Two years ago, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. In those two years, I’ve been asked enough questions to realize that most people barely have any idea what it actually is.
First a basic summary of what the disease actually is. Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disorder that causes the immune system to target and destroy the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. What this basically means is that the body is no longer able to manage blood sugar on its own. Once, this meant death was guaranteed, but after the invention of injected insulin in 1923, life with Type 1 diabetes became possible.
So now that we know what the disease is, let’s look at some of the common questions I get asked.
“You were doing so well last week…”
Yes, a week ago I was. Now I’m not. You can’t just ‘figure out’ diabetes and then follow your schedule to manage it. The human body is an extremely complicated thing and almost anything, ranging from how stressed you are to how long it took you to digest that slice of pizza can make a massive difference in how you need to manage your blood sugar from day to day. Sometimes things simply change and you need to manage things differently with no warning. Diabetes is like playing a game of blackjack with your body, except your body isn’t sure if it wants to play blackjack or if aces count as 11 or 1.
“Is that the bad kind?”
There isn’t a good kind of Diabetes. They are different diseases and are managed differently.
“Can you eat…”
Probably not shellfish, I’m allergic, but that’s unrelated. Diabetes doesn’t mean you can’t eat something, (even candy!) it just means that you need to pay attention to how many carbs are in it so that an appropriate amount of insulin can be injected alongside it. Diabetics often follow a diet, but that’s because when you already need to pay attention to part of the nutrition information, you might as well go all the way.
“Can you still drink?”
Alcohol is an interesting problem to face as a type 1 diabetic. Yes, we can still enjoy alcohol but care must be taken. While the effect Alcohol will have on Diabetics will vary based on the individual drink and drinker, it can be safely consumed once we have figured out how it affects us. It is not safe however, to have our judgement significantly impaired. We need to be able to react if something goes wrong, and there’s no guarantee that anyone else will be able to help us. It’s best to be safe and not get drunk, but we can enjoy alcohol.
“I have lactose intolerance, so I understand…”
No, these two issues are pretty different, to say the least. Trying to find some way of empathizing is well meaning but can often come across as extremely ignorant. Also, I didn’t need a detailed description of what happens when you eat cheese.
Hopefully next time you meet one of the million or so type 1 diabetics in the United States you can avoid asking one of the common questions we tend to get asked constantly, and maybe make the disease just a little bit less irritating. We know your questions don’t come from a bad place, but seriously, they get really repetitive.