Yes, I was diagnosed with Diabetes on “Pi” day. I know.
I’ve spent all day wanting to write about this, but drawing a blank.
I want to say: Being diagnosed changed my life! But honestly, I think that’s a lie.
I want to cry: Diabetes took something from me! It didn’t.
I want to crow: Diabetes gave me something you couldn’t have! But I don’t believe that either.
If Type I Diabetes (I know, the “bad kind!”) gave me anything, it was a shortcut to knowledge. And I’m happy to share, if you’re willing to listen.
I don’t know who I’d be if I wasn’t diabetic. I was diagnosed so young, I can’t remember my life without it. Anyone who was there at the time could tell you that my mother was the one who struggled with the diagnosis. There were a lot of challenges in store for me ahead, but she was the only one with enough foresight to see them. I cried once, randomly waking up at 3 am on the first night. Then someone gave me a teddy bear, and I moved on.
There’s so many wonderful gifts being Type 1 Diabetic as given me. It’s hard to explain to those who aren’t diabetic, but a lot of diabetics I’ve met would completely agree. I know my own limits, being diabetic. I’ve learned, over the past sixteen years, where my limits are, how to listen to what my body tells me, how to push myself when I need to, and what I’m capable of.
It’s that last item on the list that seems to be the valuable one. I have multiple tattoos dedicated to the concept of “resiliency” because I take serious, actual pride in mine. Both myself and my skin have been tough beyond their age for a long time now. So many people have told me through the years “you have to inject yourself? With needles? I couldn’t do that.”
Yes, you could.
If your life depended on it, you’d do it, a little every day, persistent and dedicated, to and through hell itself.
And at the end, you’d stop saying stupid shit like that, careless phrases all but designed to make the tough little girls in front of you mourn for some intangible piece they’ve lost. They haven’t lost anything. There’s no abnormal strength here, and no weakness in you. I don’t have anything you don’t. I’ve surrounded myself with as many diabetics as possible just to get an escape from the idea that I’ve lost some sense of innocence, should be pitied or protected.
I have to confess, frustration at that idea has often brought me to the erroneous conclusion that I am somehow superior for my diabetes. As my diabetes meanders its way through its teenage years, I see that’s wrong. I’m not special. I don’t have anything that isn’t innate in all human nature.
I just happened to notice it’s there.
That’s the contemporary diabetic’s gift. Non-diabetics see us, walking through the crowd, coated in tattoos and scars, holding our heads high, using a syringe under the table at a restaurants and reacting well under pressure. It’s not something we have that you couldn’t. Diabetes didn’t gift me toughness. Diabetes is just an inner strength training course. A test, that you can’t fail. A diabetic’s gift is perspective.
I am privileged. Yes, you read that right. I am a privileged disabled person. (Yes, diabetes is a disability. If you have issues with that, take it up with every HR department ever. When I fill out applications, it says to check the box for “being a person with a disability” if you are diabetic. If I get a job, they get brownie points). Go back a hundred years. Insulin was invented in 1921. If I was diagnosed exactly one hundred years ago, today, I’d die before that invention came about. Heck, if I tried to time travel, I’d die before insulin could be made for me. That’s a hard fact to forget. Don’t believe me? Start asking me fun, hypothetical scenarios.
What you do in the zombie apocalypse? Raid every pharmacy possible until all the insulin in the world expired, so maybe two years? No, wait. I’d need to know what my blood sugar is. So raid for insulin and test strips, which expire in about one year. One year, then die slowly.
What would you bring with you if you were trapped on a deserted island?A fridge, and a solar generator. Insulin fries in heat. Oh, and test strips, juice boxes, glucagon, syringes (not going to bother with an insulin pump, it would just get sand in it).… can I have my CGM?
What would you do if you swapped bodies with someone for a day?Spend it holding their hand and managing that body’s diabetes, still. So I have a body to go back to.
I am privileged and honored to be living in the present. I know it every day. I learned it, fast, as day one my grandmother was shocked that I would be allowed to eat jello and cake in the hospital. Even with insulin, diabetics did not thrive in her day. They simply existed, and they felt honored about that too.
This is what I mean, about perspective. At the end of the day, unless I’m in an accident, I won’t die of “old age”. It will be diabetes that kills me, some complication from the toll it’s taken on my body or another. My cause of death was written sixteen years ago, and part of me is still coming to terms with that. But most of me is fine with it, to my eternal surprise.
That’s what I know, that you may or may not. That’s the shortcut I’ve taken, the knowledge I got as early as nine years old. Humans can get used to anything. No matter how bleak the situation, there is a way to find a silver lining. There is a way to create art, life, meaning. Pain only holds you down if you let it do so. And you should, a little. After bleeding my heart out on this page, I’ll probably be eating ice cream in the bathroom for the rest of the night. A little diagnosis day tradition. I cry over diabetes once a year, because I’m human, and my nine-year old self was right. It isn’t fair. And some times you just need to feel that for a while, get it out.
But I stop crying now for the same reason I did back then. Because I know I can handle this. You could too, if you wanted. I hope you know that. I hope you’re assured of it, comforted by these stories. Because I’m happy to carry the burden for both of us. I’ll keep on being diabetic, because someone has to. And I know I can. I just hope you know you’re capable of this, and so much more too.
I hope you appreciate it as much as I can appreciate being sick.