Diabetes Forecast

This Is My Truth

A man broadcasts his new found strength in speaking about diabetes

By Jonathan Shuffield , ,

Jonathan Shuffield
Photography by Kristine Ringsrud

As a radio talk show host, I get the opportunity to speak with so many different people and hear the myriad of stories they tell. Recently, I did a show on National Coming Out Day, which gives the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community and its allies an opportunity to step forward and speak their truths. Members of the LGBT community spoke of an important piece of their lives that they were afraid to be open about. They didn’t know if those they cared about would understand. If they would find support. I realized that I had something in my life that I felt the same way about: I have type 2 diabetes.

I have been what I call a “quiet diabetic” since my diagnosis about 11 years ago. I will admit that I felt a small amount of shame. I was overweight, I didn’t exercise, and my diet was nothing but carbs. I felt as if I deserved this mysterious disease and that others would wholeheartedly agree if they knew.

So I trudged along, overwhelmed and terrified. I took the diabetes education class my physician prescribed and felt less educated than when I started. I had a thousand questions and none of them seemed to be addressed. I self-isolated. At times, I admit, I ignored my disease. Like the belabored ostrich, I kept my head in the sand and hoped my diabetes would disappear.

The sad truth of the matter is that diabetes (and most of the ugly things in life) does not disappear just because you refuse to look it in the eye. When ignored, it gets worse. But this isn’t a story about the horrific monster called Diabetes—I prefer to focus on the humanity. You see, I spent years pretending I was just like all of my friends, never wanting to look different if we went out to lunch or hit the nightlife for a cocktail. I didn’t even allow my significant others to share in what was a major part of my life.

I struggled in silence.

For 11 long years, I have traversed the hilly terrain of my disease. I have had triumphs and devastating setbacks, but I kept the celebrations and the mourning to myself. But the inspiring individuals on my show that day reminded me of the freedom that comes from letting the world in. Fear’s greatest weapon is the darkness of silence. I made a decision that day to bravely walk out into the sun and speak my truth. It is exhilarating and terrifying in the same breath.

I am finding others out there who are just normal human beings like me—people with whom I can share my fear and excitement, others who understand the struggle this journey can be. There is a freedom in speaking the secret language of diabetes, of being understood as I talk about my latest A1C or my metformin dosage or my neuropathy concern. I’m even helping to start a group that comes together to cook and talk about food, our successes, and our challenges.

This goes beyond self-discovery, though. In accepting myself as I am, I am learning to trust others. As I turn to my friends—the ones without this label placed upon them—I am beginning to share my life. I swallow the fear of what they will say and what they will think, and I let them in. The truth is, they don’t understand—they have had no reason to until now. Yet in the simple act of sharing myself, I am finding greater acceptance than I ever imagined possible.

I’ll let you in on a little secret I am learning: We all have issues. We all have struggles! It seems that life is not perfect for anyone. Even my “health nut” friends have not judged me, because even they struggle in life. The fears I have held for years and the self-inflicted punishment have only served to steal my strength and rob me of the support I needed.

I don’t write this to simply share my midnight diary entry. I am writing this for the people who struggle in silence, who try to take on their monsters on their own, and who are afraid to share with the people around them. Support is a necessity for life. It is when we deny ourselves this fundamental need that we stay enslaved to fear. Reach out and trust a little more today. Let humanity surprise you, and find the strength it shares.

For me, I am coming out today. I have diabetes! It is scary, it is overwhelming, and it is complicated, but it is simply a fact of my existence. It does not define me, but it is a definite part of me. I no longer accept the shame I placed upon myself, nor do I accept the judgment. I only have from this moment forward, and I would much rather live it openly with a chance at support than stay silent and exist alone. This is my truth—what is yours?

Jonathan Shuffield is a talk show host with KYRS radio in Spokane, Washington.



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