Diabetes and bullying. How diabetes made me the "cool kid".
I grew up on the small island of Kauai, Hawai’i. I loved it there and I still do, but it is not a good place to be sick. Or at least it wasn’t when I was first diagnosed. Things there are a little slower. We call it “island time”. When I was diagnosed (1998), there wasn’t even an endocrinologist available on the island. It was a struggle for my parents. I think they suffered more than I did to be honest (I’m sure all of you parents can understand that). I remember my mom and dad reading countless books, just trying to understand what it was that my body was going through. Even at 8 years old, I felt lucky that I had parents who not only loved me, but were capable of fighting for me and my needs. They never gave up on the idea that if I controlled my T1DM I could be and do anything that I wanted. They jumped through hoops to make sure that my diabetes did not hold me back and that I was not treated differently or looked down upon by the kids at school.
I was diagnosed in 2nd grade. A time when kids are young, vulnerable, and don’t necessarily understand how teasing and bullying can affect someone long term. What I learned is that kids, and adults too for that matter, are afraid of what they don’t understand. So, how can we as diabetics solve this? We teach them! I learned immediately that if I tried to hide my T1DM I would get teased, but if I was open about it and welcomed questions, everyone was accepting. My parents taught me this by spending a day at the beginning of every school year teaching my classmates what T1DM was and what it meant for me. Because I went to the school nurse every recess and lunch to test my glucose and inject my insulin, my parents had the idea to create a signup sheet so my classmates could come with me to the nurse and ask questions. It was then that I realized that I love teaching and once all the kids understood my struggle, I was no longer “different”. I was the cool kid.
I know having diabetes can be hard. It isn’t always something that people are empathetic about, but my best advice is to try to use people’s ignorance about the disease as an opportunity to teach them. You may be surprised how receptive people are to learn what you have to say! This is one of the many life lessons that diabetes has given me.
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