Love and the Juvenile Diabetic

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By: Riva Greenberg

I'm a juvenile diabetic. Although, mind you, at 48, it's a bit of an oxymoron,isn't it? I'm also, for the first time, a newlywed.

You would have liked it: outdoor ceremony under the fall leaves, people flyingin from Europe, roving waiters, superb band, but, unlike the bride who wakes upand all too soon realizes the wedding was the best part of her short marriage, Iwake up to a loving, kind and nurturing man, who of all things, wants to be mypartner – not just in life, but in my diabetes!

Do you know what that means for a type 1 diabetic who has managed her diseasefor the past 30 years, completely in a solitary fashion, to now have a partnerin life, in love and in diabetic science? A man who religiously reads Dr. Joeonline? Really now, this is going to require much more change than merelyexposing my innermost self. This is my diabetes we're talking about. My shame,my weakness, where my deepest, darkest fears lie, alone, quietly not botheringanyone else.

A Deep Secret

The first 10 years after I was diagnosed I don't recall telling anyone. Who'dwant to bring this up as dinner conversation? A dozen more years go by and mydiabetes becomes my true confession, a gift I give a select few friends.

But surely not the details, the real ups and downs, the worry that rests far inthe back of my head. For all the dating years, it may have occasionally slid achair up at the table, but it was always sitting silently beside me. So evenwhen visiting a former boyfriend in London, waking in the middle of the night inneed – for sugar – I climbed over his body as he groaned, "What's going on?" "Ineed sugar," I said. He said, "Oh" and went back to sleep. Even then I did notsay, "Is this all you care?" No, of course not. I handled it as I always did.Myself.

Last October I married a man who says as soon as he hears the plastic crinklearound the Sweet Tarts, "Are you low? Can I do something?" A man who follows meto the kitchen at 2 a.m. to pour me juice or dart both for the long-actingpeanut butter bars and my quick-acting candies with questioning eyes.

The Secret Shared

I'd had 30 years to convince myself no one who doesn't actually have diabetescan understand how it works and the toll it takes mentally, emotionally andspiritually, as well as physically. The constant micro-management, the dailybalancing, the no-days-off policy, the responsibility, yet powerlessness whenyour body responds unexpectedly. Who can understand all that? I've learned who.My husband.

It's been a learning process for both of us. Suddenly, after 10 years offriendship, as he moved from friend to husband in my life, his vague perceptionof my being a diabetic became startlingly real.

He searched Web sites, bought books and wanted to hear everything I wanted tosay. And, because he could look into my soul and knows just who I am, I began toopen this private world to him.

When my husband first began wanting in, I would shoo him away. "I can handleit," I'd say. Until I realized I was denying him the opportunity to share thiswith me, the satisfaction of contributing to my wellness, the intimacy of beingwith me in such moments. Of course I wanted all those things – just not attachedto my diabetes.

But, as I began to let him stand by my side over the glucometer, watching forthe magic number, as though we'd put money down at the track, I began to know Iwas safe revealing this part of me too. And I surprisingly find a hugerestfulness in having a partner. When I wake in the middle of the night drenchedin sweat, he's there. Of course, at 48, we joke, "Is it low blood sugar or lowestrogen?" When I start babbling in the middle of the night making less sensethan usual, he brings the juice.

I used to enjoy telling the story of how they discovered I was diabetic. "I hadan unexpected winter break from my university" I'd say, "and when I awoke in myparent's house with torturous leg cramps they rushed me to the doctor." Thedoctor said, "Two more weeks and you'd be dead." C'mon, that's a great story.But now I have a better story.

How last year in a moment of true beneficence, I told my now husband he mightwant to reconsider life with a diabetic. And he said, wrapping his arms aroundme, "You're with me now and I'm with you." That's my diabetic story now. And Ihope I can tell it for a very long time.

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