Chronic Cosplay: Being Diabetic and Cosplay

I have started following various cosplayers who live with “disabilities” and chronic conditions. Because of them I feel like it is okay to share  my experiences and maybe pointers to other diabetics who cosplay.  The other reason I decided to write this is I am preparing for Emerald City Comic Con making costumes and preparing to stay away from home for a few days. This is the first big con I have been to in some time and it is bringing back memories of past cons and issues I have experienced at them regarding my diabetes.

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Here is a photo where you can see the infusion set to my pump. I don’t often get to share this photo and I love it!  This poor kid didn’t want anything to do with us DC babes so of course we had to torture him. Parent approved of course, that is dad in the back ground and mother was around too!

Cosplaying as a diabetic has had its own set of challenges that many people may not realize or understand. Yes, it is something you live with day to day but there are factors that have to be taken into consideration when it come to cosplay. Especially if you use an insulin pump like I do to manage my blood sugar levels. In simple terms an insulin pump acts like the part of the pancreas that produces insulin. (If you want to know more about the insulin pump here is a link for more information).  If I go more than an hour, two at the most, my blood sugar gets dangerously high and makes me very sick. This means I can’t go without it in costume. Please keep in mind that the reactions without a pump vary from diabetic to diabetic. I am writing this from my perspective and experiences. For example, I know another diabetic cosplayer who uses an insulin pump and she has issues with her blood sugar if she wears her pump in certain places limiting the costumes and modification she can do.

Because of how I choose to manage my diabetes I have to design each costume in a way that I can wear and access my insulin pump; which can make accurate costumes impossible or impracticable depending on the character. So before you criticize some one for an inaccurate costume please take into consideration that maybe the cosplayer had to adjust the design for health purposes.

Some common modifications I have had to make:

  • For all my body suits I have to cut and reinforce a small whole (strategically placed that it can be hidden) to feed tubing through so my pump can deliver insulin as needed. When deciding where to put this hole I have to also keep in mind how I will secure the pump in place.
    • I have a Catwoman costume that I had to feed the tubing through the leg so my pump can be worn inside the boot. If a suit is used for other costumes this may not be a practical location.
    • My Scarlet Witch and Mystique I have a hole in the stomach of the body suit and wear booty shorts with it because these handle the weight better than swimsuit type bottoms. These two are convenient because most people don’t notice the pump with either the cape or the long skirt.
  • My Tw’lek Mandalorian Bounty Hunter suit was specifically chosen because it came with a Velcro patch I can feed the tubing safely through.
  • Depending on the activity level I plan on in my Raven I will sometimes wear booty shorts over for the same reason I wear them with Scarlet Witch or Mystique. If I am wearing this costume at a low impact event it is okay hooked to my belt so I can wear just the leotard but I do have to adjust it regularly. And it does come un-clipped easily if I move too much.
  • Wonder Woman and Psylocke I use nude colored leggings or body suits to cover my infusion set. This way it doesn’t get ripped out while I am out and about.
  • I fell lucky with my Batgirl. I had to cut a whole in the suit but was able to hid this with a corset that also holds my cape in place. The major win was the functional pouches of the belt that allow me to access my pump!
  • For Steampunk I attach my insulin pump to a garter but I have to consider where I am going to be and will I be able to get to it in public or will I have to go into a private area to give myself insulin. Another place I can secure my pump in steampunk garb is in a boot
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The nude colored layer for this costume is actually a two piece thermal since it is winter. Which is a great way to feed tubing. It protects the infusion set and I can hook my pump to the shorts as you see here.

You might be thinking, Mala when you are in something that isn’t a body suit why don’t you just put it in your bra. I use to do this all the time until one hot fall day while wearing Steampunk Snow White my insulin pump died on me because of too much sweat moisture getting into the machine. That is never a good situation because then I have to call the manufacture to trouble shoot and determine if I qualify for a replacement, then I have to call my doctor for an alternative prescription for long lasting insulin to manage until the replacement is over nighted because I the last vial expired, then I have to get to the pharmacy to collect the insulin, and inject it before I get sick. Now imagine if this happened during an out of town con. At least I was close to home when it happened this time, it could have been worse. For those of you reading this who use a Medtronic insulin pump the manufacture recommends placing the pump in a sock if you must wear it in your bra and to carry extra socks to change out in case there is too much moisture. This is now what I do if I have to wear my pump in my bra on any given day. Cosplay or not. If you use another brand I recommend you check with the manufacture of your pump regarding this so you don’t risk voiding the warranty for inappropriate use or something like that.

Not only do I have to design costumes around my pump but days before the convention or event I have to make sure that the infusion set is placed on my body so that the tubing will reach both the site where the insulin is delivered and the location on my costume where my pump will be held or hidden. I also have to keep in mind how much insulin is in my pump so I make sure to have enough insulin and cartridges to refill the machine while I am at cons. I also plan on back ups in case something were to happen.

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Notice me sporting my insulin pump attached to the sash. This is a day I had to strategically place my infusion set for a costume.

When it comes to conventions I always have to have emergency supplies on hand. These include some form of sugar for low blood sugar, extra infusion sets in case my costume rips this out (without an infusion set my body does not get the necessary insulin and this has happened several time. Oddly enough while in steampunk, I blame the layers of steamie awesome!), glucometer, extra test strips, and cash in case I misplace my low blood sugar snack or end up using everything. This has happened to me before on a really bad day. To carry all of this I use a back pack. I love costumes with capes because most people don’t even notice my mini back pack. I love steampunk for the pouches that can handle most of this and my Twi’lek Mando! Pockets in costumes are super exciting in my world!

Something people have commented about at cons is how I regularly eat three meals a day. Most people seem to not eat at cons, which I think is weird personally. If I don’t eat I tend to become h-angry (hungry anger) but I also become lethargic and loss my mental capacity. Especially if my blood sugar gets too low. Eating regularly is a good way to prevent this. In fact, I probably shouldn’t admit this in a public forum, at one con I was uncontrollably in tears I was so hungry and exhausted. All I wanted was food in my belly! The moment I ate I was perfectly fine! I thank my friends who still hang out with me at cons and understand that I can’t control when I get this way. Since then we have developed a code word that is used among the group even when I am not there.

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Sporting my Medtronic pump like a pro!

In order to help keep my blood sugar under control I have to stay hydrated. If I don’t keep this in my mind my blood sugar levels rise and stay high. Which means if I want to wear a costume for a long period of time I have to be able to use the rest room. This is one reason I am looking into upgrading my Twi’lek Mando to a two piece suit. It is one of the few costumes I cannot wear all day and one that is easy to get dehydrated in from the layers and the latex prosthetic. I have had heat exhaustion in this costume, not an experience I want to have again or recommend to anyone.

No matter what I do sometimes my insulin pump is visible and it use to bother me. Not going to lie. I always thought I had to keep it a secret that I was diabetic. Something I should be ashamed of. But one day that all changed. While at a charity even in cosplay a little girl who was also an insulin pump user saw my pump and got so excited to see a super hero wearing a pump. We talked about super heroes and that it is okay to have diabetes. That is shouldn’t keep you from your passions. I hope that I inspired her to embrace what makes her different and own it. There is nothing wrong with having a disability or a chronic condition. It is a part of who we are as individuals. Not something that defines us but makes us stand out as unique from everyone else.

The things that I have to deal with are not what every diabetic has to deal with. Some decided to go without their insulin pump while in costume. That is their adult decision to make but I choose to incorporate mine into my costumes. Other diabetics who cosplay have their own ways to manage their blood sugars or try to. Everyone is different, with different experiences. I hope that this inspires those who don’t feel like they can’t cosplay because of their insulin pump to do it if you want to! And I hope that it opens the eyes of other people to one type of chronic condition and what it means to pursue something one loves. If you really want to do some thing you can find a way!

If you are diabetic and need suggestions please feel free to reach out to me! I am more than happy to bounce ideas of modifications or what has worked for me in situations as a diabetic. You can email me at adventureswithmala@gmail.com or through Facebook.

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