Working With It: Type 1 Diabetes in The Workplace

Today, on the Lauren’s Hope blog, we welcome guest blogger, Jacquie Paul Wojcik, whose blog, Typical Type 1, chronicles her (busy, healthy, active, funny, normal) life with Type 1 Diabetes. We hope you’ll check her out! 

Working With It.

I’ve got a pump permanently clipped to my hip pocket, and the bulge of a continuous glucose monitor pressing against my sleeve. I’ve been known to stuff my face with chewy Spree in the middle of a meeting, and I have about seven times more doctor appointments than the average employee.

It would be inconvenient, at best, for me to try to keep my Type 1 diabetes under wraps from the people I work with.

JacquieThat’s not to say I haven’t considered it, though. Ten years ago, when I interviewed for the job I have now, I remember weighing the pros and cons of disclosing my Type 1 diabetes. I wasn’t sure who I should tell, or when. I didn’t know if it might affect my prospects, or if my coworkers would understand the role diabetes plays in my life. I don’t remember exactly how, but I told everyone at some point.

“Ohhhhh,” exclaimed one of my coworkers, relieved and enlightened. “So that’s an insulin pump! I was wondering why you always had your phone on your pants like that!”

Other colleagues had friends and family members with diabetes, some were big Wilford Brimley fans; everyone had some kind of connection. Maybe it’s a testament to the wonderful people I work with, but no one told me a story about their blind, amputee relative who died from diabetes complications because, “he didn’t take care of himself.”

Of course, stories like those are what drive some people to keep their diabetes — or any other illness — a secret. No one really wants to be seen as sick or weak, and common misconceptions about diabetes (see: you can never eat ice cream and it will go away if you exercise more) can make things more difficult when you’re trying to navigate the social/professional/dysfunctional family dynamic of the workplace.

For me, it’s about my need to explain myself. Just as I don’t want to be seen as sick or weak, I’d rather not be known as the weird girl with the mystery tubing sticking out of her pocket. After living with this disease for over two decades, the habits that go along with it are part of who I am. Even if I tried, I don’t think I could hide the little giveaways: reading the labels on food containers, scratching the itchy tape on my infusion site, obsessively checking my continuous glucose monitor while I’m waiting for a high blood sugar to come down. I guess I could try to pass that off as part of my wacky, non-diabetic personality, but I’m not sure I have the energy.

medical alert braceletFrankly, I’m also terrified of finding myself in need of help, surrounded by people who have no idea what’s wrong with me or what they should do. The medical alert bracelet I wear is one layer of protection, but if the people I share so much time and space with don’t know how to help me, how does that work? With my luck, some well-meaning employee would find me in a severely hypoglycemic state, assume I’d gone on a craft beer bender at lunch, and leave me in the work kitchen with a cup of coffee and a pillow. It would create a dangerous situation for me, and an unfair one for the people I work with.

Whether or not to share a diagnosis is always a personal decision — influenced by a person’s work environment, support system, even the intricacies of the disease itself. I count myself lucky to be able to share mine.

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 You can read more from Jacquie at Typical Type 1.

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