With chronic illness, I often feel perpetually suspended between worlds, in some kind of grey area of healthy/sick. While I was still in the hospital, upon diabetes diagnosis, recalibrating everything I’d ever known about taking care of myself, I asked my mom, “Does this mean I’m sick?” She paused, then said, “Don’t think of it like that.”
Eleven years later, I don’t really believe it “depends on how you look at it” so much as I believe that no matter how we look at it, there is both darkness and lightness there. Not alternating, but simultaneous. Not dueling, but co-existing.
I’m reading a book by the brilliant Rebecca Solnit (yes, the same one I quoted last time) and she’d spent the better part of the previous 2 chapters talking about the ways her mother abandoned her while she was growing up.
Then, she shifted within her own story and wrote this:
Like lawyers, writers seek consistency; they make case for their point of view; they do so by leaving out some evidence, but let me mention the hundreds of sandwiches my mother made during my elementary school years, the peanut butter sandwiches. When my friends began to have babies and I came to comprehend the heroic labor it takes to keep one alive, the constant exhausting tending of a being who can do nothing and demands everything, I realized that my mother had done all these things for me before I remembered. I was fed; I was washed; I was clothed; I was taught to speak and given a thousand other things, daily, for years. She gave me everything before she gave me nothing.
I could say, yes, diabetes has felt to me at times as “a being who can do nothing and demands everything.” But that is not the whole story. The truth is messier, more slippery, ever more intricate than Good vs Evil. What have thousands of days living with Type 1 diabetes brought me? So many things. So many bruised things; so many beautiful things. An awareness, a sensitivity, and a reservoir of strength that I carry with me in everything I do–not in spite of diabetes, but because of it. I can’t demonize something that has connected me to so many people, places, ideas, and brought me so much purpose. This thing that has brought me to my knees with its inescapability has taught me through that same inescapability everything I know about acceptance. It is teaching me, still, how to not run away. It is teaching me what is staying, what is sitting, what is being.
Diabetes is too much a part of me, intertwined in everything I do and am, to say This part of me is good and This part of me is bad, or This part of me is Me and This part of me is Other. To go down that path would be to end up with a body divided. That is a dangerous place to be. I know, because this happened, I’ve been there. Minimizing, disassociating, villianizing, attempting to shoulder through with brute force, throwing in the towel (then promptly scooping the towel back up because my life depends on it)– I’ve ricocheted like a pinball through my own life, through my own bodily experience.
These days, I try to acknowledge the whole story (as much as I can while still being a human subjective in her experience) in all its multi-dimensional truth: wellness and illness, strength and fragility, sorrow and joy.
I wrote this yesterday in a different context, regarding something else entirely: because although my trip to New York was pure magic, it was also difficult, the way everything feels difficult these days. Difficult magic.
It fits here too, for what has my whole experience with diabetes been?
From my body’s autoimmune attack–which would’ve killed me had I lived in another time, or even, grievously, in this same time but in another, less insulin-accessible place, to every high blood sugar I have lowered and every low blood sugar I have raised, to the depths of despair and every sun-dappled morning:
it has all been difficult magic.