This recent testimonial in the Boston Globe, about a writer with type 1 diabetes who chose to keep his illness secret from girlfriend for quite some time, has stuck in my head. I can't seem to stop thinking about the why's and how's of concealing your diabetes from people close to you. What a lot of work that would be! And to what end?
The writer, named Joseph Pierandozzi, starts off by stating that "bodily functions" — including diabetes — are far from first-date topics. Yet after only a few dates, he admits, he and his new girlfriend were discussing other sensitive topics such as attitudes towards religion, and "the politics of eating." How does a PWD have dinner with someone, while discussing eating habits no less, without letting on that they're dependent on insulin and that food presents intense challenges to their day-today well-being?
It seems that our hero was quite practiced at the art of D-ception: "I employed my usual spy techniques, carrying only necessary equipment with me on dates (a single syringe and a bottle of insulin hidden in a jacket pocket until I could sneak off to the bathroom), and as we spent more time together, I began testing my glucose levels less often to keep Kristin from seeing my hard-to-conceal glucose meter."
He talks about perfecting these "diabetic spy games" throughout his 10 or so years of dating. So now I understand the 'how' of keeping something as core to your life as type 1 diabetes secret. Sounds exhausting to me! But what bothers me most is the 'why.'
Let's face it, secrets are a protection mechanism. People generally keep them in order to protect themselves or someone else. If you're hiding a medical condition from another person, it's tough to make the argument that you're doing it for them. What? You don't want them to be sad? Not likely. More likely you don't want them to be "turned off" by you, either disgusted by or frightened of your condition. Because this might lead to their rejection of you.
While I realize that, "Hi! I have type 1 diabetes" isn't a great pick-up line in a bar, I also can't imagine sneaking around to test my BG in secret, on date after date. I get it when Joseph says "I refuse to be defined by my diabetes," but at the same time, it is a big, glaring, day-to-day, minute-by-minute component of your life when you're dependent on insulin. The way I see it, the longer you put off revealing your condition to someone you care about, the bigger the risk you're actually taking, because:
- A bigger "deal-breaker" than having a medical condition might very well be keeping the secret for so long. "Didn't you trust me to handle this well?"
- Sneaking around to hide something like this? You might as well wear a sign on your shirt that says "Insecure." (Besides, the very act of "living a lie" like this can make you feel like a fraud.)
- If you don't tell, chances are the secret will slip out some other way — like through a remark made by someone else, or when you've passed out on the floor at some party.
- And don't get me started on the dangers of experiencing a severe hypo when you're with someone who doesn't event know you have diabetes (!)
According to psychologist and author Dr. Dale Atkins (no relation to the diet guru), "People keep secrets because they expect to benefit from doing so, but these benefits come at a considerable price that often outweighs the advantages."
What's more, she says, "We often exaggerate in our minds how people will respond." People are often less ruffled and more supportive than we might expect.
But hey, maybe I'm the wrong person to judge the decision to keep your health issues hidden, since I'm just so exceedingly "out there" with mine. (The oversharing generation?)
So on the subject of medical secrets, I'd love to know: What do you all think? Come on, spill the beans...