Diabetes Forecast

When Do You Tell?

By David Marrero, PhD, Associate Editor ,

I once led a support group of adolescent boys with diabetes in which we discussed topics including issues with therapy, relationships with parents, and ways of improving coping strategies. Near the session's end, I asked if anyone wanted to raise something else. One boy, who had been mostly silent, blurted out, "How do you tell a girl you want to go out with that you have diabetes?"

All the other boys looked to me and clearly wanted to hear my answer. It had been years since I had dated, but I appreciated the question: How to tell someone you have a condition that can make you seem different? Particularly for adolescents, being branded as "different" can be threatening. Others in the group said they worried that being known as "the diabetic" would make them seem less desirable or healthy than their peers.

All of us who have diabetes think about how much the condition shapes our identity. Is diabetes the central element of how we define who we are? Whom should we tell about it, and when? Clearly, trying to hide our diabetes could lead to serious consequences if we failed to respond to the need for insulin or to correct a low blood sugar. But does having diabetes need to be the first aspect of how we present ourselves to others?

I've come to appreciate that I am not defined by my diabetes. I am not a "diabetic"—I am a person with diabetes. And I'm under no obligation to disclose my diabetes unless I want to. It's not that I have any reservation about saying that I have diabetes or explaining what it's like to live with the disease. There are times, however, when I choose to keep my condition to myself. This doesn't mean that I'm ashamed of having diabetes. It simply means that, like any person, I have choices about how much I want to disclose.

If you're wondering when and how to tell, first ask yourself if you are comfortable doing it. Assess the safety factor. In many situations, letting others know you have a condition that may require their help is a smart thing to do. Consider writing down first what you would say or even role-playing with a trusted friend who is aware of your diabetes. When you do disclose, don't be surprised if you're asked a host of questions. It's a great chance to dispel myths about diabetes that are still widely held. You could even let your diabetes equipment help introduce the topic. One boy in the support group who used an insulin pump but kept it hidden chose on a date to wear it where the girl would surely see it, knowing that she would ask about it.

In the end, you'll probably find that your anxiety about disclosure was far worse than actually telling the other person you have diabetes. And you both may be better off once you've told.



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