It wasn’t even a year old when my parents got the news that would change my life forever. At 11 months old, I got diagnosed with type one diabetes. Since then, almost 19 years later, there has not been a day where diabetes hasn’t been on my mind. I was lucky to grow up with extremely supportive friends and family which made fighting this disease much easier. For the most part, I lived a normal life. I was fortunate to never be left out or forgotten about, and I can thank my parents a lot for never treating me differently.
Today, I’m lucky to call myself a college athlete. I’m currently a sophomore and play division three softball at Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts. I remember vividly the feeling of uncertainty I had going into my first day of tryouts my freshman year. I knew I had the skill, but that wasn’t really what I was worried about; I was worried about feeling low when at practice and having to tell my new coach. Before even stepping on the field, I had talked to her about diabetes and how it may affect me in some ways at practice or at games. I knew she was understanding but she had said to me that she had never had an experience with anyone with type one diabetes, so she wasn’t familiar with the disease or what it entails. I am an extremely stubborn person, so telling her when I wasn’t feeling well at practice was my worst nightmare. I never wanted to stop practice, even if it was because of my blood sugar. Luckily, during the first few days of practice, my blood sugar remained in range and I didn’t have anything to worry about. The issue came at our team meeting following the first week of practice.
I remember sitting in a room full of new teammates and coaches who knew very little about me. We were having a discussion about team expectations and what our goals were for the season. We had just gone over the page talking about giving full attention to coaches or teammates who were talking when my phone started alarming for an urgent low blood sugar. The whole group of new faces turned to me and stared. My coach (although she knew I had diabetes) said to me “as we just talked about, save that stuff for later.” She didn’t realize the beep was alarming me of a potentially dangerous blood sugar level and instead singled me out for “using my phone” while she was talking.
I was speechless. I was embarrassed. I had just been called out by a new coach in front of new people for something that I had zero control over. I felt my face turn red and my stomach drop to the floor. I felt the tears welling up, but in a situation like that, the last thing I wanted to do was cry. I didn’t say anything back to her in order to avoid any additional embarrassment. I sat through the rest of the meeting thinking about nothing else other than what had just happened. I blamed myself for something that wasn’t my fault at all.
I ended up talking to my coach after and explained the situation. Luckily, she was more than understanding and felt bad. She said at the time, she didn’t know that a beep could be related to diabetes and automatically assumed it was me using my phone for other purposes. Even though she knew the term diabetes, she didn’t understand it beyond the word. She didn’t understand the factors that went into keeping me healthy (which included my phone).
I’d like to say this is the only time something like this has happened. However, there have been many situations where I have been accused of cheating on exams, or embarrassed in silent rooms, and the humiliation never goes away. I often think what could possibly make this feeling better (although I have little hope it will completely go away), for me and many others like me. The only thing I can think of is having the people (like professors and coaches) who have huge roles in my life know the behind the scenes of diabetes and the importance of the devices that save my life. Maybe if they had even a slightly deeper understanding of what the disease entails, the feelings of humiliation would subside even just a little bit. For now, I can only hope this is the case, but maybe someday it will become a reality.
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