I want to introduce you to a new acquaintance of mine.
During the very recent three-day weekend in Japan, my husband, I and a couple of friends stayed at an old Japanese farmhouse in Niigata. Our host was a Japanese man called Mr. Kato. Kato san is a crazy (in a really good way), lively, open, enthusiastic, and sociable man who does not seem to have an ounce of ego, arrogance, insecurity or machismo in him. His surname Kato is actually his wife’s surname, which he adopted when they married. That’s not unheard of in Japan, but not that common either (at least I don’t think so). He has had different jobs, all people-oriented. In the short time we stayed with him, I could tell that he loved people.
He now works as a cab driver in Tokyo. What’s more interesting is that his own car is a 40-plus year old black London taxi cab, which he used to take us around to see the sights in his neighborhood and town. He loves fishing, among a host of other hobbies. He can out-talk any Japanese or non-Japanese person I know, and is prone to outbursts of infectious belly laughs. He is happy to share family photos and stories (family members were unfortunately elsewhere working), experiences, and adventures. He also has an appetite for learning, and is genuinely interested in people (in case I haven’t mentioned this trait yet).
He has also been diagnosed with pre-diabetes (and the first one I’ve met in Japan). He volunteered the information when he saw that he and I were taking the same brand of metformin. He was quite nonchalant about it. Come to think of it, the few Japanese Type 2 diabetics I’ve met since I was diagnosed were all relaxed about their diagnosis. I do not mean that they don’t care. I mean they do not hyperventilate about it and assume that the world revolves around them and their diabetes. I don’t know if it’s because they were older when they were diagnosed, and so have a better perspective about life’s challenges, or it’s their culture.
Anyway, Kato san and I shared information, from our A1cs at diagnosis to current A1cs, to what foods we had to reduce or avoid, to what foods we miss (beer and ramen shared the top spot), and what foods we absolutely refuse to give up (both of us named chocolate and ice cream). We shared secrets over what alternatives we may have to high-carbohydrate commercial simple carbs. He has lost close to 8 kilograms since his diagnosis. He shared both his worries over possible complications and his bottomless optimism for the best. He may be pre-diabetic but he considers himself fully diabetic for all intents and purposes.
We shared information. I want to stress the word “share”. We did not try to outshine each other. We did not judge each other. We did not lecture each other. Also, we did not spend too much time talking about our diabetes. We spent more time talking about other things.
It was a relief to be able to exchange thoughts, fears and yes complaints to another person who not only empathizes but knows what I’m talking about. It was equally refreshing to not have to talk about diabetes and food all the time (one reason why I have reduced my presence in diabetes online boards). And I would not have had that opportunity had I kept my diabetes only to myself.
When I was diagnosed, I told only a handful of people, and I tested my BG and took my medications very discreetly. It took me a long time to start opening up, and testing and taking my meds in public. I do not make a big deal of my condition, but neither do I hide it anymore. I’ve even started blogging and tweeting about it. Not only is openness liberating, but it has created opportunities for me to meet and interact with fellow diabetics, both in the flesh and online, and be part of a larger family. The knowledge, support and energy one gets from others who have similar experiences and who can offer their hard-earned lessons to save us from highs, hypos, and other diabetes-related mistakes they have gone through, cannot be matched. More than that, being part of a community is empowering as one sees the potentials of concerted efforts. Take the Strip Safely campaign for example. That’s a good representation of channeling our frustrations to something more productive than just complaining.
I would not have met all the wonderful diabetics in Japan that I’ve met (although they are just about a handful of people at the moment), and outside Japan as well, not just through online boards but through blogs (see my blog roll) and websites, or in person, had I been content to keep to myself.
I do recognize, however, that being open about your diabetes may not all be good, as it invites the food police, judgment, unsolicited advice, and even threat to your job. But I think that these problems can be dealt with by choosing who you reveal your diabetes to, timing, and not making a fuss over it. I do not advice disclosing your diagnosis the second you hear it from your doctor. I think that you need to find your way and have a clearer picture of how you will approach diabetes, before you throw yourselves to a larger circle of people who each has his own views, beliefs and prejudices. But, it is not a healthy choice to keep everything to yourself. At some point, you need to let people know, lest you explode like an over pumped balloon.