Newlyweds Natalie and Nate together on a trip to Brazil.
I'm very excited and lucky to be married to somebody who values health, fitness and good diabetes control as much as I do. And my newlywed husband, Nate, does not have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. However, we've invented a term that describes him and this is a type 3 diabetic. In our minds, a type 3 diabetic is someone whose life is affected by diabetes because of somebody that they love.
Since the day we met, Nate has embraced my diabetes. He's always had questions about it, like how to help, how to make things easier for me and what foods affect me. We still learn about diabetes together.
I forget sometimes that people who don't live in the diabetes world don't look at carbohydrates the same way we do. For example, Nate will suggest a healthy quinoa dinner, only later to find out that the density of carbohydrates can actually affect my blood sugars negatively. His interest in diabetes – and his support in not only planning a diabetes-friendly wedding, but an overall diabetes-friendly life – makes him even more lovable and a better fit for me.
Sharing How I told my Husband about my Diabetes
At a JDRF conference I was at not too long ago, I spoke with teens living with diabetes. One young lady, about 15 years old, started talking about some of her concerns in our small group discussions. She felt like her diabetes was going to turn people off from wanting to date her. This girl was a lovely young lady with great energy and I'm sure very likeable. But she had this fear - she just couldn't let go of the idea that she was somehow damaged.
I was so happy that Nate was with me at this conference, because I ended up bringing him into the small group. We shared our story and the whole group had a heartfelt discussion. Nate told this young girl about our first date when I pulled my insulin pump out of nowhere and said, “Hey look at this - I have diabetes.” He had never seen an insulin pump and had never been close to anybody that has diabetes, so this was the first experience for him.
Nate said he always remembers how confident I seemed when telling him about my diabetes. And that my comfort with my diabetes and my willingness to introduce it to him actually made him think of me more positively. He saw the extra effort diabetes requires, he saw how I paid attention to it, he noticed how I didn't let it hold me back from doing things that I love (especially since we met on a ski trip). In our scenario, I think my diabetes actually made me more attractive in his eyes. And when he shared this story with the girl, I could see her light up and just know that there are people out there who won’t hold diabetes against her.
Telling Others about my Diabetes
Now I am aware that handling experiences like this probably gets much easier as we get older. I'm 34 years old, but I do remember what it was like when I was 18 years old. Going off to college and meeting with people that didn't know me – not knowing me as the girl with diabetes in their class. It introduced a whole new dynamic and I had to choose when to introduce my diabetes to people and how.
I do remember dating and wondering if anybody would care. I remember starting on an insulin pump after my sophomore year in college and wondering if people would think it was weird that I have a medical device on my body. It's so funny to me now, because I can't even imagine walking around without an insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor on my body.
All I can say is that my diabetes is part of me. It's a big part of me the same way that my upbringing is part of me, the same way that my likes and dislikes are part of me, and the same way that my friends and family are part of me. If I started dating somebody that didn't embrace any one of these major parts of me, that would be a problem. Maybe diabetes actually helps us find compassionate and mature people, or at least it may help weed people out who are not this way.
The Role of a Supportive Partner
I do think that the role of the supportive partner can be a confusing role. Sometimes our loved ones think they should be the “diabetes police,” being very strict and reminding us not to eat this or that. Other times, they think they shouldn't say anything! They feel like they should just let us live our lives and ignore that we have diabetes. To me, the best route lies somewhere in the middle. Diabetes is hard and that's often why we turn to our diabetes community for support.
However, when you're dating somebody or are married to somebody, I think they should be involved in your diabetes. It helps sometimes with what you're going through, and it can offer you strength and support during times when you feel frustrated or overwhelmed. I think the best thing to do is to have an honest and open conversation. Tell your partner what you need. Ask them if they feel comfortable. Maybe there are things that they're afraid of or don't quite understand. If they know you welcome their support, I'm sure they'll be more likely to give it.
Likewise, if they know that being the “diabetes police” makes you feel like you can't share things with them because you're afraid of being criticized, they will learn how to support you in the best way possible. On our end, it's always wise to remember they may not get it right the first, second or even third time. I think the important thing is that they try.
Later this week we interview Nate and get his perspective on being in a relationship with someone who has diabetes.