My office is overcrowded. Conference rooms are hard to come by; although it has tons of “cozy couches” and “hip hang out spots” like any respectable start-up, these spots tend to fill up quickly and remain noisy and cramped all day.
My desk is also right by a window—a lovely thing, until the afternoon sun shines so brightly on my laptop it literally makes it too hot to touch, so I am forced to seek out any one of these popular, crowded communal workspaces and hope it remains quiet enough to get work done.
I had some success in the office kitchen today, which was quiet for a good 25 minutes before I found myself surrounded by at least a dozen people, who had converged on the kitchen in order to boisterously settle a bet. A co-worker had, for reasons I still don’t entirely understand, bet everyone that he could eat 30 Oreos in less than 20 minutes.
The gauntlet having been thrown, the Oreos were purchased, the spectators gathered, an iPhone began counting down the minutes and this co-worker began eating.
After about 10 minutes and 15 Oreos, the diabetes jokes began. To roars of laughter, he announced he was going to need insulin, someone else chimed in that he probably already had diabetes, and this was repeated in so many words through another 10 Oreos until he finally announced he’d had enough. (Yeah, he quit with 5 Oreos left. I found this both baffling and oddly brave.)
Meanwhile, I just sat there, like an idiot, surrounded by gleeful pseudo-strangers, feeling my heart in my chest everytime one of those highly-charged words was uttered, staring at my laptop while my face burned, convinced everyone could suddenly see my anxiety, my fury, my embarrassment, my shame.
Why did it f
I know they didn’t mean anything by it. I know that, in describing this experience for you all, my highly receptive, responsive, and supportive audience, I am in effect humiliating him for something he probably doesn’t deserve to be humiliated for. He was just being silly with his friends. He had no idea this lightheaded experience would earn him a position in a stranger’s blog.
And at the end of the day, I’m not allowed to be offended by his choice to eat 25 Oreos. It kinda offends me on principle, sure, but more than anything I’m jealous of that level of impulsiveness, that level of casual flippancy towards one’s own body, that level of confidence that you can treat it so carelessly and it will still perform. But I am offended by his, and his friends’ choice of joke, although again, I understand that they meant nothing by it, that many would argue I’m insanely overreacting, and that, you know, there are way greater wrongs to commit than joking about insulin.
(Plus, diabetes is HILARIOUS. The complete failure of a necessary organ is so. freaking. funny you guys. The fact that I rely on a small plastic box attached to my pants to literally keep me alive is so. freaking. hilarious.)
(Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.)
I am both a highly sensitive and emotionally impulsive person. This means I tend to be deeply affected by things. I also speak without thinking. And in that moment, even as I sat there, wondering how they could be so insensitive without the slightest inkling they were being insensitive, this thought occurred to me:
Wow. How many times have I done that? How many times have I said something offensive, joke-y, completely and utterly insensitive, without realizing it? How many times has someone sat near me, listening to my glib remark, burning inside with shame, embarrassment, fury?
One came to me right away. Even before I finished the thought I could come up with an example in answer. Ever since being hospitalized with DKA I do it a lot less, but I’m still guilty of it: the “going to kill myself” remark.
As a highly sensitive person, I feel things deeply. As an emotionally impulsive one, I look for intense, extreme ways to express those feelings, often relying on extraordinary hyperbole—hyperbole so extraordinary it’s not even really hyperbole anymore, it’s just straight up nonsense. I used to say this a lot; when I felt overwhelmed, scared, even excited: without any intention of doing any such thing; having never ever ever ever even considered such thing. With the arrogance of someone who’s never felt such pain that they had to consider such a thing. “I’m going to kill myself!” I’d shriek. Even knowing, in a roll-my-eyes, PC-kinda way, that it wasn’t a super appropriate thing to say, I’d say it anyway.
It felt good. It was extreme. Extreme felt good.
Today, all of a sudden, in one terrifying moment, I realized how utterly disgusting that remark is. What would it mean to someone who struggles with suicidal ideation, or, ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod, to a person who has lost someone to suicide? I thought of the countless times I’ve said it in my life, I thought of the dozens (hundreds?) of people who have probably heard me say it, the likelihood it struck a chord in the worst possible way.
Again, I get caught in this endless loop of “you’re being too sensitive” “no, no, that’s a dangerous thought; it shuts down emotional honesty” “ok, but you’re being too sensitive.” What if no one hearing me say that had any reason to take it personally? Does that make it OK?
No, I think we can all agree, no, that doesn’t make it OK. So if I were to say it in the presence of someone to whom it is provocative or painful, then does that make the joke worse? If so, doesn’t that mean it’s better, less offensive, if I say it surrounded by people who only perceive it as innocuous?
That feels like a dangerous path to walk down. I think, ultimately, forget your “too sensitives” — some things are objectively inappropriate. And jokes that thoughtlessly make light of disease—of any kind—fall into that category. Why do we do this? Why do we let ourselves be so awful, you guys? What the hell gives us the right. The arrogance it takes, the utter, utter arrogance. And the arrogance it takes to shut down any critical response to offensiveness with the simple phrase “too sensitive”, that horrendous word: “overreacting.”
Until my immune system stops “overreacting” and destroying my beta cells, I’m allowed to be offended by your joke. Until my pancreas decides to stop “overreacting” and come back to life, I’m allowed to be hurt by it.
I’m sorry if I’m bumming you out. I know how fun it is to make diabetes jokes, so have no fear! I have curated a few diabetes jokes for you, all cribbed from Type 1 Diabetes Memes, which I find really funny. The next time you find yourself itching to announce that your dessert is “diabetes on a plate”, try one of these, instead.
To me, the difference between these jokes and my co-worker announcing that he needs insulin is that these jokes are written for diabetics, not at the expense of diabetics; they play on emotions and situations that we, as diabetics, face and are frustrated by every day. In turning these situations into funny memes, the creator is turning what feels like a personal, isolated frustration into a kind of universal catharsis, which is deeply satisfying. True, these probably won’t earn roars of laughter like the “I need insulin” joke, but they also don’t demean and diminish my life-threatening illness from the perspective of a healthy-bodied individual.
The downside is that, as a non-diabetic, they might not make much sense to you. If so, please ask me about them! Because as we all know, if there’s anything I love, it’s talking about diabetes 🙂