Why Having a Diabetes Community is Important

Group of participants engaging in discussion at JDRF's 2017 Type One Nation Summit in Salt Lake City, UT

Group of participants engaging in discussion at JDRF’s 2017 Type One Nation Summit in Salt Lake City, UT

I often hear people living with diabetes say that they don’t want to participate in diabetes-specific groups or activities for a couple of reasons: “Just because I am diabetic doesn’t mean I am going to be friends with someone because they have the same disease” and “I don’t want to be defined by this disease.”

I understand these sentiments, I really do, but I think we might be missing a perspective here that could be much more useful to us as diabetics.

The point of a diabetes group or activity is not to come together to celebrate the illness. The point is to come together and share a common experience or language so that we can stop talking about it. The point is to have a baseline – a shared starting line. One where we understand the feeling of having a low in a yoga class or at work without having to explain it. One where we all can relate to the complexities of exercise and diet or what it is like to have your pump or meter start beeping during class. The list goes on and on.

In my experience, there is always a time of orienting to one another where we discuss these diabetic novelties. It’s like a ritual to establish a frame of reference as to where we all are on our journey. In time, however, this fades and people get to the real stuff. The stuff beneath pump sites, insurance woes, and the smell of insulin. In time, it is my experience that diabetics would rather get to talking about how they are going to get to the top of the mountain than how diabetes is going to keep them from the top.

Like I said, I understand thinking that a shared illness is a contrived notion for a friendship but what could be more amazing that building a friendship on how you want to build the life of your dreams? A friendship built on celebrating the struggle for liberation from medications and perceived limitations strikes me as a beautiful foundation for a friendship.

As a person living with diabetes, it is super important that I know that I can do this on my own. It is paramount that I am able to take care of the math, medicine, and mental pressure of living with the illness.  That being said, I also need to be aware of that feeling of connection and excitement I get when I see a pump on someone else or I see them dose in a restaurant.

That is the part of me that is yearning for connection and understanding. That is the part of me looking for my tribe and I could do much worse than finding a tribe that is down for fighting for our lives.

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