Welkin Health’s own April De Costa shares her experiences with type 1 diabetes for Diabetes Awareness month.
It feels strange to talk about being diabetic. Not the mechanics of the disease and its treatment, but trying to describe how it affects me, and how I contend with it. Diabetes is not just a moustache-twirling antagonist, hellbent on wreaking havoc in my life, but an inextricable component of my anatomical and intellectual makeup. So much of my diabetes management occurs in the form of an intimate conversation confined to my interior world; it’s a daily, sometimes hourly dialogue between me and myself determining how many bolus units to take, or wondering how I can discreetly check my blood sugar in a meeting, a movie, or in the bathroom at the bar while drunk patrons pound on the door. There’s a chance that while my co-workers are discussing what to eat for lunch, I’m lost in thought considering how I can renew an expired Lantus prescription after dropping and shattering my SoloStar that morning, but unable to reach my doctor. Or I’m spacing out, simply wiped from a night of battling low glucose attacks. Being diabetic is the private discourse I have with myself, something which, until fairly recently, I’ve shuttered away from the public arena.
I arrived at the unspoken understanding that managing diabetes should be a clandestine operation early on. First diagnosed with Type 1 “juvenile” diabetes the last week of fifth grade, my doctor labeled any eating outside of my new, rigid nutrition plan as “cheating”. Because I had to leave the classroom to check my blood sugar, take shots, and remedy low glucose attacks, disrupting the “normalcy” of scheduled class time, the implication was that managing a chronic disease was a burden to bear behind closed doors. The “otherness” of the disease was weaponized by some of the less creative bullies in my classes. The precedent may have been set when my 7th grade track coach kept me from running in the state championship, despite my qualifying times and good health record, because she didn’t want me to jeopardize a possible school victory.
It’s exhausting to hear typically thoughtful people exclaim that they could never give themselves shots, to try to explain that type 1 is an autoimmune disease (and what that means), or be told by partners that they can’t watch me administer injections- to expend energy being ever concerned with other people’s comfort with my illness. It’s not that I’m ashamed of being diabetic, but I learned that it’s easier to deal with alone.
My diagnosis was made before so much of everyday life hinged on the internet. I didn’t know any other diabetics, only “Stacey” from The Baby-Sitter’s Club series, which taught me a lot about the disease while destigmatized it. There weren’t subreddits dedicated to any and every issue facing a T1 diabetic, nor were there inspiring teens on Youtube taking you through their insulin pump routine. For what felt like a long time, it was just me, and therefore no challenges to how I internalized other people’s reactions to me, shaping my reticence.
When I read about an open position at Welkin Health in May of 2016, I wasn’t looking for a new job. But after falling down an internet wormhole learning about Welkin, first about our incredibly considerate, empathetic team, and then about the product itself (which began as a diabetes management app), I composed an email responding to the job post immediately. It was the first time I revealed to a potential job that I was diabetic; traditionally, I wait to disclose that fact to a new employer, because experience has taught me that it’s a caveat. This was certainly the first time that I felt it could be advantageous for me to openly divulge my illness.
Things which I would usually hide in the work sphere- finding secluded areas to take my injections, quietly anguishing over the cost of healthcare, chugging apple juice during a low glucose attack- I find myself bringing into conversations to illustrate something which is largely invisible, and to give a voice to some of the people we enjoy the privilege of helping through our software. It’s still a new feeling that I’m not wholly comfortable with and which needs a lot more practice, but at Welkin I feel the encouragement and compassion to deal with diabetes in the open. This is why National Diabetes Awareness Month is a call to any diabetics managing their disease quietly. Your internal conversations can take on a voice, can be heard without the risk of being diminished, and can lend comfort to others who are managing their diseases. #Thisisdiabetes.