Saturday, November 12, 2011

Standing up

For too long I was ashamed of my diabetes. I rarely if ever spoke of it here and I NEVER spoke of it in real life. Never. I have since found that I'm not alone in the shame I feel about having diabetes and that many Type II diabetics feel the same way, mostly, we hypothesize, because there's a school of thought that says that our obesity caused our diabetes and we're afraid that people will think it's "our fault" that we are diabetic because - stop me if you've heard this one before in any struggle with food, eating, and weight that you've had in your own life - "you would have been fine if you had even a shred of self control and exercised regularly".

What I'm learning as I "come out" to the world as a Type II diabetic is that I didn't do anything to deserve this disease. NO ONE has ever, in the history of the world, done anything to deserve this disease. It happens and it sucks and it never goes away. I know you all know what it's like to try to lose large amounts of weight - either from personal experience or from your blog reading - and how hard it is to always make the right food choices in the right quantities plus exercise at least an hour a day (that's what the government says we're supposed to be doing if we want to lose weight), so imagine what it's like to have all of that to deal with PLUS all of the restrictions on how many carbohydrates you can eat with each meal (30-45 grams, which sounds like a lot until you look at a typical American meal).

I went to a great conference today for all types of diabetics and the people who love and live with them, and once again, no one there looked ashamed at all. In fact, when I was chatting with people at my lunch table about the shame I used to (and sometimes still do) feel about my diabetes, they all looked puzzled and asked, "What were you ashamed of?"

I listened to Phil Southerland, a Type 1 diabetic whose mother was told that he wouldn't live to see his 20s and is now a competitive, professional bicyclist. He founded Team Type 1, the world's first professional cycling team to include diabetics, and they went on to win the 3,005 mile Race Across America. These guys are bad-ass. Not "bad-ass for diabetics", just plain bad-ass.

Later I met Charlie Kimball, the first licensed driver with diabetes in the history of INDYCAR racing. Can you imagine the courage it takes to get behind the wheel of a car going hundreds of miles per hour while dealing with a life-threatening disease? Aside from being unbearably adorable - which he is! - he's also incredibly down to earth and volunteers his time to work with teens and young adults who are dealing with diabetes, too. He doesn't let the disease stop him and he wants others to do the same.

Finally, I listened to Ben Vereen - yes, THAT Ben Vereen - talk about being diagnosed with Type II diabetes, and his crusade to get diabetics to Start Taking Action Now against Diabetes (S.T.A.N.D.) With at least 7 million undiagnosed diabetics in the United States alone, his program focuses on everyone making small changes that will add up to a huge movement for change in this country. I left his session with tears in my eyes because his message was so powerful.

So, I signed my own pledge: to encourage those around me to exercise and eat right, starting today. I have a unique platform here and in all of my online interactions, to reach out and help others who struggle with their diabetes as I do. When I'm honest about my struggle, maybe one of you feels a little less ashamed, a little stronger, maybe even more able to make just one change.

Will you S.T.A.N.D with me?

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