For the past two years, I’ve worn an insulin pump as part of my diabetes management. As wonderful a tool it can be, I’m finding the negative side effects affect mostly my social life. Guys, whether they be new friends or potentially more, have often made jokes about it, thinking that I still use a pager and am not hep to the smartphone age. Though, every once in a while, someone thinks I’m a doctor, which is initially flattering but then leaves me reeking of unfulfilled potential. But more often than not, the jokes are either allusions to drug deals or snobby critiques of my retro choices in personal electronics.
Depending on who I’m talking to, it actually can be a good icebreaker. Some of the geekier boys I meet get all excited; one actually called me a cyborg with a look of Comic-Con-wonder in his eyes, but eventually the novelty wears off, either for him or me, and any romantic inclinations fizzle down to a best case scenario of friendship, but more often than not we’ll just stop talking and never go out again. The reality of it is, being “hooked in” can feel incredibly unsexy, like some warty, beeping boil that occasionally plays “Für Elise” when the cartridge or battery runs low. Fully clothed, it’s easy to tuck away the tubes in the waistband of my boxer briefs, but when I’m on a date and things start going well, I have to have that conversation. You know, the one explaining the tubes coming out of my body that basically implies that if he wants to have anything serious with me, which 98% of the time* is my ultimate goal, he’ll have to realize that I will be sick a lot, hospitalized somewhat often (averaging about a week and a half per year lately, which doesn’t sound too bad except it’s just often enough to cause worry, but not quite often enough for my loved ones to adjust to the concept), and things like amputation and reduced life expectancy are to be, well, expected. Well, maybe not “expected” so much as all-too-possible scenarios.
Not many guys will be in a particularly romantic** mood after that.
*Okay, okay… maybe more like 85%.
**To put it mildly. I’m trying to stay relatively family-friendly here.
About one month a year, I’ll unhook and go back to syringes and pen needles, which of course has pros and cons of its own. In a lot of ways, it’s more discrete, since I can dose by shooting into my leg under the table without really being noticed. With the pump, I either have to pull it out or use its socially awkward meter remote to deliver the goods. The injection-method downside, is in the amount of stuff I have to carry around in order to be mildly spontaneous. For instance, in order to give myself my basal dose if I end up not sleeping at home, I need to carry around disposable syringes, vials of properly cooled insulin and several pen tips in addition to the meter, lancets, and test strips I need to obtain my current blood glucose levels. Granted, while on the pump, I also need to carry around a vial of properly cooled insulin and a spare infusion set, but it still feels like less of an additional burden. However, there is no interruption to the flow of romance when I’m on the needles since there’s nothing to unclip or unhook when the pants come off, and no embedded plastic Band-Aid slapped on my ever-increasing fatty tissue areas around my midsection. And the last thing I want to do in these situations is bring attention to the fatty areas of my midsection. But then again, watching your lover du jour shoot up, regardless of the syringe’s contents, before or after bed is not an easy thing for a lot of people to witness, and it frustrates, angers, and shames me to put others through what I’m going through when they have little to no responsibility to me or my condition.
Now, I get guys every once in a while that say they are unphased by it, usually guys that are in some kind of medical profession, but I can still rarely scare up a second (or third, or fourth, or however many date’s we’d had before getting grindy, plus one) date. I suppose I could be using the pump as a scapegoat, that these guys really are as okay with the whole thing like they said, but then that means I was rejected because I wasn’t funny enough, or cute enough, or entertaining enough, or pin-downable enough, which hurts even more, so unless I have evidence to the contrary, it usually boils down to him being okay with it, being a lie. Either an intentional lie to get some last resort, bottom of the barrel action, or a good-intentions lie, like he hopes to become okay with it, someday, but in the harsh light of the morning after it already feels like too much commitment, and he bails; it’s really impossible to tell. And even if I tried to find out, I wouldn’t really be able to trust the answer I’d be given.
All in all, I know a lot of what I say above is really my own issue to deal with, my own body issues and self-confidence and -esteem that need boosting. I feel bad about exposing new people to my condition, and my other health issues, but I shouldn’t. Diabetes, whether I like it or not, is and always will be a part of my life. I have to accept that, and work around it. Sometimes, it’s easier than others, but at the end of the day it’s part of who I am and anyone who is interested in making a life with me, even a temporary once, can either take me or leave me. I’ll just need to keep reminding myself that if he does the latter, it’s not because of me, it’s because he is squeamish and weak, unreliable, and would make a terrible husband (to me, anyway), even if telling myself this is an obvious, bold-faced lie.
Diabetes is not a sexy disease, despite a particular Jonas brother’s annoyingly good example. Sure, you can look at his perfectly sculpted barely-legal-to-drink body and say “if he can do it, so can you!” but despite the fact we were both diagnosed around the same year (from what I’ve read, he was 13 when he was diagnosed and I didn’t find out until I was 23) I have 10 additional years of bad habits to correct. Personally, when it comes to sex, diabetes has affected my performance (or ability to perform, I suppose is more accurate), the mild neuropathy in my hands is just painful enough to be distracting and tire me easily, and my blood sugar often drops way too low because my body isn’t used to getting that much exercise, instantly killing the mood before I run out, trembling, embarrassed, and wanting nothing more than to curl up inside myself until the shaking and sweating and paranoia get beaten down by the handful of emergency Starburst I keep in my messenger bag.
It’s hard enough in this world to find someone who will love you for exactly who you are, and even harder to find a soul that would take someone like me, or someone in my kind of situation at least, and stand by me while I fight this battle. His loyalty, compassion, empathy, and selflessness would have to be formidable, to say the least. I haven’t yet given up hope, though statistics and probablity are rapidly working against me.
Maybe I’ll just need to learn to lighten up, and when some guy makes a joke about being stuck in 1997, I should laugh it off with him and save the heavy conversations for later. After all, life is short, mine likely to be shorter than most, and I shouldn’t be so afraid to get close to people regardless of how often I get rejected for being too serious, too complicated, too… real. But that’s who I am. Serious. Complicated. Real. All too often, though, I forget people tell me I’m also intelligent and witty, talented and funny, loyal and loving, and on a few occasions not too bad to look at, though I must say Nick there will win the Mr. Type One swimsuit competition for sure. Love is not a competition, I know, but most of the time, sex certainly feels like one, and one I’m not sure I’ll really ever be able to win.
At least I’m a good cook, right?