“Having someone beside you, to support when things are good and when things are bad, makes this journey so much better.” – Amy Stockwell Mercer
Have you ever been in a relationship with a diabetic or were you the diabetic in that relationship? Well, I am diabetic and I have been in one, in fact, quiet a long one. He was very well aware of my condition and diabetes was never a problem between us.
I fell in love for the first time when I was just fifteen. I know that it is a very silly age to fall in love. He was tall and handsome. He called me babe, no one had ever called me babe before. Only after a few months of being together, I got diagnosed with diabetes. I remember calling my best friend from school, Nila Enas and telling her about my diabetes the moment I got to know about it. A few days later of my diagnosis, I told my boyfriend about it and broke up with him soon after because I needed to figure things out for myself. I needed some space and some time off.
At the age when teenagers start to explore new things and date, I was learning how to manage my blood sugar levels. When everybody was goofing around, I was constantly worried about what to eat/do that would not spike my blood sugars. After a few months, I got back together with my then boyfriend and it lasted for six long years. Things did not end on a good note, but while we were together, he never made me feel any sicker or any different. He would take me on waffle dates and breakfast dates. I remember him saying, “please zyada matt khana” (“don’t eat too much”) or “lets share from one”, and me being me, I would still order one whole piece of waffle for myself and he would just smile while watching me eat.
Even at that age, I was never ashamed of telling him about my illness. He was very supportive and loving. He would take care of me just like a baby.
I can recall one of the doctors telling my mom that “she will be needing a constant emotional support throughout her life”. Now I understand why she said that. He was my emotional support. Diabetes comes up with a lot of responsibilities. It is a full-time job and it exhausts you mentally
and physically. Having someone by your side really eases the pain to some extent. At the end of the day, it really helps to take your mind off it.
The first time my blood sugar got low with him – we were at a party. This was in 11th grade. And that’s when I realized that, he had seen the worst of me and he could handle it. He was not afraid, just a little worried. I was so grateful for his calm approach, which helped me remain calm and not feel like I’d screwed up somehow.
“As women with diabetes, we can’t walk away when things get rough. We are in a relationship with our bodies for the rest of our lives, and just like any other relationship, we have to nurture our physical selves.” (Mercer, 2011, p.124)
One of the reasons that hold you back is your confidence. It plays a major role in any relationship, even if it is with your diabetes. Women who feel confident in their ability to manage diabetes are less likely to hide their conditions from others. And there is absolutely no shame or embarrassment. It is always nice to have it in open.
“Be confident and embrace what you have”.
“To talk about your diabetes fairly depends on how you feel about your diabetes, how confident you are and how you express your frustration with your diabetes”. (Albright, as cited in Mercer, 2011, p.136)
It is important to let things out once in a while. And it is even more important to have someone who would actually listen and understand. You are lucky if you have that ‘someone’. I was really grateful to have him in my life for six years. He would listen me rant about it, comfort me when I would feel overwhelmed and low. A strong relationship allows you to navigate through such issues with lot less anxiety and frustration.
Even now when I talk to/meet someone, I let them know about my diabetes immediately. Someone who is with you should know about your condition, so that he/she knows how to act in a certain situation. When we talk about relationships, one of the major aspect of it is sex. Having sex for the first time can be exciting, embarrassing and overwhelming. And for women with diabetes, there is an extra feeling of self-consciousness and insecurity because of the medical supplies that comes in the way.
Last year, I faced something really discomforting. We had been talking to each other for five months now, and were planning to meet. It somewhat came to my mind, that my pump might be making him anxious or paranoid. He did not say anything to me when we met, but, a few days later, he told me, “There is something I need to tell you. I was getting really anxious seeing your pump and I couldn’t do it”. He also told me, “I know I should not feel this way, but I do. I am so sorry. I feel really bad.”
That was the first time anybody had ever made me feel that way. I told to myself, “I don’t want to be with someone who makes me feel less desirable about myself. And I do not want to be in that situation again”.
That experience did not stop me from feeling sexy. I do not care what anybody thinks/feel about what I carry on my stomach. I cannot stay with someone who would not feel comfortable around me. That would be a compromise and I don’t do compromises when it comes to my health.
I recently made a few friends with diabetes through a foundation called, Blue Circle Diabetes Foundation. This is the first time in eight years that I could talk to people with the same problem. It was a blessing in disguise. I asked them about their experiences and how they feel in a relationship.
One of them said, “Most people aren’t aware about type 1 diabetes, so I had to teach my boyfriend about highs and lows. I’d also let him know about how I check my sugar levels. Initially, my partner had a problem with my insulin pump and CGM, he would think that it’s an oxygen cylinder. That made him pity me. There also have been times when I would get a hypo while intimating. So it is really important that your partner really understands you. What I don’t appreciate is, he telling me things like “yaar yeh kya kar rahi hai?” (“what the hell are you doing”) when I carb count or, “mai apne mann ka karu bhi na?” (can’t I even do what I like now?”) while getting a sub made for both of us.”
After hearing her, it made me realize how lucky I was to have had someone who was there with me through it all. My boyfriend and my friends were always supportive of me. Now, when I talk to people, and they share their experiences, it upsets me to see what all they have to go through. Diabetes itself does not come with less stress.
I simply responded, “Either you take insulin or you die. There is literally nothing else you can do about it. And he should really get this into his head. You are not answerable to any of this. If he wants to be with you, he has to be with all of you and all that that comes with you. Nobody should make you feel more vulnerable about yourself. If you give them that power, they will make you doubt yourself and you do not want that. And if you do not stand up for yourself, nobody ever will.”
“How does a woman feel sexy with a plastic pump attached to her legs, lower back, stomach or arms? When your boyfriend put his hand around you, how do you feel when he brushes against your pump? Do the bruises on your stomach from injections make you feel less desirable?” (Mercer, 2011, p.128)
I would always trouble myself with these questions. But there came a point when I realized that, my body is the only thing that is going to stay with me all my life and I should be able to respect and take care of it even if that included a hell lot of needles and insulin prick shots.
When I was with my ex boyfriend, insecurity was never an issue. I had never felt less desirable or less sexy. He accepted me with everything I had, even if it was my ‘artificial pancreas’. For him, I was the most beautiful girl and he loved me so much. My insulin pump never came between us. In fact, he would sometimes attach my pump to his jeans. I know that is cheesy, but it was cute. I loved him for these little things he did for me. I still appreciate his efforts.
Even while getting intimate, he would never make me feel any less of myself. I have been carrying my insulin pump since 10th standard. It never made him uncomfortable and he made sure that I never felt conscious with him at any point of time.
I know how hard my body works for me and I really appreciate it. I don’t get caught up in insecurities anymore. It will only hamper my diabetes. I have far too much going on in my life right now than to stay in front of the mirror and pick out what I don’t like about my body. My body is fighting battles everyday and I am proud of it.
I think, I was still discovering myself and trying to figure things out when I was with him. Why I say that, is because, I was not able to share how I actually felt. In fact, even I was not aware about the emotional challenges of diabetes and how it could affect my mental health. It was all over the place and started hampering my health and my relationship. I realized, I was unable to share anything with my then boyfriend. So, I started seeing a therapist, and it helped, it really did. The only thing that still troubles me is that, my ex boyfriend was not supportive of me going to a therapist. He was not there when I needed him the most and it was really heartbreaking.
I would like to conclude my article with a few experiences shared by one of my friends, Shubhi Bhalla from BCDF. She said, “When I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, my boyfriend was the first few ones to know about it. He seemed really normal about it until I found out from his
friends what he would tell them, ”She has diabetes herself, how is she going to take care of me and my family?” I was shocked and convinced that everybody is going to react just like he did and, I am not going to find anyone better until I met my current boyfriend. I call him Kapoor. We met at a fest five years ago. I did not know how to break the ice, so, I just pulled out my glucometer to check my blood sugar. I knew he would say something, and he did. I told him that I am diabetic. He has been very supportive since then. He always keeps a frooti in his car for me. On specially occasions like Diwali, he brings me a box full of goodies for when I get low. He is so considerate, notices everything and knows almost every bit of my diabetes. He recently told me about what he said to his mom, “It does not matter to me that she is a diabetic, that does not change how I feel about her, I want to be with her”. Thats when I knew, he’s the right one for me.”
“For some women, living with diabetes can add a certain weight to a relationship and can test the seriousness of someone’s ability to commit”. (Mercer, 2011, p.140)
It is really important to have a partner who accepts you with all that comes with you and understand all the things that go behind managing your diabetes. Diabetes completely changes the way you see life. It comes with so many things and it is super stressful. Given that fact, you would not want any more stress from your relationship. Dating/being married and maintaining a good relationship with your partner is a great source of support. I would call it ‘a cherry on top’.
Mercer, A. S. (2011). The Smart Woman’s Guide to Diabetes. New York. demosHealth.
I am Anurati Aggarwal, 23 years old. I have been type 1 diabetic for 8 years now. I am from India. Currently, I am working with an Interior Architecture firm. I want to pursue my Masters in Psychology.