True Life: I Have Diabetes

This episode of true life follows three young people, Kristyn (25), Matt (19), and Jen (19), with diabetes and how they cope with it in their daily lives. They have to balance managing their diabetes on top of work, school, and social lives, and in Jen’s case, a pregnancy. Nowadays, our culture understands diabetes and there is a great deal of awareness, but there are still many people who think diabetes is always associated with obesity, caused by poor eating and exercise habits making it a “self-induced” illness. While this is a major risk factor for some types of type II diabetes, many people are already born with a higher chance of diabetes, and those with type I are born with the disease.

Kristyn, who has type I diabetes, has been living on her own for 3 years, but when she is no longer covered on her parents insurance, her new insurance doesn’t cover all of her medical costs and she ends up 12,000 dollars in debt. This results in her having to move back home until she can work her way out of debt and have enough money to support herself on her own again. Moving back home with her parents is a big readjustment for Kristyn; her biggest challenge is her overbearing mother frequently on her case about taking care of her diabetes as well as following the “house rules” on top of Kristyn’s 2 full time jobs and an 80 hour work week. After a few months at home Kristyn has a major setback, her insulin pump gives out and she is forced to buy a new one costing her 2,000 dollars. As the stress from her debt and her mother escalate, eventually her mother and her have a fall out and Kristyn reaches the breaking point. Kristyn then realizes that this is something she can’t do on her own and she makes amends with her mother and asks her for help. Together they budget Kristyn’s money and eventually she pays off her debt.

Matt, who has type I diabetes, was what was known as an “ideal diabetes patient.” He had always taken great care in managing his disease, but when he got to college that all changed. Matt wanted to have the full college experience, complete with parties and alcohol, which as a diabetic, he was not recommended to have. But Matt didn’t want to be held back by his diabetes anymore so he did anyway. His excessive drinking and partying eventually increased his condition and he ended up in the ER a few times. However that didn’t deter him, even knowing the risks of falling into a diabetic coma he still continued to drink. His doctor and friends were all very worried about him and tried to convince him to change. In the end Matt still chose the party lifestyle but he became more careful about keeping track of his blood sugar and staying within his limits, he also vowed to quit drinking after college.

Jen, who as type II diabetes, is having her first baby and is finding it extremely difficult to be a pregnant diabetic. She can’t eat the things she wants and she always has to be careful of her blood sugar not only for her sake but for the baby’s sake. Initially Jen’s diabetes is mild and she only needs to take medications and follow a healthy diet. Jen struggles to keep a strict diet however, and ends up needing to be on insulin injections for her excessive fast food consumption. Her doctor insists that she cut out fast food or else the baby will be too big for her to have naturally, or eventually get sick and die. This is a wake up call for Jen and she starts trying harder to curb her cravings. When its time to deliver the baby, it is small enough to deliver naturally, but still slightly too big to be delivered without complications. The baby ends up in ICU after the delivery because they had to dislocate the baby’s shoulder to be delivered since his shoulders were too big. Otherwise the baby is healthy. Jen reverts back to her old diets, and is eventually re-diagnosed with type I diabetes.

Kristyn, Matt, and Jen don’t get to have the typical “sick-role”. While they all acknowledge their disease, they don’t always submit to their doctors’ orders, and they don’t get excused from their regular responsibilities. Kristyn still has to work twice as hard as the average person, Matt chooses to opt out of the sick role to live a more full life, and Jen still has to complete a pregnancy and be a mother with her condition. The narrative pattern in this episode is chaos because the disease is chronic, they all experience social suffering, and they are disjointed and frustrated. It could also be argued that there is some quest narrative here too: Kristyn’s quest is to overcome her crippling debt caused by her disease and to be independent again, Matt’s goal is to live a normal life, and Jen’s goal is to deliver her baby healthily. Their narratives help them understand and vent about their illness and help others understand what they’re going through. Narratives also help patients to convey their illness to their medical professionals and those around them so that they may receive better care and better understanding from friends and family.

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  1. shivani says:

    “Texting My Pancreas” ( is a blog created by Kim Vlasnik, a woman who has type 1 diabetes. She created this blog to share her experiences with having type 1 diabetes with others. She’s also behind the “You Can Do This Project”, an on-going video movement where people living with diabetes contribute. Kim has had some similar experiences to those who were in the True Life episode. Kim and Jen both discussed the difficulties of being a pregnant diabetic. However, as Kim is a type 1 diabetic and Jen was a type 2 diabetic (at the time of pregnancy), there are probably some differences with their experiences being a pregnant diabetic. For Kim, after joining the diabetes online community (DOC) she found that she really needed and appreciated the support system it offered. As it is not mentioned in the blog post whether Jen, Kristyn or Matt were part of a diabetes community (whether it was online or in-person), they might not have had the same kind of support system Kim had. Kim’s blog also has a following which has led her to getting free products (though she does not necessarily accept them). Kim may be getting effective products at no cost (except the potential publicity for the product on her blog) while Kristyn, Jen, and Matt would not be. Kim’s experience with diabetes seems to be influenced by her interactions with the online diabetes community and being able to share with the world her own experience with diabetes. After creating this blog, she’s gotten paid writing gigs and has had other diabetes and health-related opportunities (like lectures and being an invited guest to big organizations). Based off the post, Kristyn, Jen, and Matt don’t seem to have the same kind of diabetic community around them, whether online or in-person. While they do have support systems in the form of family and friends, it’s not the same as having someone who completely and wholly understands your condition and exactly what you’re going through.
    Vlasnik, Kim. “Texting My Pancreas.” Texting My Pancreas. Kim Vlasnik, 2010. Web. July 2014.

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