One of my dear friends from college did a Watson fellowship after she graduated. For those of you unfamiliar with this magical grant, it essentially gives the recipient the funds to travel to a buttload of countries over the course of the year, to pursue independent research, the terms of which are freeingly loosely defined.
My friend blogged her journey, and it was incredible. I would eagerly check her blog from my office job, and when a new post came up I would devour her stories and pictures of whatever part of the globe she was exploring and seethe with jealousy. I wanted to go to Morocco! To take pictures of spice markets and gather memories, trinkets, souvenirs, experiences.
But then, I like, really thought about it. Flying to a new country – alone. Getting off a plane – alone. Being in a strange airport that’s bustling with people, but I don’t know anyone. Trying to figure out where to go, what to do. Arriving at a strange hostel, introducing myself to the owner, finding a room. Laying in a bed, alone, knowing that I’m 1000s and 1000s of miles away from anyone I know and love. Feeling the seconds tick by as I stared at the ceiling in a strange room in a strange place in a strange city in a strange country. Where I knew no one.
OK, yeah, so when I really think about it – think about it that way, I am the opposite of the type of person who should do a Watson. I want to be – good god, I want more than anything to be the kind of person who can do/will do/has done a Watson. To me, that person is everything I aspire to: fiercely independent, brave, a cardinal badass. I try to pretend, often, that I am her. That I’m totally cool and spontaneous and not-at-all needy.
As well all do, I constantly struggle with the version of myself I am and the version of myself I want to be. I’m sure maturity/eternal happiness comes from a complete acceptance of the authentic self, without forcing it; for there to be absolutely no tension between the you you are and the you you display, that you want to be.
This past summer, I felt, for a little bit, like I might be getting there. As I continued my blog rantings about body image, as I fell in love with my old, overweight self. It felt like I was getting closer to just owning who I was … not especially an independent badass, more on the “unapologetically loving/needy” end of the spectrum. For better or for worse, after my medical saga, I was entering a new age where I’m just a bit exhausted with the duality and I would sometimes, you know, just hold up my hands and settle into my true self. Sure I wanted to be the type of person who, when she got upset, just like, “needed to be alone”, and not someone who wakes Stefan up in the middle of the night because I miss my grandpa (who died in 2003). But I wasn’t. I’m not. And maybe that was OK. I maybe, finally, was coming to peace with it all.
…And then I started working full time again.
I spent my first week or so of full-time employement presenting myself, with regards to diabetes, like an unapologetic badass. I kept my glucometer on my desk, I tested occasionally in full view of everyone (not deliberately, but I didn’t deliberately hide anything either). I never explained anything to anyone and never asked for help. If someone asked what I was doing, I did that super annoying thing where you give a really vague, unhelpful answer in a way that implies you know they obviously understand what you’re talking about just from that and so clearly no further questions are necessary.
Coworker (seeing me test my blood sugar): What’s that?
Me: (after a pause):… oh. blood sugar.
(cue a “you know, blood sugar? Duh?” kinda look)
Coworker: (in a “sure, sure, I totally get that! tone): right!
I wasn’t hiding the fact that I was a diabetic, but I was massively downplaying its significance, and acting as though any and every aspect of it was something I fully, completely, entirely could manage all by myself without any help whatsoever. I was a stone cold, badass bitch: a mistress of diabetes and the my new coworkers could REST ASSURED they’d never have to worry about it.
And it was awesome. At home, I’d whine to Stefan about how bad my numbers were, how painful my infusion site was, how difficult this thing is, a bad low, a bad high, etc. I’d collapse on the couch and ask him to get me a juice. I’d cry. But at work, I could pretend to be the “Did-A-Watson” version of Jessie, who, in case you were wondering, also happens to have perfect diabetes control.
It was pretty fun, playing her for 8 hours a day. In fact, I’d forgotten how fun it can be to be in denial about painful stuff. I didn’t need anything from anyone. I had diabetes, but I had it in a way that implied it was WAAAAAAY far down on my list of things I spent anytime caring about.
It was like wishful thinking enacted for real. I pretended it was no biggie, and so they all figured it was (because why shouldn’t they?) And in a way, then, it was. It was like, nothing.
…And then I went to my endocrinologist.
And, you know, since she is the world’s greatest endocrinologist, she asked about my new job (good!), and asked how I was managing it (well!), and then confirmed that I had gone over emergency procedures with those co-workers who I would most be around.
Because technically, if you’re spending 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, most-weeks-a-year sitting next to the same people, and you suffer from an unpredictable chronic illness, emergencies of which can require intervention by the nearest good samaritan, it might be a good idea to inform those people of what could go down. And how they could help.
And that’s how badass, Did A Watson, Diabetes MASTER Jessie had to quietly and humiliatingly engage her new co-workers in an excruciating conversation about the highs and lows (literally, of course) of diabetes. And suddenly the middle drawer of my file cabinet is full of glucagon shots, as well as a spare glucometer so a really motivated co-worker, should I pass out, could confirm a low before (OH MY GOD) injecting me with glucagon. Which, I frankly almost didn’t even teach my new co-workers, because if it came to that, to me passing out from hypoglycemia at work and forcing a co-worker to test my unconscious body and then mix and inject me with glucagon, I might actually prefer just falling into a coma because the embarrassment when the glucagon worked and I woke up and had to look people in the eye….that would just be…intolerable. I’ll take the coma.
No, just kidding.
And of course, after this excruciating conversation, I feel slightly less badass when I openly test my blood sugar (are they watching me?? Are they wondering where I’m at?? Do they secretly fear I’m about to pass out or something every time I do this??)
But then, of course, here’s the thing: if I’m having a really bad low (I’ve had 2 at work so far and they have been nasty), of course part of me wants absolutely no one to notice, but if I’m honest (and here comes the “true” needy Jessie!), it would actually be amazing to be able to say to a co-worker “Hey, could you grab me a coke from the fridge?”
“Because I’m low, and it hurts to walk right now; frankly it hurts to exist right now and I’d rather just let the front drop and admit that I’m weak right now and would really like to have a coke put in my hand rather than go get it myself and risk wasting the precious glucose that still happens to be floating around my body.”
I would love to be able to do that if I need to. As long as we’re at it, I’d love to talk about diabetes with co-workers. God knows I’m addicted to talking about it, and Stefan needs a break. But how do I do that if I still want to get to be a badass? And not have anyone, at any moment, question my able-ness to work, or whether or not I’m a liability or resenting my medical issues or wishing they didn’t have to bear any kind of burden or responsibility for them. is that possible? (HEY GUYS IM CONFLICTED.)
Because which Jessie is my at-work Jessie? What about the other day, when I was wearing my new, delicious, but pretty tight jeans, and while pulling down my pants to go to the bathroom, their attractive-but-inconvenient tightness caught on my infusion site (I’d been rocking it in my upper butt that day), causing it to rip painfully out of my body. And then, unexpectedly, the site began to bleed rather profusely, so I had to stand there in the work bathroom, grabbing at toilet paper to clean up the blood spatter from the floor and toilet seat, and also try and stop the bleeding from the infusion site, and also, you know, not panic, because any degree of profuse bleeding from my butt tends to make me panic just a bit.
So trying to tramp down that panic, having cleaned up all (most? I hope?) of the blood, I pulled my pants back up, hobbled back to my desk, discreetly grabbed my extra infusion set, realized the blood was soaking through my underwear and pants, hobbled back to the bathroom, and began readying a new infusion set, until a random person came in and looked so baffled and frightened by my actions that I again retreated into a stall to finish readying the new set, to insert the new set, and to press a huge wad of toilet paper to my eff-ed up site until the FREAKING BLEEDING FINALLY STOPPED. And then discreetly tie a sweater around my waist, (rocking it old school), just in case any blood stains had made their way to the outside of my pants
And then, you know, I hobbled back to my desk, picked up my work, and resumed without comment. Which is a very Badass Jessie way to conclude a very Weak, Fallable Jessie sequence of events.
Again, we have: the tension between these versions of myself. Perhaps one day I’ll get closer to aligning them again. My recommendation, for any of you who can identify with this, is to try and get your “selves” into alignment. Because when I was close to that, it was pretty great.
Until then, I’ll be here, at my desk, being a mega badass who rules at diabetes. Or, you know, bleeding profusely from my butt.
One of the two.