Diabetes has been in my life indirectly since I was 10. (My little brother was diagnosed when he was 4 and I was 10.) Around the age of 16, I went to Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Florida, to see my brother at a diabetes camp, and some researchers there wanted to do blood work on siblings of people with diabetes. My older brother checked out fine, but they found something in my blood and response to glucose that, at the time, they called “markers.”
From the research they were doing, they were finding that people like me were more likely to develop diabetes, but there was no concrete evidence that I would ever develop diabetes. Also, they weren’t sure if there was anything I could do to prevent it.
I went another 12 years before I was diagnosed at the age of 28 on Christmas day—Santa Claus gave me diabetes. The reality immediately set in as I took my first shot from the same kinds of needles I had used hundreds of times on my little brother.
When it comes to getting diabetes, I think you go through what I call a 3-D phase. You start with the first D: diagnosis. It is overwhelming to hear that you have an incurable disease and you are going to have to change the way you live. Everywhere you go and everything you do is now accompanied by this little voice in the back of your head that says “Did I bring my Lantus? Do I have my needles? What if I go low?” Well, this voice begins to stir from the very first day, and after just three years mine is still constantly curious.
This brings me to the second D: depression. Immediately after diagnosis, my family and friends were very encouraging, but also sad. I can remember an emotional talk with my mom about how my whole life was changing. Just the sheer amount of information that you take in about the disease after being diagnosed is enough to stress anyone out. The little voice is now asking “Is that ½ cup of rice? How much fiber is in that? Why don’t these bastards put labels on their food?”
So I was a little depressed and upset about the whole situation, but it didn’t take me long to figure out the next D: dealing with it. I learned very fast that diabetes is my responsibility and it will always be my responsibility. The whole team of doctors I received with my diagnosis can only tell me what to do. They can’t make me. I have to be the one to regulate my blood glucose and figure out what exercises and foods work best for me. I would have to get serious about this and, being a comedian, I was also going to have to find a way to laugh at myself.
So one of the first things I did was write a song called “Santa Claus Gave Me Diabetes.” It’s a true story and is available on iTunes (search iTunes for “santa diabetes” and it should come up—though I must say it’s for the 16-and-over crowd). This was one way I was able to vent a little frustration and also make myself, and hopefully others, laugh.
Every time I perform that song, someone comes up to me afterwards and tells me a story about someone they know who has diabetes. From accepting the diagnosis to coping with depression to dealing with day-to-day life with diabetes, there’s no doubt it’s a patient-driven condition. That being said, it’s good to have a support team of family, friends, and doctors around you.
But if you don’t, I know you have that little voice in your head, berating your brain with diabetes-related questions every second of the day. Perhaps we should give it a name. I call mine Wilford.