I’m thrilled to have another post from Aileen O’Reilly who is a journalist often found in the pages of the Irish Examiner. Aileen was diagnosed with diabetes over 37 years ago at age 10 years. You can read Aileen’s previous post here.
In this post she shares some thoughts on the freedom and empowerment of “doing diabetes in the open”.
The Unbridled Joys of -Shooting Up- in Public
By Aileen C. O'Reilly
I clearly remember the exact day I first pulled out my blood-testing machine at a table in a busy restaurant where I was about to have lunch by myself.
The fact that I had become a literal "born again" type 1 diabetic after 30 years of blatantly ignoring the condition (I would go on holidays without even thinking of bringing my glucose monitor along) was leaving me feeling very puritanical about my control so it was the perfect time to just go the whole hog and stop going into the toilets to blood-test and shoot up.
I felt, as I imagined a mum must feel when she decides to breastfeed in public for the first time, then I told myself they had a much harder time than me with my discreet gadgetry and I proceeded to get over myself.
The machine beeped.
Nobody appeared to even hear it.
I was rather disappointed and told myself the emergence of the insulin pen would cause a gasp.
So much for causing a stir...
My new resolve (albeit with sweaty hands) was terribly, disappointingly, uneventful.
When I was diagnosed with type 1 in 1982 I was something of a rarity - a fact which gave my diabetes some cachet for a time among my friends ("OK you can still be my best friend as long as I can give you your shot and it's not contagious") but I still had to test my urine and balance my sugars long after their interest in my chemical pee experiments turned to boredom and my own fascination with peanut butter left me with steady blood sugars but an excess of newly formed puppy fat.
Fast forward from national school to my Junior Cert in secondary and I was still being chaperoned out for blood tests, insulin shots and the furtive consumption of snacks - the fact that all my classmates were eating their own bodyweight in jelly beans throughout each exam didn't make me feel that I could do likewise with my little brown wholemeal scone.
I didn't have any diabetic buddies to feel normal with so covert behaviour seemed the natural alternative . Doing anything diabetes related in front of everyone just wasn't done.
These days I not only shoot up at the table - I have the unerring ability to wave my pen around and punch the air with it if I'm slap bang in the middle of a particularly interesting discussion.
My friends think I'm taking unfair advantage of having legitimate "gear" that I can legitimately shoot up with and just shake their heads and roll their eyes whilst waiting for me to get to the point.
My brother in law Gavin laughs when he sees me taking out the blood-testing kit and says "computer says no" when the dessert trolley is mentioned.
My brother consistently turns down all offers of insulin delivered via my pen to his neck as he sets out to devour his steak.
Blood testing and shooting up have become subconscious undertakings which take far less time than a loo break.
“Diabetes is not my life it is just a feature of my life that I deal with so I can live my best life and do what I want to do.”
Every time I choose to do this wherever I happen to be underlines my refusal to be marginalised. Diabetes is not my life it is just a feature of my life that I deal with so I can live my best life and do what I want to do.
From day one my parents instilled this in me - unfortunately despite their best intentions it took me 30 years to see and believe it for myself.
I have never drawn a dirty look as I test my blood or take my insulin in publix - not on the bus, the Luas, the queue for the till, on the beach or anywhere else. But then again diabetes is rampant in our society now so everyone knows someone who has it. The cachet of rarity is definitely gone.
One particularly memorable reaction came from a rather dashing man at a black tie event I was attending in a midnight blue thigh split dress (very handy for injecting!!). Looking across at me "shoot up" in my thigh he winked and said "I was expecting a pearl handled revolver but oh my, I think diabetes just got incredibly sexy".
I must admit after that encounter I felt absolutely vindicated in shooting up wherever I happened to be…..and if that was in an evening dress then all the better!!
Thank you so much for sharing Aileen!
You can find more of Aileen here: