I have written before that the thing I hate most about diabetes is when it becomes the problem of other people, especially my family. I feel enormous guilt that diabetes is part of their lives, even though they are not the ones who were given the diagnosis. They don’t have a choice and yet they are involved and invested in this as I am.
So it was with great interest – and a little trepidation – that I added two sessions to my WDC schedule that were being presented by the partners of women living with type 1 diabetes. I knew that I would find them difficult. And I did.
Boudewijn (Bou) Bertsch is the husband of HuffPost writer Riva Greenberg. I’ve read Riva for years and have always been interested in her insights, and so thrilled that she writes about diabetes in such a practical way on a site with such reach.
The take home messages for me from both these talks was that as much as we may want to own our diabetes and keep it to myself, our partners share the load. They have a role to play – and they do help make diabetes easier.
There were little snippets from both men about how they get involved in their wives’ diabetes. At one point, Bou held up a small jar of glucotabs saying ‘This is a way for ME to have some control and feel meaningful to Riva.‘ He carried them around in his pocket at all times. It reminded me of Aaron filling jelly bean jars around the house after we brought the newborn kidlet home from the hospital. The breastfeeding hypos were so debilitating that we had left little jars within reach of anywhere I may sit down to feed.
Asim Rasheed, husband of Sana Ajmal (former Vice-President of the YLD Program), shared similar sentiments. He also spoke about how in Pakistan women with diabetes are considered not worth marrying, which is heartbreaking.
But perhaps the most illuminating moment of the sessions given by partners was when Bou said ‘I don’t always need to make it better, or come up with another idea. I just need to be present.’ Those words rang so true. I understand the need our loved ones have to ‘fix’ our diabetes. But there’s no fixing this condition. There are measures of coping and living. And supporting.
Aaron has a way of showing that support and he probably doesn’t even realise it. He can’t fix my diabetes; he can’t talk down the high numbers or force up the low ones. But he has a way of acknowledging the overall crapiness of the situation. Two words – ‘Diabetes sucks’ – is all it takes to feel that I have someone championing me; someone riding along side. And that’s all I need.
I am sure that for him – just as for Bou and Asim – he would think it nothing. But heading out to replenish hypo supplies, leaving glasses of juice on the bedside table in case I wake up low or helping me with particularly nasty overnight lows all relieve me from some of my never-ending responsibility.
I can hide it as much as I would like; I can try to own it alone and not share it; I can claim that I am the fiercely independent woman I truly am. But all those things don’t matter. We do diabetes. We don’t have a choice.