What Makes You Think I’m Brave?

It’s happened many times over, and again yesterday. I just don’t understand it, really.  Some less-intimate friend or acquaintance catches me poking my finger to draw blood, and/or screwing a needle onto my insulin pen and stabbing myself in the stomach, and points out how very brave I am.  What did you say?!

One certainly can find many colorful adjectives to describe me, but “brave” is not one of them.  I am certifiably as Chicken-Shit as they come. I am the kid who never learned to ski properly because she was afraid of falling; the lousy volleyball player cowering in fear of being hit by the ball; the last kid to get picked for every softball, basketball, and nationball team growing up.  I also startle easily, and cannot tolerate scary movies of any kind. Period. 

So now I ended up with a chronic disease that requires frequent blood draws and self-injectionsCoward_1 (would have been the perfect “least-likely” scenario for our yearbook).  I buck it up and do what I need to do to stay alive, stay healthy…  Since when did survival instinct become synonymous with courage??

I suppose it’s meant as a compliment, but my urge is to retort by shouting at the top of my lungs: “And what would you do if it were you?!  Do you think I actually have a CHOICE in the matter?  What, in God’s name, makes you think I’m brave here?”

Just to clarify the issue, I looked it up. “Brave” means possessing great courage, making a fine appearance, or to defy, challenge or dare danger.  So not me.  So not the majority of us as we grapple with our diabetes, I daresay.  What we’re doing is more like “muddling through” (defined, btw, as “to achieve a certain degree of success but without much skill, polish, experience, or direction”).  That’s how it feels most days, anyway. 

“Courage” is defined as “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear.”  Admirable, to be sure.  But even though they tell us that managing your diabetes “is like brushing your teeth,” who among us doesn’t harbor those lurking fears of long-term damage?  That sinking sensation that comes over us now and again that we just can’t do it for even one more day?

Upon second look, “courage” is also defined as “the state or quality of mind or spirit that enables one to face danger, fear, or vicissitudes with self-possession, confidence, and resolution.”  OK, here’s where I see myself and many of my PWD pals a little more accurately defined.  As my grandmother used to say, when things go sour, you can laugh, or you can cry.  Continuous tears are not only a horrific downer, but they get in the way of the actions you need to take to thrive with this disease.  Therefore, many of us have simply shifted into a fierce, uncompromising survival mode.  We refuse to give up.  You call that bravery? 

Go ahead, call it whatever you like.  Just don’t look at me with that “I-could-never-do-that-myself” wonder in your eyes.  Because you could.  You would.  Believe me.  It’s like brushing your teeth, but with your life dependent on it.


27 Responses

  1. Kassie
    Kassie January 4, 2007 at 6:36 am | | Reply

    Ah, but who among us can really wrap our heads around the concept of “you’d do it, too, if it meant staying alive.” until we’ve actually experienced it?

    I remember driving from the lab where I was diagnosed back to the doc’s office, and stopping to pick up prescriptions. The whole way to the pharmacy I was practically chanting, “as long as it’s not shots, as long as it’s not shots”. That first injection took a little courage, I dare say.

    And I do think of the parents of kids with diabetes as brave. Maybe it’s not the right word…

    I guess bravery is in the eye of the beholder.

  2. adam
    adam January 4, 2007 at 7:42 am | | Reply

    Actually, the correct adjective is not courageous. It is intelligent. You are intelligent. Apparently, it takes some intelligence to recognize this trait in others. There is, I’m sure you’ve noticed, a dearth of intelligence in the general population.

  3. Carey
    Carey January 4, 2007 at 7:55 am | | Reply

    Good post. Even discussing this in a forum of strangers is a form of bravery.

  4. Scott
    Scott January 4, 2007 at 8:36 am | | Reply

    I’ve heard that comment, too … I usually respond by saying something like “Its not that bad, here you try it!” which usually shuts people up quickly!

  5. Adam Kaye
    Adam Kaye January 4, 2007 at 8:48 am | | Reply

    I’m with Scott, usually a quick “wanna check your blood sugar?” shuts them up. Of course, occasionally, it backfires and I end up wasting a test strip on a friend.
    Amy, thanks so much for writing this. You really have an unbelievable knack for eloquently but bluntly putting into words things we all think on a daily basis.

  6. Allison
    Allison January 4, 2007 at 9:06 am | | Reply

    I remember my therapist a couple years ago telling me he thought I was brave for taking care of my diabetes so well.

    And I got mad at him.

    I told him I understand why people think I’m amazing and cool for doing the diabetes advocacy, the website, the education. It’s cool because I don’t have to do it and I still do it.

    I have to take care of my diabetes. Being brave has nothing to do with it. Maybe the first time you do it, like Kassie said, you are brave because you’ve never done it before. But after that, it’s pure survival. I’m not brave when I keep myself healthy – I’m smart.

  7. mel
    mel January 4, 2007 at 9:29 am | | Reply

    I hate those comments. I usually reply with a, “Well if you had to you would to.” If I’m feeling terribly apathetic they get, “Eh, it’s not that bad.” I suppose it’s the line I give them when I’d just assume smack ‘em for saying something dumb ;)

  8. Penny
    Penny January 4, 2007 at 1:52 pm | | Reply

    I find myself responding to parents about this quite a bit. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve just looked at people in disbelief when they look at me and say “I couldn’t do that to my child” It almost wants to make my head explode. Yes, you could. You see, I don’t have a choice. I don’t enjoy sticking my four year old with needles. I have to. He’d die otherwise.

  9. Reed
    Reed January 4, 2007 at 3:05 pm | | Reply

    I think of it as choice. The choice to accept diabetes, seek help from medical professionals and manage diabetes. Not all diabetics or families caring for diabetics do this. I’ve observed some ignore help from endos/CDEs, some find the learning curve too hard, and even one that had a pump, but refused to bolus! The tools we have today are light years ahead of where we were even a decade ago (e.g. insulin analogs, continuous meters, smart pumps) and they will continue to improve. I think we have choices to make in life and accepting our challenges and dealing with them is at the top of the list.

  10. Annie
    Annie January 4, 2007 at 3:56 pm | | Reply

    I am definitely not brave. I am angry, I am stubborn, I don’t have a choice. Six months after diagnosis and I still have been unable to wrap my head around the fact that this is with me for the rest of my life. When I worry about handling this in my old age, I am not brave. When I have to stop and count every carb I put into my mouth, I am not brave. When I feel a twinge in my foot and wonder what has caused it, I am not brave. I am so darn scared it is overpowering at times. However, like the rest of you, I am smart. I know that I have to do this to survive and to take care of my family and to see them grow. I hate every second of it. But I’ll do it. I am also trying to do it with grace—at least on the outside. So if someone says to me something about bravery or courage or they don’t know how I do it—I just give a little smile and say thanks. At least I can control that.

  11. Michael Park
    Michael Park January 4, 2007 at 4:25 pm | | Reply

    Amy, wonderful post! Well said.
    Also, thank you for the commemts from parents of children, it’s reminded me of every last bit of respect I have to show for my parents, as I was diagnosed at the age of 6. I never had to understand what the purpose was… I never had to be brave for myself. I now feel so guilty for the countless times that I asked “why me?”, actually thinking that they would be able to give me an answer.
    I think when people say ‘brave’, they are really trying to get at showing their respect for your experience and having to do something as part of survival.
    While there are many things that people would do ‘if they had to’, there is a huge difference between saying you could do something, and actually doing it. While that difference may not be courage, it is something, and it’s that sentiment which I appreciate from people who say those things…

  12. wil
    wil January 4, 2007 at 5:37 pm | | Reply

    And what did you employ to keep from wrapping your fingers about the imbecile until you had strangled every bit of life from their body? Bravery? Courage? Intelligence? Or simply a real big survival instinct which holds that freedom at home beats someone else taking your B.S. and administering your insulin at the prison infirmary before every meal…

  13. Vicki
    Vicki January 4, 2007 at 9:27 pm | | Reply

    Years before I had diabetes, I saw a patient with a gangrenous foot about to be amputated (I worked in a hospital). I remember thinking to myself, “Yuck, I never want to go THERE,” never dreaming that someday that would be an actual possibility.

    So…flash forward 15 years and suddenly I’m diabetic – yes, LADA, came out of left field, totally unexpected. And I’m shooting insulin and counting carbs and keeping BGs under control becaues I DON’T WANT TO GO THERE. Meaning: I’ll do anything I have to to avoid that gangrenous foot. Or any diabetic complicatios.

    So now it’s 10 years later. That gangrenous foot was a great motivator. And 10 years after my diagnosis, no complications whatsoever.

    I was recently asked to give a talk to new diabetics. Not a problem, I’m always out to advocate for tight control. The diabetic nurse-educator asked for the name of my talk so she could put it in the newsletter. After some thought, I decided on “WINNING THE DIABETES GAME”. Hope that will motivate some of them!

  14. George
    George January 4, 2007 at 10:14 pm | | Reply

    I remember seeing my Grandmother taking a shot in her leg and saying to myself, “I would rather die then have to do that everyday.” Famous last words I guess.

    I am not brave at all. I agree with you 100% on this.

  15. Amber
    Amber January 5, 2007 at 3:20 am | | Reply

    If someone came up to you and said that you are smart for taking good care of your diabetes couldn’t that be seen as patronizing? Even though diabetes is so common, most people don’t witness the day to day routines that PWD’s and their loved ones experience. I know that it is really irritating (not to mention rude, to comment on your health care routines) but I think they are trying to make a connection. To give kudos to a person in a situation that they just can’t imagine or are too scared to imagine for themselves makes them feel better. So their fear = your bravery.

    Oh, back to the health care routines, how many people over the age of 6 get told how lovely a job they are doing brushing their teeth? Or hair? (probably far more than I know and I, in turn, am probably being stupid right now) People are stupid and insensetive but I prefer those people to the ones that advise that I exercise my 2 year old more and don’t give her sweets and maybe she won’t have diabetes at all.

    You have the right to be mad! This insidious disease makes me angry! I am glad that you hold your tongue, write about your experience, and allow us to be a part of this discussion. Maybe some future day my daughter will be ticked off that I call her brave — at least I’ll be able to think back to this and know where she’s coming from.

  16. Chris
    Chris January 5, 2007 at 9:52 am | | Reply

    I actually had a good friend comment that if she had to count carbs for everything she ate, she just wouldn’t eat.

    Hmmmm! Further placed in context with the fact that I was pregnant when she said it and she was on a diet to lose 70 pounds whereas my weight is and always has been appropriate.

    The “brave” comment always kills me. Especially from people who have lived closely with me over the 25 years I have had this disease and watched me move from pills to MDI to the pump all in an effort to have a baby and acheive near normal BGL.

    I think it would be more appropriate to say that we are goal oriented. Good health is a goal. Diabetic or not, some people can’t acheive the simpliest goals and others never put their health very high on their list.

    Love this site.

  17. Kendra
    Kendra January 5, 2007 at 11:02 am | | Reply

    Just wanted to say I agree completely. It’s right up there with “I could never do that” and “Ohh, I’m so sorry.” Completely nonplusses me, every time – I am not an especially ambitious or outgoing or BRAVE person, but I do enjoy being alive…even if I have D. Yes, you could do it. You see, YOU HAVE TO. Or you die. There’s nothing sorry or noble about it, it’s just all there is for you or you’re done. End. And it’s not the bad old days anymore…my pump gives me the freedom to eat as I please, even if it’s a hassle if I make the “wrong” choice (or the wrong bolus, or whatever).

    I remember when I was 4 years old. My babysitter’s daughter had diabetes. We went to the park and most of the children – except for Suzanne – had an ice cream. As I thoroughly enjoyed every bite of my cone, I thought “Suzanne must be so brave. It must be so hard to not be able to eat ice cream. I could never have diabetes – how could I give this up? It would be terrible.” (Pretty intense for a 4 year old, huh? I never forgot how I felt when I realized what a total drag and pit of despair life must be for Suzanne. :P )

    Fast forward 14 years – I joined Suzanne’s club kicking and screaming. 5 years later, I know that while this sucks beyond describing how much it sucks, the hardships I face are not insurmountable. You do what you have to do. Maybe I don’t feel brave because I’m still eating ice cream.

  18. Michelle
    Michelle January 5, 2007 at 1:17 pm | | Reply

    as my 6 year old says “I’m not brave, I’m a little boy”

    that sums it up for me really. He’s not brave to get shots all day long – even he knows that. He knows that he hates it just as much as the next guy but if he doesn’t do it then he’ll really feel like crap. Very quickly.

    Nope no bravery there. We just all do what we need to do. I poke holes in my little guys fingers 10 times a day and he lets me, not because he’s brave but because he knows it keeps him alive.

  19. Kelly
    Kelly January 5, 2007 at 6:16 pm | | Reply

    I am so glad to find this site. I am going to celebrate my one year diagnosis on January 20. I didn’t know that I could get type 1 diabetes at the age of 31. It is nice to find some place that isn’t sugar coating all of this. I still am angry I have to do this, but brave I am not. I just have a family that depends on me to stay healthy.

  20. Steve
    Steve January 5, 2007 at 10:22 pm | | Reply

    Yes. This bravery crap has to stop. I hear this “Isn’t it hard?” Well, hell no it’s not hard. It’s a bitch, but I do it, and anybody else could do it too. To me, that’s like saying it’s “hard” to do dishes. Actually, for me, dishes are harder. For me, my diabetes has become just another of my life activities. It’s not a hardship for me anymore, it’s just something I do. Does it suck that my health is compromised, that I am at greater risk for complications? Sure, it does. But you know what, the person telling me how hard I have it may have something going on inside them they don’t even know about. I know my demon, and I know what to do about it. In some ways, that’s a blessing.

  21. Scott K. Johnson
    Scott K. Johnson January 6, 2007 at 12:53 am | | Reply

    Great post Amy – and great comments too.

  22. Maureen
    Maureen January 6, 2007 at 5:43 am | | Reply

    My son was diagnosed just after his 7th birthday. At diagnosis, anything that could happen did happen. Organs shutting down, in and out of a diabetic coma..Brave, no. Fact of life, yes. He knows what will happen if he doesn’t take care of himself. I would never wish this on anyone, let alone a child. But, it HAS become a part of his life and he is on top of it. We know what we are up against. Unless you deal with this 24/7, you haven’t a clue. His 11th birthday is in a few days and we are just really glad that he’s still with us, it was so touch and go at the beginning.

  23. AmyT
    AmyT January 7, 2007 at 2:18 pm | | Reply

    Hi All,

    Thanks for your input on this. Definitely some new points to chew on.

    As usual, I came across sounding awfully hard-core here. What I really meant was that I don’t FEEL brave at all, and that I do what I do because I have NO CHOICE — and for no other reason than that.

  24. Maureen
    Maureen January 7, 2007 at 2:37 pm | | Reply

    Amy, I have found that most of the time we need to be hard core to get our point across to the mainstream. Sad, but true!

  25. Karen
    Karen January 7, 2007 at 4:14 pm | | Reply


    I have been diabetic for 40 years and like you I am so not brave. I have been off line for about a week and try to read your website daily and it always amazes me that you have a new topic to talk about.

    Your writing is wonderful and your insightfulness is amazing to me and always right on.

    Brave no, mad as hell, at times, survival is the word.

    What I hate is the comment of some people who know a bit about diabetes and ask me what my number is and then sometimes give me a look if it is high, grrrr.


  26. Michael Park
    Michael Park January 8, 2007 at 6:42 am | | Reply

    I totally agree with you Karen, as a result, I’ve become extremely secretive about my testing results in public. It’s such a personal thing, and it feels terrible when people judge your diabetes care based on a single reading.

  27. Steve
    Steve January 8, 2007 at 7:27 am | | Reply

    Amy – you didn’t come off as hard core. You simply tapped into a great truth: We are pitied for having diabetes. Well, hells bells! People can be pitied for all kinds of things. Do I wish I didn’t have diabetes? You bet! But I’m glad I have a condition I can, to some extent, control. I know what I have to do and I do it. How much worse would it be to have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer?

    What sets me on fire is that (some) people feel the need to pity me, as if my condition reinforces their belief is some bed of roses. What I want to says to these individuals is: even if that’s true, look out for the thorn hiding barely beneath the surface, because it is about to prick you in the butt.

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