5 Things To Know About Type 1 Diabetes Before Offering Your Unsolicited Advice

by Cara Kovacs

Miss Idaho 2014, Sierra Sandison, did an amazing thing for the diabetic community when she wore her insulin pump during this year's pageant: She got people talking.

“Diabetes” alone is not something people regularly discuss; rather, it’s often a punchline for when someone eats too much cake or referenced when alluding to rising obesity rates.

However, people often forget that there are actually two types of diabetes: type 1, an incurable autoimmune disease with no known cause and type 2, which manifests over time, and genetics and lifestyle largely influence it.

The kind that Sierra and I share is wholly misrepresented and fiercely misunderstood.

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic illness with no cure and serious long-term complications; however, it is also not the be-all, end-all for people who have it. I’m here to set the record straight, or maybe to just write the record.

There are many rumors floating around about type 1 diabetes, so as a diabetic, maybe I can shed some light. Here are five things to keep in mind about type 1 diabetes:

1. Don't ask us if we can eat that.

Do I have this disease or do you? If I thought a Snickers bar would kill me, would I eat one?

People who have type 2 diabetes try to limit their sugar intake so they can appropriately digest their food, while people who have type 1 diabetes can’t produce ANY insulin whatsoever.

We have to artificially inject (either via pump or a shot) insulin to cover any and all carbohydrates we eat. So, whether I eat a candy bar or whole-wheat toast, I will need to shoot up.

Regardless, unless you’re a nutritionist or a doctor, it is just plain nosy, rude and annoying for you to assume you know more about my diet than I do.

2. If you wear an insulin pump, it doesn't mean you have the "bad" kind of diabetes.

Newsflash: There is no good or bad kind of diabetes. There is type 1 and type 2.

For people who have type 1, an insulin pump is a personal choice; it allows you to constantly get insulin into your body via an IV. It removes the need for a shot every time you eat (as well as additional shots in the morning and for corrective doses).

I wore an insulin pump for a year and a half, but it freaked me out to have something constantly attached to my body. That being said, some diabetics swear by the pump, as it improves their lives and keeps them in control of their diabetes.

Having a medical device attached to your body often leads to assumptions about one's illness, but pump or not, it's the same diabetes.

3. It is really insensitive when you freak out over our management.

Look, I get it; I just put a needle in my stomach or my finger and it bothered you. Sorry, I am not sorry. If I tried to make sure to go to the bathroom or find somewhere private to test my blood sugar or give myself a shot every time I needed to do so, it would make my life much more difficult (not to mention, unsanitary).

If I feel sick on the subway or in the supermarket, I won’t waste my time finding somewhere to secretly check. If you don’t like it, don’t look.

4. Actually, we can do that.

Many people think that those of us who have chronic illnesses are unable to do certain things, which is, for the most part, blatantly untrue. Diabetics run marathons, become weight lifters, compete in the Olympics and, as we’ve just seen, win beauty pageants.

Because we constantly inject a potentially dangerous artificial substance into our bodies, we do need to be more careful. When I exercise, I make sure my blood sugar is not too high or too low before I do it.

However, we are still perfectly capable of becoming all-star athletes. In fact, I didn’t start working out until I was diagnosed because I noticed that it made my blood sugar more stable.

Diabetes is defined as a disability, but we are capable of accomplishing almost everything.

5. It’s really hard.

I know we make it look easy, -- sticking needles in ourselves as if we are pincushions, never bringing it up and taking medical tests like champs -- but diabetes sucks. You can’t take a day off and you can’t slack off without sustaining long-term consequences.

Even seasoned pros have days where their blood sugar is an all-consuming mess that completely takes control of their lives.

It is scary to need a closet full of medical supplies and to rely on your own measurement of all food you consume in order to stay alive. We like to say we get used to it and that it gets easier, and in many ways, it does.

When I was diagnosed, I had to completely relearn how to live my life and it was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.

To say I’ve gotten used to it would be accurate, but it is still a constant daily battle. Yet, that’s okay because it has made me more cognizant of other people’s needs, more empathic, aware and compassionate.

Because of people like Ms. Idaho, type 1 diabetes has provided a platform for us to reevaluate our standards of beauty. It reminds us that medical devices and conditions do not defines us.

Whether diabetes or any other illness or anything else makes you different, don't let misconceptions or other people’s misguided opinions get in your way.

Photo Courtesy: Shutterstock