I am not a warrior.
When it comes to living with diabetes, "warrior" isn’t a title for me. Nor am I a hero. And I certainly don’t use words like “brave” to describe how I live with this condition.
I’m just a guy careening toward my 40s (yikes!) who does what has to be done every single day to live with type 1 diabetes. This has been the only world I’ve known since age 5, and while there are certainly times that I’ve felt I've had to "go to battle" because diabetes is too much, or I’ve had to get more aggressive, the war analogy is not one that I use regularly to describe my life with diabetes.
With Diabetes Awareness Month starting, this has been on my mind a lot lately -- spurred on by some of the diabetes awareness campaigns that focus on this kind of language.
The American Diabetes Association has taken up the “hero” label as it encourages people to write letters to their diabetes. And Dexcom has launched a campaign donating to diabetes charities every time someone uses the #WarriorUp hashtag on Facebook or Instagram.
Don't get me wrong: I think both are commendable in their own way, particularly the Dexcom campaign, because it will raise money for a number of great groups doing incredible work to help people with diabetes.
Some prominent celebs with diabetes have taken to social media to #WarriorUp, including actor Derek Theler (starring in Freeform’s Marvel New Warriors as Mister Immortal) who's been living with T1D since age 3; Olympic skier Kris Freeman; NASCAR driver Ryan Reed, and others.
While I do find these guys inspirational and am glad they’re out there sharing their stories and raising awareness, in many ways the campaign itself rubs me the wrong way -- because living with diabetes is not glorious. It sucks.
D-Mom Audrey Farley in Maryland wrote an amazing post over at Insulin Nation on this very topic, pointing out that the "warrior" approach oversimplifies life with T1D and doesn’t represent reality for many PWDs. Fellow type 1 Kim Hislop took it to the next level in a different post called 'Diabetes Does Stop Me,' explaining that often the message of celebrating empowerment doesn’t jibe with reality – especially when it comes to celebrities speaking to those of us who aren’t living in that privileged universe.
Yep, I am on that same page.
At the moment, I don’t need the extraordinary. I need the ordinary. The inspiration from others my age simply mustering the motivation to take simple steps like eating lower-carb, walking the dog every day around the neighborhood, limiting the amount of drinks I enjoy per week, or even just not slacking on checking blood sugars and wearing my CGM more regularly. These are the challenges I’m facing daily, not whether I can climb a mountain or bike across America, or do something heroic as a 38-year-old middle class guy in Michigan.
Sure, there are times when I’m yelling at my insurance company and win an argument to get coverage that I certainly feel like a hero. Like I’ve stepped into the thunder-dome and come out triumphant. Yep, pumping my fists then feels pretty good for a moment.
Been there, done that.
I’ve also had nights of no sleep, crying and anger outbursts where I’ve lost my voice from screaming into the void. As a teenager and 20-something, I often mulled that question of “Why Me?!” and felt my life with T1D was more of a burden than it should be. Complications have brought me to my knees, and there have been those dark days of struggling on the mental health front. There were days when I couldn’t get access to my insulin and I was scared beyond belief.
Thankfully, none of the extremes are a norm for me anymore. I am lucky.
But either way, I still wouldn't want to use the warrior theme to describe my life with T1D, because it just feels... misleading. Like I am glorifying how I do battle and win against this condition, and that's the end of the story.
Tackling these things is just a part of life. It doesn’t make me especially brave or extraordinary. I just don't want to suffer and possibly die, so I push ahead and prick my fingers and count the carbs and take my insulin and call the insurance company, etc. etc. Part of that is educating myself to know tips and tricks, in case I ever do face an issue that puts me in danger. All I'm really trying to to do is to avoid letting this disease negatively impact my life as much as possible. Whether it's a good day or not, I don't feel the glory of being a warrior.
And what if you do think of yourself as a warrior but you don’t win the battle against whatever diabetes issue you’re up against -- whether it's complications or affordable access to medicine? Are you a fallen hero? Does your story still deserve attention in D-Awareness Month and this campaign? Are we glorifying this condition, by telling one side of the story without the counter-balance?
While others may be happy to use this label, it’s just not for me.
If you happen to believe the warrior or hero designations apply, good for you! I hope those “battles” go your way as much as possible.
But while these upbeat campaigns for awareness move forward, we have to remember that people in our D-Community are really struggling with some of the basics and our country isn't doing enough to help. In fact, America's leaders are guilty of an epic fail on diabetes care.
While I personally won't be participating in the #WarriorUp campaign, of course I will support those who do. Because like all things in life, Your Diabetes May Vary, as do the approaches to self-perception and advocacy.