1st Person

To Reveal or Not Reveal Your Diagnosis?

No matter how stealthy you’ve been about keeping your diabetes under wraps, there comes a moment when someone blows your cover. Maybe it’s the acquaintance who thinks you’re being antisocial when you don’t join in a round of tequila shots. Maybe it’s the party hostess who notices you’re not grazing from the sumptuous buffet she’s laid out.

Often, it’s the co-worker passing around the tray of homemade cookies/cupcakes/candy and insisting that you take one. In a perfect world, you’d decline in an upbeat way—Oh no thanks!—and the cookie pusher would think, Yippee, more for me, and go away. But more often than not, if you decline the treat, you’ll be greeted with the same shock a priest might display if a parishioner turns down a communion wafer. And you can’t just take the cookie/cupcake/candy, you have to take it and then take a bite to demonstrate how yummy the treat is. Oh, this is fantastic Mary/Jon/Chris, thanks!

When you’re faced with someone who is determined to share their sweetness with you, you face a dilemma. Do you just say “no” and risk being labeled the office sourpuss? Do you say “yes” and just pretend you don’t have diabetes? Do you decline because of a New Year’s diet? Or do you admit that the reason you’re turning down this gracious offer is that you have diabetes and trying to avoid eating sweets regularly?

And if you do choose this last option, how do you phrase it? Personally, I think saying “I’m a diabetic” makes it sound like you’re defined by the condition. You don’t hear people say, “I’m a cancer” or “I’m rheumatoid arthritis.” People battling addictions are encouraged to define themselves by their addictions (“I’m an alcoholic”, “I’m an addict”). Susan Sontag wrote in her book Illness as Metaphor that the language of illness often has a strain of “blame the victim” in it. You can debate whether or not such self-labeling is helpful for battling addiction, but it seems to be counterproductive for combating diabetes.

The truth is that I have yet to discover the proper way to handle such situations, and I take it on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes, if I just want to deflect, I’ll…well…lie by saying something like “I’m allergic to chocolate/peanut butter” or “I have lactose/gluten issues”; I hope that the tray of cookies/cupcakes gets taken away before I grab one and start snarfing. Other times, candor is called for, and on those occasions, I settle for “I have diabetes.” It always comes out semi-apologetic.

In an ideal world, people with diabetes would get a pat on the back for being careful about what they eat. Since we don’t live in that ideal world, and too many look down on diabetes as a character defect, it is up to the individual with diabetes to decide how to handle things on a case-by-case basis.

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Katherine Tomlinson is a former magazine writer and editor who transitioned to online publications at the beginning of the millennium and has never looked back. She writes for sites as diverse as BellaOnline, Criminal Elements, Gourmet Food Garden, L.A. Reviews, and Horror Snark. She is the author of A Study Guide to Heart of Darkness and several short story collections, including Suicide Blonde and Just Another Day in Paradise. She lives in Los Angeles and sees way too many movies.

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