I developed diabetes at age four. Since having the disease I have been fearful. Not fearful of the ravages of diabetic complications, nor the endless medical tests and incompetent residents; but fearful of rejection due to my diabetes.
I first experienced this fear with my own family. My mother was not equipped to handle the emotional demands of a chronic disease. She engrossed herself in the care of my disease, but left little for me as a person.
Sibling rivalry was rarely civil between my sister and me. Three years ago, my sister, at the age of 35, confessed that she had finally stopped hating me for the attention I received because of my disease. Growing up, my brother turned out to be my only saving grace. He treated me as a person first, always with affection and disregard for my diabetes.
The children at school seemed to distance themselves from me as well. Apparently not much has changed since those days. A woman at my 10 year high school reunion remarked to me, “You’re the girl who used to pass out in class and the teacher would pick you up and run to the nurse.”
In the past, women have approached me in the bathroom when I am doing a blood sugar or a shot and told me how disgusting it is and that I should go into a stall. I was once thrown out of a restaurant for doing a blood sugar at the table.
Through swapping stories with friends who are also diabetic and a friend who is a clinical psychologist, I know that fear of rejection is commonplace for most diabetics. My psychologist friend feels that the emotional difficulties people with diabetes face are usually so challenging that families should undergo psychological counseling to help them cope.
For myself, and I think for many women with diabetes, the worst of it is in approaching romantic relationships. I always worry that if I become emotionally involved with a man there will come a time when I will have to reveal my little secret about what might happen to me because of diabetic complications. For a long time, I distanced myself from serious relationships, preferring to be lonely rather than take a chance that I would be rejected because of my disease.
Three years ago, I let my guard down and opened up to a boyfriend about the risks of complications. It didn’t take too many days before the final good-bye. He told my best friend he didn’t want to fall in love with someone who might have all these complications down the road. Shallow perhaps – but honest. Most people place an importance on perfection and youth. We all are guilty of it to some degree.
When things go wrong we hope that our friends will be there by our side, holding our hand. Choosing to stand by through the bad times as well as good may be incredibly difficult, but it is these difficult events that offer rich emotional rewards to us. Such times show the difference between sympathy and empathy.
So the question remains, do I bring a man close to me before I tell him about my diabetes, or do I tell him up front and watch him walk away before I become emotionally invested? Perhaps the only option I am comfortable with is remaining alone.
Maybe the worst complication of this disease is not physical at all, but rather the emotional toll it takes on you and those you love.