Anyone reading this blog knows that being diagnosed with diabetes isn’t easy, and the thought of sharing that news with people in your life can be daunting.
We’ve written about “coming out of the closet” before, but today we have a special story brought to us by our talented cartoonist, D-Advocate and correspondent Mike Lawson. He met a woman who had an especially hard time revealing her diabetes, which prompted him to “rethink” the whole issue.
Kellie Parker had a secret.
In February of this year at the age of 37, Kellie was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and for six months, she kept this secret to herself. She was confronted with all of the normal symptoms: excessive thirst, low energy, and unexplainable weight loss. And Kellie also had one other symptom that has become very common with the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes: shame.
“I’m overweight,” said Kellie who works as the social media manager for a video game company in San Francisco. “I couldn’t help but think that I had done something to deserve this or that I hadn’t done something to prevent it.”
Plenty of us are familiar with that feeling, I’m sure. Dr. Bill Polonsky, Associate Clinical Professor in Psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, and head of the Behavioral Diabetes Institute, confirms that Kellie’s first reaction to her diagnosis is very common. “Unfortunately, many people believe that if they had just got their act together they could have done something to prevent (their diabetes),” he said, adding that some healthcare providers think this way too. “There’s a crazy stigma that blames people and makes them feel like they have sinned and therefore have developed type 2 diabetes.”
At one point Kellie would go to the bathroom to test her glucose. She would lock herself into the over-sized handicap stall and was so concerned about other people knowing about her diabetes that she even switched glucose monitors because her first meter made a beeping noise that was too conspicuous in the ladies room.
Polonsky says it is really important for people with diabetes to build up emotional and moral support. Not every PWD needs to start a blog or tell the world about their diabetes, and he notes there’s nothing wrong with being private, but doing so because of embarrassment is not good for you.
“You don’t have to tell everyone,” he said. “But tell somebody.”
And that is how Kellie started. She first told her parents, then her partner and one close friend.
“I knew that I wasn’t ready to tell everyone at work and my extended circle of friends,” she said. “I wasn’t at a point where I could answer their questions appropriately and not emotionally.”
Kellie eventually got to a point where she thought that maybe it would be easier to tell people that she had diabetes instead of dancing around the issue with her coworkers and friends. “I’m pretty good at keeping other people’s secrets, but not too good at keeping my own.”
Most of her coworkers and friends were connected to Kellie on Facebook, so she decided to send the message out using that channel. She drafted a message… then wrote and rewrote the message. After all, the whole world can see what you’re doing on Facebook. Eventually, she decided to convey the message by posting a diabetes meme that said, “Yes I am diabetic. No, it’s not because I ate too much sugar.”
A little “in your face” and brash, but it did the trick.
At this point, Kellie also felt ready to talk, so she also captioned the photograph with a paragraph of text that said, “6 months ago, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I didn’t tell most people, and I thank those that did know for their love and support as I worked to establish new normals for everything in my life. I welcome all of your questions, so bring them on!”
Kellie, who came out of the closet as a lesbian 10 years ago, said that the process was very similar.
“I had to figure myself out and get everything in order so I could explain things appropriately,” she said.
And just like telling people that she was gay, Kellie found that most people were empathetic about her diabetes or thought that it was no big deal.
In fact, the response was overwhelmingly supportive! Kellie says she even had a few friends privately message her to tell her that they had been diagnosed with diabetes, too, and hadn’t told anyone. Since getting her diabetes out in the open, Kellie says she feels much better about how she takes care of herself, and she’s happy to now be able to test her glucose at her desk and nobody notices.
Polonsky agrees that telling people about your diabetes is a healthy step in a diabetes management plan. “It’s really difficult to do diabetes alone, and it alleviates a lot of stress to find out that most people understand,” he says.
Since coming out of the diabetes closet, Kellie has seen many benefits and not just on her mental health. At the time of diagnosis, Kellie’s A1c level was at 11%. Her latest A1c level taken in August was just under 6%.
Her takeaway: Kellie is proud to have let others know about her diabetes, and it’s making a difference in helping her take care of her health.
That might not be news to some of us already active in the diabetes online community, but surely there are many other Kellies out there who still have this process to go through.
We hope that others who might be hesitant to share their diagnosis with people in their life will hear Kellie’s story and know that You Can Do This, too.