Five years ago, I was enjoying a Friday night glass of wine and fancy cheese plate in my tiny Boston apartment with the guy I’d been seeing for a few months.
Suddenly he asked, “What does it feel like to wear your insulin pump?”
I was mid-bite and am sure a little cracker crumb tumbled out of my mouth as my jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe that this guy I had just started dating wanted to know about what I go through as a woman with diabetes.
I went into my room and retrieved an infusion set and alcohol swab and cautiously said, “Do you really want to know?” He nodded enthusiastically, so I went for it. I put a fresh infusion set sans insulin in him, and he proceeded to wear it loud and proud for the next... 24 hours.
Lucky for me, I’m marrying this very curious and compassionate guy in a few months, but managing my romantic relationships with others and also my diabetes was not always easy.
That night taught me a lesson I’d been struggling with since my diagnosis in 2005.
For years, I hid my diabetes from others. It never came up on dates, my pump was often removed or hidden from guys, and if I was high or low it wasn’t talked about, just “handled” behind closed doors. I never wanted to be seen as weak, broken or worse...a burden. I couldn’t bare the thought of a guy looking at me as less attractive or not good enough because I had to prick my fingers and attach a tube to me to stay alive.
But then I realized that the reason I wasn’t able to healthily share my diabetes with others was because I wasn’t able to healthily share my diabetes with myself.
I wasn’t confident carrying around an illness that I’d likely have forever; a life partner in its own way. I hadn’t allowed myself to see my diabetes as a part of me, and therefore whoever I was dating never saw or experienced it either.
So what did I learn that night? That diabetes is something a partner needs to see as a package deal with me. It’s something that’s a part of us all. We live with it, work with it, negotiate with it, nurture it and learn from it every single day. Allowing someone to see the fight we fight every day is sexy. It’s something that makes us all stronger and more resilient, patient and compassionate.
It’s important in any relationship to love yourself first. To learn to accept your bumps and bruises and scars and stories, even if they’re hard to fully embrace. A partner will never know the whole you if you don’t know the whole you, and staying true to that is the best way to work towards a sturdy, healthy and long-lasting relationship.
So if you’re in a new relationship, and struggling to navigate “the diabetes talk”, take a look inward. Are you able to stand on your own two feet proudly with your diabetes? If you’re not there yet, consider working on it from the inside out. Your partner will respect and admire your self- awareness, self-esteem, and self-respect.
Libby Russell is the creator of the type 1 diabetes lifestyle brand and shop, I Have the Sugars, and the in-house copywriter for a NYC-based fitness tech company. You can find her exploring Brooklyn on the weekends, designing her latest collections for www.ihavethesugars.com, and on Instagram at @ihavethesugars.