Last week I was shopping for new running shoes and brought home a pair that markets itself as, “made for a woman’s foot.” How smart, I thought. After all, men and women are built differently and move differently, so it makes sense I’ll be more comfortable and perform better in a shoe made for women. Amy Stockwell Mercer employs the same wisdom in her new book, “The Smart Woman’s Guide to Diabetes.” Amy’s exhaustive guide covers the issues a woman with diabetes faces, including issues of self-image, body image, identity, and self-esteem through puberty, adolescence, menstruation, dating, dieting, pregnancy, motherhood, work, travel and growing old.
Amy’s voice acts as the book’s rudder. She introduces each chapter with her own story -Amy got type 1 diabetes twenty-five years ago at the age of fourteen and is now a wife, mother of three boys, athlete and writer – and accompanying facts. A host of women with type 1 and type 2 diabetes share pieces of their stories, how they felt or dealt with their issues, from heart-wrenching difficulties with food to questions over child-bearing and child-rearing. Female medical professionals provide tips and recommendations. What shines through the book is the honesty with which the women share their successes and struggles.
One woman shares in the chapter on motherhood: “[When lows happen] my husband says, “Mommy is silly right now…They [my kids] are old enough that they even ask me how my blood sugar is doing, and if I act even a little weird, they ask me to check my blood sugar. I know they are scared but they also love me and want me to be around.”
Another offers: “I felt different because of my family [growing up in an alcoholic family] and my illness. So I kept diabetes a secret – which turned into a life-long pattern… I was ashamed and … afraid boys wouldn’t want to date me or marry me because I was either going to die or be sick with all kinds of things.”
Amy shares in “Working Girl: Diabetes at Work and School” a story that reminded me of my own experience. She was working at Saks where she could retreat to her office if she needed to test her blood sugar or have a snack. But when she left Saks to work at Banana Republic she was expected to be on the floor at all times. While relentlessly redesigning the store layout with no break she began to stumble and fall, yet didn’t ask for help. She managed to get to the bathroom where she downed some sugar, feeling ashamed and stupid.
“I wonder how many times I’ve made situations worse because of my pride or my shame about diabetes,” Amy says. “I realize now that it would have not been a big deal that day to be upfront about needing help but I was unable to ask for help or seem needy; because to me, being needy was a horrible sign of weakness.”
I had a similar incident the year I was getting married. I was walking with my fiancé to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. I was low, yet I was embarrassed to say so or ask him for help. I kept watching for a place I could buy some juice or candy, but street after street there was nothing. Finally, just outside the museum I saw a pretzel vendor. I bought a pretzel and my fiancé never knew how badly I needed that pretzel until I told him a few years after we married. That same sense of shame and weakness prevented me from asking for help when I needed it.
It was motherhood that made Amy want to truly be healthy for the first time in her life, so that she could take care of her children. For me it was not to be a burden to my husband that powered my drive to live as healthily as possible. So while we may each experience diabetes differently, as women we share remarkably similar feelings. And that is the strength of this book.
I would have liked more meat on the last chapter – “Aging Gracefully.” Maybe that is because I am 58! After having diabetes for almost four decades I find myself wondering, what will it be like when I’m 80? But for now I’ll follow the advice Judith Jones Ambrosini dispenses. Judith is 68 and has lived with diabetes fifty years. “Smile, laugh, have lots of friends and continue to learn about diabetes. Be involved with the things in life that make you happy. Don’t worry.”
One of the things I enjoyed most about this book was reading about the stages I’ve passed through, reliving my own experiences in black and white. I also learned what others experience. I gained greater insight for the stages I haven’t gone through, like motherhood. I am amazed at what it takes to take care of yourself while taking care of young children.
There is much to learn from in “The Smart Woman’s Guide to Diabetes,” but there’s one thing Amy says that I think everyone with diabetes should take away from the book, no matter what their experience:
“After 25 years of living with this disease, I still make mistakes…So I’m gathering as much information as I can offer to my readers, but I’m also laying my own cards on the table and saying, I screw up all the time, don’t expect perfection.”
Amen to that no matter what stage you’re in.
This book makes a great addition for those who already have the nuts and bolts of diabetes down. It’s also a good read for men to better understand their partner’s issues.
To read an excerpt from “The Smart Girl’s Guide to Diabetes,” click here.
To buy the book click here.
To read Amy Stockwell Mercer’s blog, click here.