7 November 2014

PC goes DC: Diabetes and the art of social preciseness

Politically correct. Socially precise. Culturally aware.

All of these are almost scared, in our day and age. Society wants to maintain a status quo, and lives in fear of offending any particular group. Now, this does drive me crazy…! I am very much a person who believes you make what you want of yourself in this world; no, life isn't fair. When I was diagnosed at the age of seven me and my family decided that I would be the girl with diabetes - not 'the diabetic'. I told myself I never wanted to be a victim, or a sad story. I never wanted to "play the diabetic card" and, to all intents and purposes, I haven't. 

However, since switching back to injections, I have encountered a few instances where I have been made to feel both uncomfortable, and in rare moments aware of my own 'otherness', to steal a Literary Criticism phrase. For the first time, I've become aware of a certain "diabetes correctness", which sees a stigma attached to things society deems unsavoury, namely the issue of needles. Yet this is my medicine - it should not be shrouded in shame, or buried away, yet only by addressing it can it ever change. 

1) Injection étiquette: 

photo credit: books worth reading
To inject in public or to not inject in public? It's been 10 years since i've encountered this quite tricky situation. Back then, I would on occasion give my injection shot at the table with meals. Always discreetly, but my family never minded seeing it; it was a given to them, after all, wasn't it keeping me alive? 

I understand that people feel uncomfortable around needles. I recall my grandma once becoming anxious over seeing it. It is a common phobia. Going into this, I told my flatmates that I would do my shots in my room, although most of them don't mind I know that it can make people antsy, especially when eating! Nonetheless, I did my first 'public' shot in Costa with a friend, who said she of course she didn't mind and could easily look away if she did. It felt quite alien though, and I was extremely self-conscious. 

Since then, I've been able to do it at restaurants with my family, not usher myself away to a toilet. When I saw my sister for the first time, now on injections, I found myself asking her "is it okay if I…?" I didn't need to finish, her expression was an "of course", almost shocked I even felt the need to ask. That's the thing though - I do, because there is not universal understanding by any stretch of the imagination!

There was an incident on the train the other weekend, where I needed to correct a high blood sugar. We were in the toilet had a queue, and I was starting to feel nauseous so knew I needed to put the insulin in ASAP. I got the pen out, and even went to the effort of placing my cardigan over my hand as I attached the needle cap and gave the shot in my stomach. After taking the needle out, I went to reapply the safety cap, only to notice the man in the seat across the aisle from me (thankfully I had no one right next to me) shoot me a disdainful look. It was clear as day to see, so I simply said "Sorry, I'm a diabetic", and he continued to glare, before turning away….

Being me, my inclination was to rattle of an essay-long apology, but I refrained. For the resilient and determined part of me equally wanted to respond: "Could you kindly put away that sandwich you are eating then, and perhaps the bottle of water too? Wait… while we're at it, could you simply stop breathing?"

In taking offence to me giving this shot of insulin, you are essentially doing the same thing. I need it to live - end of. 

photo credit: pinterest
If you saw someone walk round with an oxygen task, would you ask them to take it off? I think of TFIOS, where you see Hazel at one point asked about her oxygen - the idea of asking her to take it off would be unfounded. I would never try to compare myself to someone with cancer; I cannot even begin to imagine the hell that person is in, but a life lesson I have also learnt is that discounting your own struggles does not make them any easier. 

Yet we live in a society that runs away from pain; fears witnessing it in the flesh. The simple matter is, physical evidences of human vulnerabilities make many uncomfortable. People fear what they cannot change. People fear mortality, so these things - the oxygen tanks, the tubes, and injections included - remind our race - for all its advancement and superiority - that there are some things we simply cannot control. 

What they can change, however, are their attitudes. It is such a small, but important, act of compassion - in my instance simply turning away, as opposed to turning your mind inwards and consequently projecting a hostile demeanour. 

2. Oh, so you're diabetic? 

photo credit: tumblr

…aaand this is the point in time where I risk stumbling down hypocrisy lane! As I have maintained in this post - and life - already, the "diabetes card" is one I never wish to pull out; use to my advantage. Despite sitting exams where blood sugars have been high to the point of drinking a whole litre of water in one 30 minute Spanish Listening, nearly throwing up onstage during my GCSE drama practical, not to mention the 2.2 in my AS History… not once did I stop, ask for mitigations. Real life won't give me extra time, was my outlook. 

Nonetheless, there have again been instances recently, where the attitudes of people have offended and made me feel uncomfortable.

Case A: last night. I went with my flat to The Old Firehouse in Exeter (aka The Leaky Cauldron aka the place that does amazing Pizza) for Bonfire Night. I maintained that, as it had the word 'fire' in, it fulfilled the brief perfectly! 

...but nothing will stop my love for Firehouse!
After placing our order, I went to the toilets to give my shot(s - first day on split dosing, meaning 2 lantus shots every 12 hours, one of which was due then). Blood sugar was a frustrating 15, so I gave a correction dose and some extra to cover a slice of pizza - stuff you diabetes it's too good to miss out on! 

One day, when me and blue are reunited, I have my
sights set on having a proper go at this pizza!
Just as I put the 2nd (novorapid) shot in, there was a loud knock on the bathroom door. I called "just a minute!" and seconds later the lights went completely out. I momentarily panicked, as I could literally not see a thing. Once I took the needle out, i then had to scramble on my hands and knees trying to find the injection case, which I had placed on top of my bag, and then attach the needle cap without poking said needle into my hand. Meanwhile, I did call out for someone to please switch the light back on (feeling quite mortified as I did).

When I finally walk out, this woman is just standing there glaring. I say "I'm sorry, I'm diabetic and had to give my insulin". Her response? "I just need to use the bathroom" in the most haughty voice, and I felt about as big as the needle I had just had to jab into myself in pitch-blackness.

Of course, until i told her she had no reason to know I was diabetic, but once I did? I was truly shocked she responded in the way she did. At best a "sorry" would have been nice, but as worse I was expecting a "oh don't worry", upon realising why I took a fraction longer. 

photo credit: Starbucks UK
Case B: Starbucks today… the reason for my first ever customer complaint email! I would never have anticipated it to be my beloved Starbys, which I always assert is far superior to Costa… funnily enough that was how I opened my email! The situation was this - so it's now all about the Red Cups. Each year, this fills me with the upmost excitement, one of the first signs of Christmas dawning. 

I asked the barista if the "buy one get one free" promotion was on, which it was. So I proceeded with my plan to buy my flatmate a Toffee Nut latte to take back, and to get myself a cappuccino. With blood sugars right now, I am unsure about how to manage the christmas drinks and insulin; hopefully soon they will calm down enough to try the Toffee Nut, the one that most appeals. I did say to her "I know the cappuccino isn't festive" and explained how I was a diabetic

Well… no. She said it "wasn't valid". I then said how, technically, they would be making a saving as I would pay for the latte, meaning that the free drink would be a (cheaper) cappuccino.

Still no. She was adamant - I understand the "rules", but my flatmate worked at Starbucks and said she would simply have put two of the christmas drinks through, and not added the syrup stuff to mine! 

I ended up ordering just my cappuccino, but her overall demeanour continued to be hostile, and I felt I was being such an imposition. To top it all off, I didn't even finish my drink as the coffee was so incredibly bitter; worst Starbucks experience of my life! Costa, you might just edge it - especially now i've gotten my act together and stopped ordering "skinny" - the blue milk is called whole for a reason people, it completes the coffee!  Costa Christmas cups are also significantly snazzier, it has to be said. 

Suffice to say, it took an emergency trip to John Lewis - a visit to Monty's Grotto, to be precise… (I promise I am 20 years old) - to recapture a somewhat dampened festive spirit, which today's downpour did not help! 

… just in case you've been living under a rock today!

These are just snapshots, and maybe i am being oversensitive and the very "victim player" that I feel is wrong in society. However, as I have stressed this isn't my nature. I simply feel that certain things could be accounted for. For me it is the looks, the overall demeanour. Like airport security when we travelled to Asia this summer - one incident left me feeling quite ruffled and ashamed. It made me feel 'other'. 

I spend my life trying to be as 'normal' as possible; is it too much to expect others to, not so much help with that, but not hinder it? I will not wave my injection pen around and turn a blood sugar prick into a scene from from a horror movie. I will not parade myself; so please don't make me feel like an animal in the zoo.  

I'm simply someone who is doing what she needs to do, in order to try and live her life like the next person. I am not an injection pen; I am not the scars on my stomach or the shots I give - the things assumption might have you define me by. 

photo credit: pinterest

Yes, I am pancreatically challenged, but that does not depersonalise me. I'm still human. Still, with no labels, simply Sophie. 


  1. I give you a lot of credit, Sophie. What you're asking for is not any sort of special privilege, just some common courtesy - without a big scene. It's the way to be, and I'm sorry the responses you got lacked the same level of courtesy that you demonstrated.

    If you ever get a response to your Starbucks email, I'd love to know what they have to say!

    1. This made me so happy to read, thank-you. I got a response just yesterday! They apologised profusely and have contacted the store in question. They are also sending me free vouchers, with which I want to use to buy a Toffee Nut Latte on MY terms!


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