A year ago today, I sat in my doctor’s office. I was leaving for a cruise with my then-boyfriend the next day. I had gone in a few days prior for a physical because I needed a prescription for motion sickness patches. I figured that doing a physical rather than a well visit would mean my insurance would cover the appointment I really just made to get the patches. I have never been so grateful to be cheap.
When my doctor insisted I come in for a follow-up, I tried to tell him that I couldn’t come because I had a cruise to go on the next day. He insisted I make time. I’m glad I listened. He told me that I had diabetes. It’s funny to me now but my first question was “can I still go on the cruise?” I’m pretty sure I was in shock. We talked through my immediate treatment needs and some additional tests I would need to go through to ensure I could go on the cruise the next day. I took most of it in stride before truly breaking down.
I ended up being able to not only go on that cruise but while I was away, I also went on a deep sea submarine tour, I went ziplining and cave-tubing and I hung on the beach with my friends. I wrote about that trip for my blog and about my first experience zip-lining for On The Plus Side. The majority of people didn’t know that I did all of that only a few days after finding out I had diabetes.
Over this past year, I have continued to challenge myself to conquer a lot of my own fears. I made a conscious decision that I was going to spend this year living with diabetes and not living in fear of diabetes. My motto became: it’s okay to be afraid, but do it anyways.
This year brought some of my biggest personal and professional accomplishments. In addition to ziplining, I went horseback riding for the first time in years (something I will be writing about soon). I did A LOT of business-related traveling: I was on Good Morning America; I spoke at Curves Rock Weekend, The TCFStyle Expo and the Fat Activism Conference. I was the Curvy Couture Brand Ambassador at CurvyCon. I pushed myself creatively; I did long editorial shoots and turned out jewelry orders on tight deadlines; I was featured in FabUPlus Magazine; and my jewelry was worn by Gabourey Sidibe on the cover of NYLON magazine. I accomplished all of this while living with diabetes.
When I first found out, I remember calling and telling a close friend at the time and I’ll never forget what he said: “I’m sure you feel like this is a death sentence.” A year later the fact that those words left his mouth still makes me mad but I have more of an understanding of why he and other people think this way. Society trains us to believe that being fat and having diabetes are the worst things that could happen to you.
In fact, health-concern trolls have been leaving comments under my photos telling me I was going to die from diabetes for years. My diagnosis made me confront that I can’t just snap back, “You can’t tell someone’s health by looking at them” because while that’s still true and they are still making a fatphobic assumption, I do have diabetes. And although I already loved my body, I did have to learn to re-frame the way I looked at my own health. The worst thing someone could wish upon me or try to use against me to lure me into hating myself, I already had and yet, here I am L-I-V-I-N-G an unafraid life.
My body is no better or more valuable now than before I found out I had diabetes. The only difference now is that I am able to seek treatment for a disease I didn't know I had. My body was beautiful then, it's beautiful now. My body was fat then, it's fat now. My body was then and is now, mine.
I have come to realize that the reactions people have to diabetes are often projections of their own fear. That fear belongs to them and not me. I knew with this diagnosis that I had NOT been handed a death sentence. People of all sizes live and thrive everyday with diabetes. My own diagnosis gave me a major key to understanding what was going on in my body. My body had diabetes either way; but now, I could work to treat it. That knowledge was powerful.
I grew up with a strong awareness of diabetes. We have “the sugar” in my family as my great grandma from Italy used to say. My grandparents both passed from complications of Type 2 diabetes when I was young and my mom even worked for a national diabetes non-profit. I knew that genetically I was predisposed to diabetes and when I started researching, I found that link was stronger than I realized.
“Genes play a large role in the development of diabetes,” writes Linda Bacon, Ph.D in Intuitive Eating. “We’re all born with challenges in our genetic code--as well as our life circumstances--and this is one of the challenges you were dealt. Your body was vulnerable to difficulty with glucose regulation, and some combination of factors triggered that genetic propensity. However, now that a diagnosis of diabetes has made you aware of your body’s trouble regulating glucose, you’re in the driver’s seat.”
Reading those words and really everything written about Health At Every Size as a treatment for diabetes made a lot of sense to me. I went into my next doctor’s appointment armed with an awareness of how I wanted us to talk about my treatment. And before I even mentioned that I would be looking to treat this with a weight neutral approach she told me, “I don’t want to talk about what you were eating before your diagnosis; I want to talk about why you were eating what you were eating.”
I recently interviewed Sonya Renee Taylor from The Body Is Not An Apology for a story I wrote about body positivity for The Curvy Fashionista and something she said to me about dieting and body positivity that didn’t end up making it into that article is very relevant here to that same conversation I had with my doctor over a year ago:
“What we advocate for at the Body Is Not An Apology is a process of inquiry,” Taylor told me. “We say it is very rarely about what we do and almost always about why we do it. If we spend time really thinking about the why of what we do, it tells us something not only about the way we feel about ourselves but about the way the world is engaging and impacting us. The question that I’ve always asked people who are pursuing weight loss is that there are real diagnostic markers that give indication of health and then there are things you can do to counter those things that are not a function of weight loss. The question becomes have you pursued those other things first? Have you pursued those other functions of wellness before weight loss and if not, why?”
Over this year, I did make adjustments to the things I ate but I consciously never referred to it as a diet. I told others that I didn’t want them to use the word “health” in relation to my treatment. I wanted them to use “wellness” and I made that a firm boundary. That was one of the major fights I had with my boyfriend before we ultimately broke up (another thing I choose not to discuss publicly). I don’t allow the people in my life who know about my diagnosis to police what I eat because that is still my business. I recognize that I am still a work in progress and I aim to pay attention to how I feel after I eat something. This is my journey and mine alone.
There's a lot of things so-called "healthy" things that would be terrible for regulating my blood glucose levels. In fact, a nutritionist that I was referred to originally by my first doctor had all of these drastic weight loss plans for someone who was pre-diabetic but none of them are medically approved for someone already diagnosed with diabetes. While short term weight loss may improve blood glucose levels, yo-yo dieting has harmful long-term effects.
I'm not going to discuss any more specifics about what I am doing to treat my diabetes and I don't know that I'm going to really discuss my diabetes again beyond this post. I'm not going to share before and after pics. I'm not going to share low carb recipes. My body has changed as a result of my treatment and don't want anyone to call it inspirational. And if my body doesn't change anymore, I don’t need you to tell me that I’m killing myself. I have a doctor and it's not you.
If you want to discuss and process together as a fellow person living with diabetes, my inbox is open. If you want to call me garbage and tell me I did this to myself, I don't have an email and you don't have any fucking manners. If you want to be a friend, don't push it when I say I'm not drinking. Don't ask why I'm not getting dessert. Don’t judge me if I do. Don't freak out when I have to take my blood sugar in front you. Most of all, listen to my boundaries. Allow me to process this in my own way. Remember that unsolicited advice is criticism.
After a year, I have decided to share this because I realized that I needed to read something like this when I was first diagnosed. I have taken the year to process. I want other fat people living with diabetes to know that they are not alone. I am not the manifestation of someone's greatest fear, I am a person worthy of being treated with dignity and respect.
Only a few weeks after my diagnosis, I met with a diabetes educator. I told her about the things I had been researching and I asked her some questions. Her approach was kind and empathetic but there’s one thing in particular that she said to me that has really framed my diagnosis and my treatment moving forward. She said:
“Don’t let diabetes define you because it doesn’t have to.”
Diabetes has changed my life, but not in the way you may think. Diabetes made me less afraid to take risks and it started me on a process of inquiry I don’t know that I would’ve gone down otherwise. But most of all, diabetes made me mindful of the ways we talk to and about people living with this disease. It made me want to fight the stigma not just for myself but for all of us.