Diabetics and the City
or, How I Learned to Embrace the Autoimmune Disease
by Sarah Milner-Barry
Five days a week, at the bakery where I work, I am surrounded by cookies. These cookies appeal to me in every sense possible. Sometimes I stand with my face above the stacks, just inhaling their aroma, and forget the world.
But I have never touched even one cookie. And that is because I am a Type 1 diabetic.
Before you Google that, let me just tell you: Type 1 is the kind of diabetes you’re born with and eventually die with. The kind you have to carry an injection pen around for. The kind you have to check your blood sugar a few times a day for. The disease is not immediately life threatening. It is, however, a massive pain in the ass to deal with, as the great Elaine Stritch will tell you.
Coincidentally, one of my closest friends is also a Type 1 diabetic, and she and I have discussed the ins and outs of our disease for a few years now. While it is incredibly therapeutic to be able to share this part of my life with someone so close to me, it is also sometimes hilarious .
Which brings me to one fateful Skype call. My friend and I were exchanging tales of diabetes-related intrigue with each other when I suggested that these stories might be well-suited to a blog of some kind – a blog for young women in big cities living with diabetes. We came up with a name, Diabetics and the City, and the rest is history. Or at least the rest is on Tumblr.
After setting up the blog, it quickly became apparent that while my diabetic friend is passionate about many things, writing about her autoimmune disorder for the general public was not going to be one of them.
As such, the blog has been a one-woman operation, one I have found to be cathartic . During the last two years, I’ve been able to work in posts about dating, music, U.S. Supreme Court justices, as well as the more day-to-day workings of the disease.
For example, many people are under the impression that diabetics need only to limit their intake of sugary food, like cookies and candy and all the things that are good. And that’s true, those things do cause blood sugar spikes, but in fact it is all carbohydrates that a diabetic has to be aware of, count up, and inject insulin for. So that’s your bread, your fruit, and your rice. In fact most things, even vegetables, contain trace amounts of carbohydrates. It all adds up to a bakery being a pretty difficult place to work. Pretzel croissants are no friend to the diabetic.
Aside from being useful for personal venting, the blog has also helped me to connect with other diabetics. In fact, the most popular post by far has been a short list of everyday tips for the Type 1 diabetic, all of them being medically unsound. That sounds bad, but unfortunately with this disease, the doctors tell you to do one thing, and life demands you do another. And that’s not because diabetics don’t want to be healthy! It’s because it is often simply impractical to go through all of the steps that you are advised to go through every day to really stay on top of this condition.
Before I got diabetes, I used to say that if I had it I would die within a few weeks. It seemed like a fair assessment, because I was disorganized and lazy and I ate a lot of bread. I would love to say that I am now less disorganized, less lazy, and less fond of bread, but that’s not the case. I am still all of those things, but I am also a diabetic and my contribution to the wider diabetes community is an explanation of how, in the face of my shortcomings, I manage to stay alive.
What I’ve found is that ultimately, with diseases, unless someone is related to you or has something chronic themselves, no one is really interested. Which doesn’t make anyone a bad person. It’s completely understandable. Everyone is dealing with a mountain of their own problems; but it’s nice to be able to burrow away into a little hole of diabetes-related GIFs and screenshots for a while and focus on mine.
I suppose all diabetics live in hope that there will one day be a non-invasive cure, but it seems slightly impossible without a pancreas transplant, which I don’t see in my future. So it looks like for the next few decades, I’ll be searching for inspiration in all the extra hoops I have to jump through for the sake of my blood sugar.
And as you now know, working in a bakery, there are a lot of them.
Sarah Milner-Barry lives in New York and hopes to not be working in a bakery much longer.