The first time I heard someone say, “We’re only as sick as our secrets,” I thought, “Genius!” Innumerable examples of people living with secrets raced through my mind.Nixon rushed in for a cameo appearance. In my family of origin, nobody talked about money or fears, or anything that was deemed uncomfortably personal or less than “cool.” Sure enough, my mother had a bad case of narcissism with a chemical imbalance on top. My father and my grandfather were so alone with their secrets they both committed suicide.
A secret is like a part of ourselves that lives in the darkness of our mind and consciousness, something that doesn’t get the light and oxygen of our communication with others. A secret is hidden and festers inside, which makes us sick.
But then I thought, “Anytime I don’t share that I have diabetes – when it’d be a good idea to do it – I’m withholding information and behaving as if I have a secret. Oh, crap!” And thanks to that simple thought, my life changed in a very good way.
I’ve never been ashamed of having diabetes, but I realized that I didn’t take full responsibility for it when in social or intimate situations, until recently.
In my professional life, when I’m not writing I’m a professional actor. Several times on set, I went into hypoglycemia while the camera was rolling, and I either forgot all the lines, or suddenly looked like I was a drunken zombie on heroin. I never said anything because, I rationalized, “I can take care of myself. I know what to do. They’re all busy already, they don’t need to worry about me. Plus, there’s nothing to worry about. They can’t stop everything for me, big money’s on the line here, they’ll fire me or won’t re-hire me,” and on and on with variations on “the best excuse” theme.
The bottom line is, I was trying to “be cool” instead of “being real.” People thought I was a mystery, at best, or weird. They always felt they couldn’t really connect with me and I risked being fired quite a few times.
When dating, I wouldn’t share having diabetes. “I can take care of myself. I’ll tell if needed,” I thought. Sure enough, I’d either get high blood-sugar-levels and get cranky, or get low and look like I couldn’t hold my alcohol, or secretly got high in the bathroom. None of it was constructive, even in casual relationships. It left me feeling badly about myself, angry and alone, in no particular order.
This happened in all areas of my life and I’ve been very lucky because I’m still here to tell the story. Gratefully, I’ve learned a thing or two.
Now, the first thing I do when I show up for work, I take aside the assistant director, or the production assistant, I offer them my diabetes pouch and say, “Just wanted to let you know that I have type 1 diabetes, you know, the one that needs insulin. Could you please hold on to this while I’m on set? If you see me spacey or fatigued, please come up to me and say, Peter check yourself, and I’ll know what to do. Thank you.”
Invariably, they’re happy that I trusted them with something relevant and personal. They appreciate me for being accountable and responsible, and often they share something health related about themselves or someone they know. They respect the fact that I opened up to them, and that creates a positive and real human connection.
I use variations of the above speech when in social situations, or doing sports, and I always try to keep it light. For example, I may say, “Hey, just wanted to let you know that I have type 1 diabetes, the one that needs insulin. If you see me spacey or using needles, don’t ask me, “Can ya spare some, dude?”… I just need to eat something or take glucose tablets, that I have here in this pouch.” And we move on, to whatever we’re there to do.
I don’t share it to make it the focus of the conversation or be the center of attention. I share it because it’s my responsibility to make sure people are informed.
And in my private life, not six months after I started being earnest about diabetes I met the woman who’s now my wife.
The people we meet and work with, the people we play with, they don’t have to know about diabetes, they don’t even have to care about it. It is my responsibility to share and inform them, in the appropriate way, at the right time, and preferably with lightness.
It doesn’t matter what type of diabetes or health condition you have. What’s important is that we’re earnest about it.
People are inspired by someone who doesn’t hide, someone who takes action and is not apologetic about themselves. It sets an example that empowers others to do the same in their life.
Because we all have something, and it’s not what we have, but what we do with it that makes a difference.
This article first published by exclusive permission on Diabetes Daily Post.