Monday, May 20, 2013


I have been swimming now for the past year and a half. I have been swimming at the Kiwanis Aquatic Centre for the last ten months. The staff there say hi to me every morning when I arrive and they wish me a good day when I leave.

Most of them know I have diabetes. No one has ever made any kind of issue about it. Not even a comment. I just waltz in, plant my ziplock bag of carbs by the pool, swim and go about my business.

No one made any issue about it until last Monday when I showed up with my insulin pump clipped to my bathing suit. My diabetes, for the first time, was visible for all to see.

And then the oversupporting began.

Oversupport is something I see a lot in my line of work. I see people with disabilities who are capable of so many things and I see people who work with them hovering over them and doing more for them than is necessary. People thinking it's ok to ask personal questions in public places. People feeling that it's ok to tell strangers that the person they are with needs support and then telling them what kind of support they need.

On Monday I was the same swimmer with diabetes that they have watched swim for the past ten months.

The same swimmer who stops at the edge of the pool after swimming the required distance, takes a sip of Nuun water and then heads into the next set.

But with my pump clipped to my bathing suit, I suddenly looked disabled. I now look like someone who is sick and someone who might have some kind of diabetes episode in the pool.

So when I stopped at the side of the pool to sip my water, the lifeguard at the other end of the pool pointed to my pump and yelled over "are you ok?".

"Ummm, yes". I replied. (and please don't yell at me like that for goodness sakes I thought).

When we were tethered to stretch cords, my coach brought my bag of carbs to the deep end for me "just in case". She has never ever done that before. She never even asked if I needed it before.

On Monday AND Wednesday, one of my swimming buddies asked me multiple times "how is your blood sugar?".  "Fine" I replied. (I wondered if he'd even know what I was taking about if I tossed out a number. And I wondered why he suddenly was so interested in my blood sugar anyway).

My coach, the lifeguard, my swim buddy - they are being nothing but kind. Knowing that, it's hard to get too bothered but it is a pretty interesting social experiment. When I left my pump in the locker, I looked like everyone else. Even my bag of carbs didn't stand out because lots of people bring snacks with them.

Now I'm obviously different from the rest of the group and looking different opens up the door for personal questions to be asked and presumptions to be made.

The same thing happened at the YMCA once when a keen lifeguard spotted my medical necklace and read the words 'type one diabetes'. When I got out of the pool she came running over and asked if I was ok. I nodded. She then asked how my sugar was. "I don't know" I replied, getting annoyed. "Well, do you feel shaky or anything?" she asked. "I never have a problem when I swim but I promise that if I need help, I will let you know" was my polite and curt response.

Oversupport is overrated.

I'm hoping it doesn't take long for everyone to get over my new pump and start treating me the way they did before I waved my diabetes in their face.


  1. Hi..sounds annoying..then again these people at the pool are just concerned? Maybe you could put their minds at rest by telling them how you'd like to be treated? Ie Im still ok even though I have this thing attached to me? I'll let you know if I need help? And thanks for your concern? Or maybe not..I'm probably being really annoying now..

  2. This post made me chuckle in agreement. I like flying below the radar with my diabetes. If someone really looked they could tell (medical alert, pump on hip, etc) But most of the time it's rather incognito. It's especially annoying when they think they know what they are talking about. I call it medical-device-tunnel-vision-and-rose-colored-glasses, which renders the sufferer prone to seeing normal things through the lens of the supposed disease. And you're left with the responsibility of not being rude, "No, it's normal,I promise."

  3. I kind of got irritated at this post. I mean, I totally understand where these people were coming from but it's a bit late to be concerned. You've been doing this for SO LONG and nobody has ever even batted an eye. Why now that they see diabetes as not so invisible?
    I think it's a bit ridiculous that they all of a sudden start treating you differently when everything is EXACTLY THE SAME.

    Sometimes people on the outside need to keep their thoughts on the inside. seriously. or think about it before they open their mouths. All you've done is switched to a pump you can wear in the water, that's the only difference.

  4. I suspect it was just the novelty that made you seem "sicker." I've been showing up at the pool for years with visible infusion sets and CGM transmitters, and it's just something people are used to. Hopefully you are already back to being the "normal" bad-ass swimmer that everyone has gotten used to. If not, an annoyed-sounding "You don't have to do that" might be in order. (Are Canadians allowed to be annoyed?)

  5. You know, I've never thought about that, but it would totally drive me crazy, too.