Confronting the Diabetes Boogeyman

An editor with diabetes avoids thinking about his condition until a book project forces him to confront his fears.



I write occasionally about diabetes because I like to write, and you have to write about what you know. But it’s not easy. To write about my condition is to write about a scary unknown.

When I was first diagnosed, I couldn’t even stand the sound of the word “diabetes.” Whenever I heard it, it conjured up images of pale, sweaty flesh and a smothering feeling like some disease-laden fog, rolling in to make me gag. I definitely couldn’t stomach reading descriptions of injecting insulin and the horrible complications that can lurk in the future. Ignorance felt like bliss, even though it also meant paralysis in my self-care.

Luckily, the universe can be sneaky. I have a small publishing business, and a potential client emailed for a quote to turn his memoir into an ebook, paperback edition, and an audiobook. I sent him my rates and he sent his manuscript along with a note that he was blind and had written his book using a microphone and software on his computer.

Intrigued, I read Ron Wilde’s story. In the second paragraph of the first chapter, I was struck dumb by a paragraph which read, “My diabetes was largely ignored and forgotten by my parents…” I wanted to put the book down, but I forced myself to keep reading.

Reading this man’s memoir helped me begin to get over my squeamishness about the worst things that can happen to people with diabetes (blindness, amputation, etc.) because they all happened to Ron. It was like looking under the bed with a flashlight to confront the boogeyman; it’s got to be done sometime.

WhoTurnedOutTheLights_300pxOf course, that’s not what the story is really about; this isn’t some pity-party of a memoir. It’s actually as funny as it is horrifying, as Ron relearns how to live blind, falls in love, and has some wacky misadventures. He finds humor even in tragedy.

Now that the book, Who Turned Out the Lights?, is published and I have intimate knowledge of what the worst nightmares for a person with diabetes might include, I can’t say I’m done processing my feelings on my diabetes diagnosis. But forcing myself to publish Ron’s book helped me find my own voice in writing about my own diabetes. The only way I can write with honesty and relevance about diabetes is if I don’t ignore or deny the scary realities that help define it, and writing about diabetes helps me bring my own fears out into the light to see.

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Diagnosed at age 49 with Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults (LADA), Russell Stamets is technically Type 1, but in practice he’s more of an honorary Type 2, managing his health with diet and lifestyle. You can usually find him aboard his home and primary stress reduction remedy, a 44-foot sailboat currently moored in Annapolis, Maryland.