We continue roaming the planet to bring you accounts of living with diabetes in various countries for our Global Diabetes series. This month, we’re happy to introduce a young South African who wants to become a force of diabetes advocacy in his home country.
May we present Daniel Sher, a 24-year-old from Cape Town in South Africa who’s been living with type 1 since the age of 1? He works as a freelance writer and is putting himself through college — and has recently joined the Diabetes Online Community (DOC) on Twitter as @Diabeto_Dan.
Daniel’s new to D-advocacy, but hopes that his training to be a clinical psychologist will help him make meaningful impact down the road. Seeing how we recently marked National Mental Health Awareness Week here in the U.S., and wrote about the first-ever national conference addressing the killer combo of mental health issues & diabetes, we certainly welcome Daniel’s future contributions to an area that so sorely needs attention.
(btw, this is our second feature from South Africa, as we introduced you to another D-peep from there in late 2012)
A Guest Post by Daniel Sher
I was born in South Africa and I’m currently living in Cape Town. I’m 24 years old, I’m a fitness enthusiast and I love martial arts (Kung Fu) and Surfing. I was diagnosed as a Type 1 at the age of 18 months.
But really, it’s a story from when I was 15 that taught me my real lesson about life and living with diabetes. See, once upon a time being cool was all about skateboarding, punk rock and, for some of us, getting naked in public.
Yes, you read that last sentence correctly: getting naked in public.
It was the last day of term and the high school was buzzing with holiday excitement. Whilst everyone filtered out for break a band struck up with a Blink 182 cover, causing hundreds of kids to flock around the makeshift stage.
At the time I was 15 and everybody recognized me as the scrawny diabetic kid.
To this day I’m not entirely sure what made me do it, but before anyone knew what had hit them, I was naked, streaking all over the yard. Cheers, laughter and general pandemonium ensued; and for a moment Diabeto Dan was a living legend.
My streak of awesomeness dissipated with a stern intercom notice from our draconian principle (pun intended). “Daniel Sher, report to my office immediately.” How stupid I had been, to assume that a school as orthodox and religious as St. Paul’s would take lightly to a bit of harmless exposure. I may as well have printed flyers for a satanic workshop, before sacrificing a cat during our weekly chapel ceremony. They had decided to expel me, despite my incredulous protests.
I was sent back to finish the day’s lessons and I sat dazedly wondering how I might get myself out of this one. Suddenly, I realized what needed to be done. The next moment I was on the floor, pretending to be unconsciousness. My friends crowded around me, calmly explaining to the unfortunate French teacher that I was probably experiencing a diabetic coma.
To cut a long story short, the school had assumed that my nudist streak was caused by my low blood sugar, rather than punk rock. I was let off the hook with nothing more than a bag of sweets and an apology for the threatened expulsion.
Ten years have passed and I’d like to think I’ve grown a little since that day. I’m not proud of the lie that I acted out; and I now realize how irresponsible, selfish and dangerous it is to fake a diabetic episode. We all know the story of the boy who cried wolf. But in living with diabetes, I think we can all learn something from my ridiculous tale of frivolous nudity: this story reminds us how seriously the rest of the world takes our illness.
This is, after all, a global condition no matter the type we’re talking about.
Here in South Africa, I’m just starting to get involved with interviewing type 1 diabetics from disadvantaged backgrounds to get an idea of the sorts of challenges that they face. I believe this might pave the road for some advocacy development and community-based interventions in South Africa where it’s very much needed.
We have a hugely unequal society here in South Africa with a massive discrepancy between the rich and the poor. This inequality is reflected in our health care system: wealthier (typically white) South Africans usually use expensive private health insurance companies, whilst poorer (typically black) South Africans depend on the state-subsidized public health care system, which is under-resourced, under-staffed and overburdened.
I’m one of the lucky ones: coming from a relatively privileged background, my parents were able to afford regular consultations with endocrinologists and diabetes specialists when I was growing up. Many South Africans aren’t so lucky; and many type 1’s struggle to put food on the table at all.
Whilst my medical aid subsidizes just over half of my own diabetes-related expenses (insulin and glucometer strips), I would very much like to be using an insulin pump and a continuous glucose monitoring device — but right now my medical aid will not subsidize those tools. For diabetics who rely on the state health care system, I believe that they often have trouble getting hold of their necessary medications and many do not have access to qualified diabetes educators and reliable information for managing their condition.
That is where I’d like to help. I’ve done very little in the sphere of diabetes advocacy so far, except for a brief stint as a peer-counselor for diabetics when I was growing up. But I am currently based at the University of Cape Town where I’m training as a clinical psychologist, and in the future I hope to work in this field with a specific focus on community development and diabetes-related issues. While I have interest in building on those advocacy issues that are specific to my country, my psychology-focused mind makes me go back to the public nudity story and think about how that applies to the differences in how everyone thinks about diabetes.
We all know that a hypo can happen when we least expect it, and we all know how confusing things can become if we don’t fix the hypo immediately. Perhaps you’re in an overcrowded nightclub and you can’t reach the bar for a coke. Or perhaps you’re in a foreign city and you’ve lost your wallet. Maybe you’re writing an exam when you feel that tell-tale shakiness in your legs. Or you might have been arrested and are faced with the prospect of a night in a jail cell.
These are the times when you need to use your diabetes to the fullest: break the rules and stir up a commotion. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from strangers or to cause a scene – it might just save your life. Ultimately, people realize that diabetes is a serious condition and the public are likely to give you any assistance that you ask for. Just don’t forget to make your needs known. And rather keep your clothes on if you can – public exposure might not end as well for you as it did for me.
We can certainly agree that diabetes is serious and needs more public attention, Daniel. Glad to have you in the DOC, and we look forward to hearing how you begin to make a difference!