One Story at a Time
"You need to imagine what it's like," said the reporter on the phone. "Just try to picture what it's like to be diagnosed with diabetes."
The communications office at the American Diabetes Association was already closed, and I was wrapping up my workday when the reporter had called to discuss her new column. She sounded excited to be writing about diabetes, but she also seemed overwhelmed by the numerous topics related to the disease. It was clear that she was desperately searching for the perfect idea as her deadline approached.
"Think about what they must feel like when they are diagnosed with diabetes," she repeated. It had been a long day. I was tired. I gave in.
"I don't need to imagine what it's like," I told her. "I've been through that diagnosis."
There was silence on the line.
It's terribly difficult for people who don't have diabetes to understand it. And yet it could not be more important for them to do so. A few years ago, when I was working at a public school, I didn't report to work one morning. My coworkers (who were familiar with my condition) broke into my apartment and called an ambulance; I had gone into a hypoglycemic coma. At another job, when the same thing happened to me, and I tried to explain why I was late to work, my boss told me to be more careful about "oversleeping." Clearly, there are different levels of understanding.
Today, I can't imagine eating a meal without counting carbs and calculating insulin. But I still remember the information overload that occurred when I was first diagnosed with type 1. And that's why, at my current job, I remember how important it is to share that information, so that people like my former coworkers and my former boss can better understand the disease—and so that people like me can figure out how to take care of themselves.
Crucial to getting information out to the general public is encouraging people to share their stories and experiences. Whether I am speaking with someone who has had diabetes for more than 60 years or someone who was just diagnosed a week ago, every story is unique. Though sometimes difficult, complex, or complicated to tell, these stories are key to raising awareness and understanding. That's how we'll spread information about diabetes: one story at a time.
A volunteer once confided to me that if she could say one simple thing about diabetes, it would be that "it sucks." I couldn't agree more. Each time I'm asked why I have diabetes, what I can eat, why I prick my finger, what my insulin pump is, and on and on, I have difficulty finding where to start. It's much more complex than most people understand. But that's why I'm happy to answer these questions—I want to help everyone understand.
As with anyone who has it, diabetes is a part of my life 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In my case, it permeates both my personal life and my professional life. Every morning I wake up knowing that I'm facing another day of calculating and monitoring just to survive. What makes me get out of bed, though, is the knowledge that my day will be spent learning more about diabetes and sharing that information with others.
So the next time a reporter calls and asks me to imagine what it's like to have diabetes, my reply is ready: "How much time do you have? Let's talk."
Dayle Kern is a manager of communications at the American Diabetes Association.