It happened suddenly, as such things by nature tend to do: I was standing on the corner outside my friend’s house in California on a bright Sunday afternoon, chatting on the phone with my husband, whom I hadn’t spoken to in a couple days. We were talking about diabetes, of all things — it was one of my “revelatory” moments, which occur roughly twice a year, where I suddenly am hit with a palpable sense of not just how great of a burden it is to live with diabetes, but of just how isolating it can be, how I don’t talk about it with friends, and how even the people closest to me have little realization of just how difficult it is to manage, every minute of every day. Peter was listening and affirming, and I was thinking of how lucky I am to have a partner with whom I can share this kind of stuff — he, of all people, understands what it’s like, and just speaking with him was making me feel more comforted and less alone.
Then I saw him: a young man — possibly a teenager — walking toward me directly from the street, with the sort of purpose and direction that most people don’t display if, say, they’re just asking for the time. My stomach began to drop, but before fear could even register, I saw it — namely, a gun — clutched in his left hand. It was shiny and black and silver. My instincts had been correct: this was not a request for the time.
I’ve thought about getting mugged, many times, actually — it’s been a long-time fear of mine — and have always wondered how I would react. Would I be so frightened I’d be unable to speak? Would I have a brief conversation with my mugger in which I ask him precisely what he wants and hand it to him in a polite, if terrifying transaction? Would I begin screaming, a sound which I don’t think I’ve ever actually made? In a moment of complete terror, what would my reaction be?
Unfortunately, I now can answer that question. First, one side of my brain — the part that’s responsible for managing cocktail party conversations and is not usually a crime victim — asked an innocent question: “I wonder if that gun is real.”
Thankfully, I actually do have a life-preserving instinct, and that part of my brain responded immediately and forcefully: “This is really not the moment to ask him to prove it.”
With that realization in mind, I then discovered what “Crime Victim Catherine” (different from, though perhaps related to Police Officer Barbie) does next when threatened: I start to shout obscenities. The guy said something to me quietly, presumably something along the lines of “Give me your phone,” and I responded — by which I mean yelled — “What the FUCK are you doing?”
The answer was, of course, pretty obvious given the context, and I flipped back into self-preservation mode: I threw my phone toward him like a baseball and exploded with a string of expletives that proves that in emergency situations, my mind defaults to four-letter words. Not “Help!”, not “Fire!”, but, “FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU YOU MOTHER FUCKER FUCK YOU.”
God knows what he was thinking in response to this outburst, but thankfully he didn’t approach me (or, for that matter, shoot). Instead, he scooped up the phone, hopped into a waiting car, and he and his accomplice drove away, with me delivering an extra “FUCK YOU,” complete with middle finger, in their direction. Then I ran to my friend’s house and called the police.
When I spoke to the cops, who arrived several minutes later, I was able to provide his race, his rough age, the color of his sweatshirt, the description of the gun (and accurately, should there be any defense lawyers reading this!). But that was about it. And as they kept asking me questions, I realized that I was doing something that is objectively completely ridiculous: I was feeling bad about not having done a better job of being mugged.
I’m serious. I didn’t see his friend’s face, I didn’t notice his pants (“I stopped at the gun,” I told the officer), and I didn’t take note of the make and model of the getaway car. How was this possible? Crime Victim Catherine would totally have known this stuff — and then some. She wouldn’t have just noticed the type of car they were driving; she would have memorized the license plate. She would have taken note of his sneakers, and somehow seen through the car’s windows from 20 feet away and made a mental (if not pencil) sketch of his accomplice’s face (which was not even turned toward her at the time). She would have taken note of the shape of his eyes, the details of his hair, perhaps even inquiring — between the “FUCK YOU”s — if he’d mind answering some brief questions about his height and weight.
Needless to say, I did none of these things . . . because I was being mugged. Instead, I had responded quickly, given him what he wanted in a way that made him want to get away with me, and — most importantly here — NOT BEEN FUCKING SHOT. This was, by all accounts, an extremely successful mugging, for all involved (I’m alive; he got an iPhone 5S). It is absolutely ridiculous that I ever, ever would even have indulged in Crime Victim Catherine self-criticism, because I am here and I am typing and I am fine and I am alive and I am so, so, so grateful and relieved. It really couldn’t have happened in any better way.
Perhaps you are wondering what getting mugged can possibly teach you about diabetes (other than demonstrate what kind of adrenaline does to your blood glucose). Well, perhaps oddly, I’m starting to think that there’s a lot. Because in some ways, getting diagnosed with diabetes is a lot like getting mugged: you didn’t ask for it, you certainly didn’t want it, and the goal is to try to survive.
I’ve had diabetes for nearly 13 years now, and it’d be accurate to say that every day is still a struggle. Not a oh-my-god-it-could-kill-me-in-this-moment kind of struggle, but definitely a wow-it’s-been-more-than-a-decade-and-I-still-can’t-get-a-consistent-response-to-eating-breakfast kind of way. It’s exhausting and it’s frustrating. I manage it by eating as healthily as I can, exercising regularly, meditating, writing, and trying to take physical and emotional care of myself. I don’t have complications, I feel healthy, and my A1cs are consistently below 6.5%.
And yet, I’m constantly criticizing myself. Why can’t I figure out how to handle breakfast? Why do I still have trouble with morning exercise? Why can’t I commit to a lifetime of eating exactly the same thing at exactly the same time every day? Why aren’t my A1cs even lower? Then I start wondering whether I’m really trying hard enough. I mean, maybe I should be avoiding carbohydrates entirely, existing on a diet of nuts and seeds. Maybe I should refuse to go out to dinner with friends because of the effect it might have on my blood sugar, or never exercise *too* hard because my blood sugar might go high. Maybe I should take a break after lunch every single day and walk an hour (or more!) to help ward off post-prandial highs. No, even better, I could give up my desk job as a writer and become, I dunno, a general contractor. Or a construction worker, or some other profession that might not have anything to do with my dreams or desires (or areas of expertise), but would be better for my blood sugar. And I should probably also never travel, which messes things up, or take on stressful assignments, or catch a cold. In other words, maybe I’m doing a bad job of being a diabetic.
It’s a surprisingly easy spiral to get into, but it’s just as absurd as criticizing myself for not doing a “good job” of being mugged. First of all, I did do a good job of getting mugged: I’m alive. What other possible outcome could have been better? Likewise, I also do a good job at diabetes, because I keep myself healthy while also managing to have a life. In fact, the isolation that I was talking with about Peter at the moment when I was robbed is itself proof of my success: I do such a good job of balancing life with diabetes that, from the outside, it’s difficult to tell just how fucking hard it is.
I’m home now, and am feeling okay. Oddly, diabetes is bothering me more at the moment than being mugged (I’m trying to neutralize the memory of the actual incident by picturing a scene where I throw him the phone, and then we both break into a tap routine — weird, and yet surprisingly effective). But I’m trying to take both things in stride. In both situations, I did (and do) my best. And the result, in both cases, is that I’m alive and happy. And so instead of getting mad at myself for not having done a “better job,” whether it be as a crime victim or a diabetic, I’m trying to be more gentle towards myself. I’m also adopting a new motto: “Don’t be an asshole.” It’s a message that I’d definitely like to suggest to my mugger — but it also applies to my relationship with myself.