When I was 14 years old I was angsty and surly and taciturn. Or, to put it another way, I was a teenager.
I hated my teen dramatics. I was alienating friends and family by being generally unpleasant to be around. For a week I wondered why I was acting like such an idiot. Then, one evening before nodding off, I had a genuine ah ha! moment. My sour attitude had to be a result of my diabetes, which had been a bit out of control for months. That must be it. What else, after all, could it be? Could it have been that I was just a jerk? No way, not if there was a solid medical reason for my jerkdom.
The next day at school, with this self-diagnosed medical epiphany firmly in hand, I saw my friend John Kelly in homeroom.
“John,” I said, “I’m sorry I’ve been acting like an ass but, I have figured out why. My diabetes is out of control! High blood sugar is causing me to be this way. Isn’t that great?”
“Oh, give me a break,” he said. “You blame everything on your diabetes. Everything about you is your diabetes. Don’t hand me that crap.”
And he walked away.
He was correct. I did blame everything on my diabetes. Or, if I wasn’t “blaming” everything on it, I was defining myself by my diabetes and showing only that person to the world. I’d been diabetic for two years at that point. For those two years I had been portraying the sum total of my personality to others, the entirety of my life to the world, as a diabetic. John Kelly helped me see that I had also started regarding myself as little more than a walking talking condition first, and as a person second. That, I decided then, was boring and limiting.
I decided that, to change how the world saw me, I had to think of myself as something more than a medical case. I was not a “diabetic.” I was a person who had diabetes. There’s a big difference.
By thinking of myself primarily as a diabetic I got sympathy and help and care and it was great. People would ask me is there anything I can do for you? How are you feeling? Are you all right?
But it was also cheap. Highlighting your weakness to the world, or what the world sees as a weakness, is a cheap way to get sympathy from anyone.
The way to change the world is to be a person first, and a diabetic second. Don’t just tell people that diabetes is nothing to be afraid of. Don’t say it’s not limiting. Don’t get on a soapbox about how it’s not a disability. Instead, show them.
Be the change you want to see, and the world changes.