Are you self-involved? Do you lack empathy? Do you really care? Are you judgmental? Are you addicted to drama? Do you have orange juice?
These are some of the questions I ask myself about any person when deciding whether or not to tell them I have diabetes. I don’t try to hide my diabetes. I mean, I wrote a book about it. But, I’m careful about revealing my diabetes to just anyone. Doing so is always a leap of faith and a high stakes roll.
I’d like to believe that anyone and everyone I tell would be understanding and accommodating to this fact of my life. But, that’s not the way it is. Telling someone you have diabetes is not a neutral statement. It brings about definite reactions.
Invoking the 80-10-10 Rule helps when deciding whom I’m going to tell. My cousin Daniel told me about this rule, and, while I’m not one to go in for pithy koans or catch all instructions on how to live my life, this one generally works. It says that eighty percent of the people you meet don’t feel one way or the other about you; ten percent of them will like you no matter what; and ten percent of the people you meet will dislike you no matter what.
I keep my mouth shut about my diabetes around 80 percent of people not only because they really don’t care, but also because opening it will only make them uncomfortable. It’s like walking up to someone, sticking out your hand, and saying, “Hi! My name’s Alex and I have an incurable, chronic condition! What’s your name?”
The best that can come out of such an interaction is that the person will shrug. Then I’ll feel like I’ve just over shared and made a fool of myself, which I have. The worst is that they’ll be pushed into the ten percent of people who will never like me because I’ve just placed the burden of my diabetes upon someone who, after all, is part of the 80 percent that don’t care.
Then there’s the ten percent who will never like me. Sometimes it’s a friend of a friend that you never click with, the kind of person who gives you a look or an attitude every time you’re together for no apparent reason. Sometimes it’s the guy who cuts you off in traffic, or the guy at work who eats your lunch, or the woman in payroll who delays your paperwork every time. When it comes to to revealing diabetes, these are the people I’m most concerned about.
At one end of this spectrum are those who think being a diabetic is on par with being a meth head who kicks his dog. To this growing segment of the general population, I must have done something to get diabetes. It doesn’t just happen. Too many Ho-Ho’s and Dr. Pepper big gulps, and what do you expect? I must have diabetes because I am weak of character, small of mind, and loose of morals.
At the other end of the spectrum are those who will too easily indulge themselves in the drama of my diabetes. They make it central to my being, the fulcrum from which all my thoughts and actions emanate. “How are you feeling? Can I get you something? How’s your blood sugar?” All. The. Time. They may seem like they care, but their constant nursing is condescending and belittling. I had an aunt who always ordered for me at restaurants after telling the waiter, in excruciating detail, about how I had diabetes which was why she was telling him what I needed. They represent the tyranny of the weak, and I steer clear of anyone that tyrannical.
Then there’s the ten percent who will like and support me no matter what, diabetes or not.
These are rare people. They’re the co-worker, not the boss. They’re the friend, not the acquaintance. They’re the fourth date, not the first kiss. They’re the college buddy, not the friend on Facebook.
And they are always, always the person I tell when my blood sugar is crashing to the floor and I’m out of LifeSavers.
For more from Alex O’Meara see his essay Curing Diabetes: Would I Do It Again?