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Editor's Note: Riva wrote this essay several years ago after marrying the love of her life. To read more of Riva, go to www.diabetesstories.com
I'm a juvenile diabetic. Although, mind you, at 48, it's a bit of an oxymoron, isn't it? I'm also, for the first time, a newlywed.
You would have liked it: outdoor ceremony under the fall leaves, people flying in from Europe, roving waiters, superb band, but, unlike the bride who wakes up and all too soon realizes the wedding was the best part of her short marriage, I wake up to a loving, kind and nurturing man, who of all things, wants to be my partner - not just in life, but in my diabetes!
Do you know what that means for a type 1 diabetic who has managed her disease for the past 30 years, completely in a solitary fashion, to now have a partner in life, in love and in diabetic science? A man who religiously reads Dr. Joe online? Really now, this is going to require much more change than merely exposing my innermost self. This is my diabetes we're talking about. My shame, my weakness, where my deepest, darkest fears lie, alone, quietly not bothering anyone else.
A Deep Secret
The first 10 years after I was diagnosed I don't recall telling anyone. Who'd want to bring this up as dinner conversation? A dozen more years go by and my diabetes becomes my true confession, a gift I give a select few friends.
But surely not the details, the real ups and downs, the worry that rests far in the back of my head. For all the dating years, it may have occasionally slid a chair up at the table, but it was always sitting silently beside me. So even when visiting a former boyfriend in London, waking in the middle of the night in need - for sugar - I climbed over his body as he groaned, "What's going on?" "I need sugar," I said. He said, "Oh" and went back to sleep. Even then I did not say, "Is this all you care?" No, of course not. I handled it as I always did. Myself.
Last October I married a man who says as soon as he hears the plastic crinkle around the Sweet Tarts, "Are you low? Can I do something?" A man who follows me to the kitchen at 2 a.m. to pour me juice or dart both for the long-acting peanut butter bars and my quick-acting candies with questioning eyes.
The Secret Shared
I'd had 30 years to convince myself no one who doesn't actually have diabetes can understand how it works and the toll it takes mentally, emotionally and spiritually, as well as physically. The constant micro-management, the daily balancing, the no-days-off policy, the responsibility, yet powerlessness when your body responds unexpectedly. Who can understand all that? I've learned who. My husband.
It's been a learning process for both of us. Suddenly, after 10 years of friendship, as he moved from friend to husband in my life, his vague perception of my being a diabetic became startlingly real.
He searched Web sites, bought books and wanted to hear everything I wanted to say. And, because he could look into my soul and knows just who I am, I began to open this private world to him.
When my husband first began wanting in, I would shoo him away. "I can handle it," I'd say. Until I realized I was denying him the opportunity to share this with me, the satisfaction of contributing to my wellness, the intimacy of being with me in such moments. Of course I wanted all those things - just not attached to my diabetes.
But, as I began to let him stand by my side over the glucometer, watching for the magic number, as though we'd put money down at the track, I began to know I was safe revealing this part of me too. And I surprisingly find a huge restfulness in having a partner. When I wake in the middle of the night drenched in sweat, he's there. Of course, at 48, we joke, "Is it low blood sugar or low estrogen?" When I start babbling in the middle of the night making less sense than usual, he brings the juice.
I used to enjoy telling the story of how they discovered I was diabetic. "I had an unexpected winter break from my university" I'd say, "and when I awoke in my parent's house with torturous leg cramps they rushed me to the doctor." The doctor said, "Two more weeks and you'd be dead." C'mon, that's a great story. But now I have a better story.
How last year in a moment of true beneficence, I told my now husband he might want to reconsider life with a diabetic. And he said, wrapping his arms around me, "You're with me now and I'm with you." That's my diabetic story now. And I hope I can tell it for a very long time.
Diabetes Health is the essential resource for people living with diabetes- both newly diagnosed and experienced as well as the professionals who care for them. We provide balanced expert news and information on living healthfully with diabetes. Each issue includes cutting-edge editorial coverage of new products, research, treatment options, and meaningful lifestyle issues.