She called me because someone had told her to get in touch. ‘Speak with Renza. She gets it.’ Is what she was told. She we organised a time to meet and over coffee we talked. And she searched my face for reassurance as she told me how scared she was feeling.
When I meet someone who has recently been diagnosed with diabetes, I say very little. I listen. I ask questions and gently try to find out what is going on in their head. I don’t say much about my own diabetes, because I don’t want to imprint my experience in their mind. Everyone feels different at the time of diagnosis and working out exactly what they are feeling needs some time.
I listen and sit there quietly and try to reassure and be positive. I nod a lot, and let them talk and vent and, if they need to, cry. Usually people cry. And I let them know it is okay. I did all of this with the woman who called me. She did cry and she did vent. And then she cried some more. And I said hardly anything.
But this is what I wanted to say:
- It is okay to feel scared and uncertain. Or angry. Or completely and utterly ambivalent.
- Because, you see, there is no right way to feel right now – or ever – about living with diabetes. And equally, there is no wrong way to feel.
- You don’t have to work this all out this week. Or next week. Or next year. In fact, you never have to work it out.
- But do work out what you can manage today and do that. And whatever it is, it’s enough. It. Is. Enough. And well done you for doing it!
- Find your tribe. In fact, this is what I want you to know more than anything. Others who are also ‘doing diabetes’ will help you make sense of this new world. You have to be ready to do that, but do be open to the idea. I wish that someone had introduced me to others with diabetes when I was first diagnosed. It took me over three years to meet another PWD and I felt so alone in those three years.
- And when you do meet people, don’t think that anyone has this diabetes thing worked out completely. Even those who say they do…
- …because, there is always more to learn, which is daunting and exciting in equal measure.
- I promise you – whatever you are feeling, whatever you are thinking, someone has had that same feeling and same thought. You are not alone. (Reading diabetes blogs will prove that to you!)
- Diabetes may feel like it is about to take over your life and it probably will for a little bit. And there may be times that it does again. But it will not define you for the rest of your life or determine who you are. It can be as much or as little of your identity as you choose to let it.
- You will be okay. You will be okay. You will be okay. (And, yes, I am saying that for your benefit as much as my own!)
- There will not be a cure in the next five years. Or even ten. I am not saying that to be pessimistic, I just want you to understand that hope is really important in living with diabetes. But unrealistic expectations that won’t come true are not going to give you that hope; they will destroy it.
- Ask questions. All of them! You may not like the answer (i.e. see previous dot point), but ask anyway. You will be amazed at the things you learn.
- Your diabetes; your rules. This will become more and more apparent the longer you live with diabetes. You don’t need to explain, apologise or justify anything you do to manage your diabetes. Ever.
- Anyone who makes you feel crap about your diabetes – whether it be the fact you have diabetes, or how you are living with it – needs to fuck off. (And if you can’t tell them that, find someone in your tribe who can! I am happy to be that person. Truly! I have the mouth of a trucker and I’m not afraid to use it.)
- Do not watch Steel Magnolias. Ever.
- Right now, this probably seems like it is the worst thing that will ever happen to you. This may sound odd, but actually, I hope it is. Because I know you can get through it.
- You will laugh again. And smile and feel light. You will not think about diabetes for every minute of the rest of your life. It will be there, but it does not have to rule your very being. It certainly doesn’t rule mine. You will learn where to place it in your world, and that is where it will sit.
- You do not need to feel grateful that you have been diagnosed with diabetes and not something else. Because it does suck. It’s good to remember that and say it every now and then. Or shout it out. While drunk.
- Go buy a new handbag. Trust me! If you want, I can help you to justify it as needing a new bag to cart around all your diabetes crap, but just do it for yourself. And while you’re at it, a new pair of shoes. Just because!
- Call me. Anytime. If you want. Only if you want. And even if it just to hear me tell you that you will be okay.
But I didn’t say those things. I only said this: You will be okay. I know this to be true because you are strong and resilient and capable. I know this to be true because many others have walked this path and worked out how to make it okay for them. You will do that too. It will be okay for you.
And I hope that was enough. Or, at least, enough to start with.