desire for privacy, and that it's really nobody else's business what their disease is like. But I would much rather have someone ask me questions and learn more than to either 1. pretend I didn't just drop this on you, because that's awkward or 2. pretend you DO know everything about diabetes.
Oh my god. Please don't get me started on the second one.
When you are ignorant, that's fine. Just be aware of it. Things to watch out for:
1. Seeing it on Oprah does NOT make you educated.
2. The news was almost certainly talking about type 2.
3. Your science class did not even sort of give you the big picture. Fantastic, you know what insulin is. You're still ignorant to the huge web of information that is diabetes.
4. Being a medical professional, or the relative of a medical professional, does not make you knowledgeable of diabetes. I assure you that myself and anyone I've ever met don't fit the textbook definition. Not even close.
There's really no good way to have that initial conversation, because everybody will respond differently. All I can tell you is, when you see me, always know you can feel free to ask me anything. Less ignorance is never a bad thing.