Diabetes: The Invisible Handicap
I envy the man in the wheelchair. I want to steal the crutches from the woman hobbling down the hall. I’d like to be able to pin up a pant leg or shirt sleeve in order to display my staggering pancreas. Of course, with diabetes, I could conceivably end up in any of these situations. So why the jealousy?
The aforementioned are all obvious handicaps, but mine (and yours) is not.
One of the many difficulties of life with diabetes is the invisibility of the disorder. No one with an obvious physical impairment is going to hear, “But you look just fine. I never would have known.” Yet how many times have you heard that line or something similar?
This is the root of the problem. The hidden ailment leaves us vulnerable to unnecessary scrutiny. Many would never think twice about extending such a verbal slap to someone with diabetes, but imagine how it would sound to someone wheelchair bound: “Awful shame that you can’t walk, because the rest of you…”
The problem people with diabetes confront is the lack of visible distinguishing characteristics. The word “handicapped” brings to mind certain images, and none necessarily reflect how we appear. This dynamic throws an added and undue strain on our shoulders because we constantly have to reveal our disability and then explain ourselves, as if somehow we are at fault, or that we are purposely in hiding.
This reality can often lead to a closeted existence, where people with diabetes avoid social situations where food is involved or physical endurance is required. Because to participate is to run the risk of complications and the subsequent treatment. Politely declining often includes the diabetes revelation, and the uncomfortable ensuing conversation. Often, it’s just easier to avoid socializing, and that choice only deepens the isolation and invisibility.
So what’s the answer? Wear a scarlet “D”? Don a placard or T-Shirt declaring our disease? If you feel so inclined, sure. Wearing a medic alert bracelet or necklace is a much more subtle symbol, as is slipping the fact into conversation, when it’s on your terms and convenient.
In the end, you must manage to reveal your condition, however difficult it might be. That’s the burden placed on us—an unfortunate consequence of the disease. We cannot envy those with other handicaps for their transparency because nothing is ever as it seems. We are a living testament to that every day, whether we see it or not.