Out (and About): Disclosing your Diabetes at Work

Have you disclosed your diabetes to your employer? If you're a teacher, do your students know about it? I wrote about outting myself today on my blog, but wanted to post it on tu, for comments or thoughts about disclosing your diabetes. Have you ever chosen NOT to tell an employer or people about your diabetes?

Okay, you've gotta imagine me saying the "Out and about" in that cute way Canadians do to make the title work, but I "outed" myself at work today (in regards to having Type 1 diabetes). I met three classes worth of ESL students for the first time today, and we went about the normal business of introducing ourselves, etc. In my Presentation Skills class, just to spice things up a bit I had them do interviews with a partner, and since we had an odd number of students (7), I ended up making one student, Sean, interview me. I came up with a few "what if" questions to get things going, and asked the students to think of interview questions that were intriguing, instead of the typical college questions like "What's your major? What year in school are you? Do you have a boy/girlfriend?"

So, when Sean asked me the question "If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?", I said the first thing that always pops into my head when asked something like this which is "I would change the fact that I have diabetes." Sure, I'd like to be smarter, thinner, wealthier, more beautiful and speak more languages just to rattle off a few, but the first thing I always want to change is being diabetic (or having diabetes, however you want to say it). I thought about not saying it, about saying something else less revealing, but I believe in modeling for students the type of behavior and responses I want them to demonstrate, so I thought I should just be honest and tell the truth. I don't want to have diabetes, and I wish I'd have spent the last 18 years of my life without it.
Well, the English level of my students was fairly low so no one knew what diabetes translated into in Chinese, so I went into this oddball rendition of the diabetic condition, which was a hodgepodge of sign language, body language, staccato English, charades and demonstrations to explain to my students what diabetes is. It's funny--one of the first things I did was clarify that there are two types of the disease (didn't want to get into gestational)--type 1 and type 2, and how I have type 1, not type 2. I guess I'm sensitive about it since there are so many misconceptions and stereotypes associated with having diabetes. Key phrases I heard myself uttering (and trying to act out) were "pancreas--showing the general area), "body attacks, errr, destroys, the cells," "since childhood," "too much sugar in the blood," "test blood sugar ten times a day" (demonstrate the motion), "take shots six times a day"(shot motion)", exercise," "eat food carefully" and "a lot of work."

Rather ridiculous, actually, watching me try to explain this disease in simple English and I'm sure my charades mixed with simplified information would have amused all of you, but then I just felt sad. Maybe because I ended with "a lot of work" and a discussion on how I'd like to be healthy with no disease. I also felt exposed a bit, as it was the first time I was so very open about my diabetes on the first day of class. I guess I feel like since starting this blog, joining tudiabetes and reading so many of the other blogs that are out there written by folks just like me, living with diabetes day in and day out, I have gained more courage to "out" myself and talk about what it's like for me living with this disease.

Though Asians are not in the population of people who have a predisposition or higher likelihood to develop diabetes, there is a marked increase in Taiwanese people who are developing chronic illnesses and also many who are becoming obese and adopting poor eating habits (I am NOT saying this leads to diabetes). I also just want my students to know me. After all, like it or not, they see me as a representative of Americans, a cultural ambassador of sorts (God help us), and I don't mind if they learn more about diabetes through me, as well.

I didn't tell them that I slept poorly last night due to hypoglycemia, and woke up with at 164 from overtreating it. I didn't share the fact that my bloodsugar at the end of my first class was 324 (stress? PMS hormones? Ineffective insulin dose? Dawn phenomena?). I didn't tell them that I couldn't eat any breakfast or lunch because it might spike my sugar even higher (I finally ate a small lunch at 4pm). I didn't tell them that when I go to the bathroom, I always combine it with a glucose check, and possible correction injection. Didn't inform them that the lumps on my arms are due to 18+ years of multiple injections, and that after a while, you run out of new places to try. I also didn't explain that all the water I was drinking was because my dry mouth felt like a cottony web of neverending string, and that I was doing my best to be peppy and enthusiastic, despite feeling a little legthargic and tired.
But I told them the basics. More than I usually care to share. It felt strange to discuss it so openly and in such a dramatic fashion, but at the end of the day, I'm glad I did. I'm tired of carrying shame over having this disease. I'm sick of the guilt I feel when I look at a high number and automatically assume it's my fault. I'm over feeling like I have to hide it or that I'd better not disclose it because of what others might mistakenly think. I outed myself today, and took one step closer to the self-acceptance I so seek from, well, myself, of course, more than anyone else. Though I pray for a cure, I also know that I'm living with the disease now, and it may or may not happen in my lifetime. Until that day, I know that diabetes is a burden I must carry, and though I've found others out there to help me feel less alone, I know it is up to me to give myself the care and acceptance I deserve. No doctor or number or cure can give me that. It is a gift I must give to myself.

All I can say is I'm working on it.

Views: 25

Comment by Cody Turner on October 1, 2007 at 10:35am
My employer does know about it. I was up front with him from day one. He is aware that I keep extra supplies and snacks in my locker at work and extra insulin in the employee fridge. The reason I told him was that I work at a gym and have to have snacks mid shift so I had to let him be aware of that. My instructors in college are also aware of the diabetes and more than once I have had to ask for extensions on assignments due to low blood sugars where I have started to go into shock and was unable to focus.
Comment by Chris Bishop on October 1, 2007 at 10:58am
Hey Amylia,
Well, to answer your question. I don't think I have come right out and said "I am Diabetic" but have gone out to lunch with my team at work (including my immediate managers) so they have seen me test and "Shoot Up" As I was reading your post, I was thinking that I don't think your needing to explain what Diabetes is, is that much different than in the US. Not enough people know what it is, so you run into those situations where people are like "Dia...what?"
Glad to hear that you are being more open about Diabetes. It is nothing to be ashamed of. Yeah, its a pain in the butt (or arm, stomach, finger...) but it is manageable and you have done well thus far.

Keep it up.
Comment by Joe on October 1, 2007 at 11:27am
Hi Amylia, I went honest at work about 5 years ago. Now I'll tell people about it if they ask. 'course I get a lot more qestions because of the pump on my belt - "oh that's not a pager it's an insulin pump" has started a lot of conversations in the last year. I think you hit my button right there at the end - for me it was all about self acceptance, I couldn't really take care of myself before I could accept me for what, and who, I am. Cheers!
Comment by sri on October 1, 2007 at 1:45pm
Amylia,
I had an interesting situation at work. I do a lot of information technology consulting, so schedules are unpredictable. When I was diagnosed, I had a frank chat with my manager about how I needed to get into a more predictable schedule, and requested a more streamlined work day. Before I knew it, I was asked for my Endo's address, and was told that my Endo had to produce a letter certifying that my condition would not interfere with my job duties, and if it did, what accommodations had to be made. The letter was very curt, and pretty much requested my endo to provide my medical file to my employer. I tried reasoning with my manager that no endo would sign such a letter for a healthy person, let alone a diabetic. In the end, I ended up quitting my job. Revealing my condition and being open about it cost me my job, but i'm sure there are other good employers out there. I think being honest about your diabetes is good, but tread with caution, because there are some absolute morons out there who will use it against you.
Comment by Rachel Joy on October 1, 2007 at 8:28pm
I am very open with my employers (Maxwelliott & Co.) They are very understanding and even want to help with finger pricks and finding my "insoooolin pump" when I misplace it or it ends up in the toybox after a shower. They do on occasion mention "I don't want my blood sugar tested" so I suppose I have instilled a fear in them of getting their finger pricked daily. My one complaint is that whenever I am treating a low bloodsugar, they tend to want to eat my cereal or try to steal my candy....and lately the oldest CEO, Maxwell has been caught stealing my frut snack, fruit juice, and M&M stash in my desk. Although, I must say that he is usually willing to share his profits, and how many people can say their bosses do that for them?
Comment by Amylia Grace on October 1, 2007 at 9:56pm
LOL!!! you take after your sister--you are so funny! :)
Comment by Rachel Joy on October 2, 2007 at 10:26am
Welcome to the A& R show-we're actually far more amusing in person, so should you ever require a severe treatment for a ghastly day/week/month/year, we can plan a face-to-face...or perhaps a conference call since my other half is currently in the witness protection program trying to regain some sanity after three weeks with our crazy family....remember kins-you can run, but DNA is forever-a ha ha ha! (I'm here all week folks, I fly out on sunday)...
Comment by Amylia Grace on October 2, 2007 at 8:03pm
there she goes--stealin' the show again. BTW, did you see my "word in hand?" It does say "forever" (with a ?") haha

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