On My 9th Diaversary: The Light + The Dark

Today, I’ve had type one diabetes for 9 years.

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When I first realized today was my diaversary, I was sitting in a little nook of the beach house, sipping coffee and reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I read through a section, in which she, while speaking of her affinity for hiking the trail alone, writes,

When I reached the trail on the other side, I felt stupid and weak and sorry for myself, vulnerable in a way I hadn’t felt on the trail before, envious of the couples who had each other [...], but I’d be forever alone. And why? What did being alone do? I’m not afraid, I said, calling up my old mantra to calm my mind. But it didn’t feel the same as it usually did to say it. Perhaps because that wasn’t entirely true anymore.

Perhaps by now I’d come far enough that I had the guts to be afraid.

I’m thinking back to August 21, 2005 when I was diagnosed at 14 years old. I didn’t cry once during the 4 days I was in the hospital. Not while I practiced giving myself shots in fleshy orange peels before sinking the needle into my own tender arms and stomach and thighs. Not while I felt the heaving gravity of a low blood sugar for the first time- waking up in the middle of the night in my hospital room, numb-limbed with no idea what was happening until the nurse fed me graham crackers and milk. Not while I sat silent as my mom sat next to me, sobbing to the doctor, the doctor point to me, asking, “Is she always this stoic?” Not once. I’m not afraid, I thought.

I’m thinking back to nine years of butterfly test strips and Humalog air bubbles and insulin to carb ratios and all the other things I wish I never had to learn.

I’m thinking of all the years I skimmed the surface of diabetes-knowledge, an impulse of self-protection that I didn’t even realize. I knew a few facts: it’s an autoimmune disease, my pancreas doesn’t produce insulin, carbs = shots, it happened to me, it’s forever. I held vague interest in knowing more. I read Needles by Andie Dominick and interned for a summer for JDRF, but beyond that, I didn’t question anything or talk about it or even really think about it. Especially the scary stuff- the threats of complications, the dangerous lows. The first time I ever wrote honestly and openly about it was around this time last year, when I wrote My Open Letter to Type One Diabetes.

This past year, that shifted. I wanted progress and support and understanding and relief. I went, alone, to a conference in DC for women with diabetes. One of the sessions I went to was called ‘Diabetes Head to Toe,’ and it was all about how diabetes affects our bodies. We started with the top of the head, scanned down to the eyes, the ears, nose, throat, thyroid, down to our lungs and heart and bones, down to our feet, and we listed everything that diabetes could do to us. All the ways it could damage us. (Spoiler alert: there are many.) The session was an hour and half long and we only made it to the heart before we ran out of time.

This is fucking depressing, I thought about 5 minutes into the session. I want to get the hell out of here. But I stayed. I sat and I listened and I acknowledged these very real complications that I’d spent most of my diabetic life trying to force out of my mind in an effort to not be depressed or paralyzed by fear. An effort to “focus on the positive,” which I’m usually pretty good at. But that day, I confronted the darkest, coldest facts. The things I fear the most. And I didn’t walk out of that room with a new sense of empowerment to prevent those things from happening to me or strength from any new knowledge I’d learned. Living is easy with eyes closed. I left that room feeling older, aged by realities I don’t care for.

It’s my 9th anniversary with type one diabetes, and I’m more afraid than ever.

And yet, I also feel that I’m in a better place with my diabetes than ever before. Not  because I constantly fill my head with bright-side thoughts or have better control over my health than ever before (because I don’t and I don’t), but because I’m acknowledging both the dark and the light. I’m taking it all in now, even the scariest parts, and still standing. I’m looking it square in the eye, and I’m still going.

I’ve had diabetes for 9 years today. I’m equal parts excited and scared for the next 9. And I think that’s okay.

Perhaps by now I’d come far enough that I had the guts to be afraid.

 

Postcard from Prague

As my future inches closer and closer to colliding with Europe again, I find myself reflecting more and more on my past travels and the enthralling prospects of new ones. Lately, I’ve been daydreaming of the 6 days my friend Owens and I spent in the living fairytale land that is Prague, Czech Republic.

Prague was the second leg of our 2-week, 3-stop backpacking trip last April. We went to Berlin before, and Amsterdam after.

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Right after we hopped off the train and set our stuff down at the hostel, we stumbled across some paddle-boats and decided it was an enchanting way to begin our Prague explorations.

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Afterwards, we did what we always did when we first arrived in a new city: grabbed a map, a beer, and started planning what we wanted to do and see.

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And we also got our first taste of Czech cuisine with beef goulash and incredible bread dumplings.

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I got my lit-nerd on with this statue honoring Franz Kafka during a donation-based walking tour (these walking tours by Sandemans New Europe are so informative, fun, and free! We took them in Prague, Amsterdam, and Berlin)

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Czech food is definitely not light on the carbs…. but it is delicious and inexpensive. Pictured here is a cinnamon-sugar-bread-twist of heaven called Trdelnik.

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Several times a day, this magical clock in the middle of the city square would chime and perform a little show like a giant cuckoo clock, and tourists like me would huddle around to watch. Admittedly, it’s not a grand show, but it is pretty cool, and makes you feel like you’re in a live European Disneyland for a little while.

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We stumbled upon these little treats at a small café near our hostel. A year and a half ago when I visited Prague, I could have told you what they were called, but it’s slipped my mind by now. I do remember them costing 1 euro each, there were a million different varieties and toppings, and they were delicious. It’s just cheese, mayo, baguette, and whatever those little things on top are. The perfect snack! (If not the healthiest….)

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We visited the Alfons Mucha Museum, and it was one of the most memorable and beautiful galleries I’ve ever visited. I highly recommend stopping by!

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The infamous John Lennon Wall of Prague. We accidentally stumbled across this, though it was on our list of things to see, and we ended up visiting it several times after. It’s changing all the time, and it’s really beautiful.

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On our last morning in Prague, we stumbled upon a little open air market with pastries galore and lots of other cool handcrafted items.

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Prague is a uniquely gorgeous fairytale land. There is nowhere else quite like it.

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Courage doesn’t always roar

“Courage doesn’t always roar.
Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the
end of the day saying,
“I will try again tomorrow.”

— Mary Anne Radmacher, Live Boldly

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Today was really rough.

But I will try again tomorrow.

the intentions of travel

No matter how far you travel, you can never get away from yourself

- Haruki Murakami, After the Quake 

I wanted to study abroad after my junior year of college for all the same reasons that everyone else wants to: to see the world, eat foreign cuisine, learn a new language, make worldly friends, etc. But I also wanted to study abroad because I wanted to escape, which I also feel is pretty common, but less readily admitted and/or talked about.

By the middle of my sophomore year as a PR major and French minor, at 19 years old, I felt defeated, exhausted, and completely and utterly lost in every corner of my life. My classes weren’t stimulating or engaging to me in any way. I was in a sorority that I no longer felt connected to or wished to be involved in. My relationships were distant, tumultuous. I can’t remember how my diabetes management was, but I’d guess that at best it was distracted and low-priority. I chose to work full-time hours on top of full-time school to avoid free time that would allow space in my head to acknowledge what was going on, that I was struggling. My grades slipped and I had daily panic attacks, stuck on a paralyzing carousel of anxiety. Ultimately, I was a hollowed, nervous version of myself for another year and a half before I decided something had to change.

In January of my junior year, I was accepted to study abroad in Aix en Provence, France for the fall semester of my senior year. I was ecstatic. This foreign destination, the idea of elsewhere, was all I daydreamed about for months and months and months. Sitting alone in the tiny attic I rented in a house on Hell Block, I imagined how beautiful my life would be in the south of France. I would be calm and cultured, sipping Bordeaux and laughing in French with all my new European best friends. I would shop at the open-air markets every day and learn how to cook and my blood sugar would always stabilize at a dreamy 100. I wouldn’t be sad. I would miss my friends, but we would write each other often. And they would come visit me, and we would bounce around Europe, clinking beers and hopping on and off trains. I wouldn’t feel guilty. I wouldn’t run into anyone I didn’t want to see, because I didn’t know anyone, but I also wouldn’t feel lonely. I wouldn’t feel tired or stressed or sick or anxious or intimidated or shy or upset or fragile.

Sounds pretty unrealistic, right?

The funny thing is, a lot of that did actually happen. My time in Aix was a fairytale.

So much so that two months into being there, I decided to extend my study abroad adventure to the entire year instead of just the fall semester. By doing this, I agreed to graduate college late. I didn’t care. I recognized that I needed to build myself back up, so I took the time to do it. And like I said, I was astounded by how many of my daydreams became reality, or even better than reality. This was the view from my bedroom:

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I had an amazing French teacher, and sweet classmates from all over the world, and 98% of days were spotless and sun-drenched. My friends were hilarious and kind. I did shop at the open-air markets, and they were magical. I took a two-month French cooking class and learned how to scale a fish and make ratatouille and muster the patience to cook a meal for 4 hours. Two of my best friends and my mom did visit me, and we did run around Europe having the best time. I went to 11 countries, and even hopped over to Africa for 5 dusty days in Morocco. Things were great.

But even through my glowing experience, some days were really rough. I was still inclined to anxiety. I still struggled with balance, and really struggled with the severity of my life-pace changing; I didn’t know what to do with all my free time. I still had to wake up every morning and feed my blood to a test strip. I fell extremely ill my second week there, and it was terrifying.

That we can’t step off of a plane into a wonderful place and have all of our worries and concerns and anxieties instantly lifted is a shame, but a truth. To travel in hopes of escaping all of our experiences is fruitless. They are a part of us, engrained.

That lesson is tough, but necessary. Stepping out of a familiar space and distancing oneself from everyone and everything forces us to take a more active role in our own lives, because even if there is someone/something else to blame, that does us little good in the end. What is much more important to focus on is how to let go, how to build a better present moment. How to accept things for what they are, even when they realllllllllllllllly suck, and how to try to feel okay.

 We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.

- Anonymous

Traveling is awesome, and there are a million zillion great reasons to do it, and so many experiences to run toward. But no matter what, the best advice I would tell someone who is about to embark on a traveling adventure is this: Plan to be surprised. 

gluten-free sea salt dark chocolate chunk cookies

Yes, they are as good as they sound. Gluten has nothing on these.

So many thanks to Katy, who read my post about going gluten-free and sent me this with wonderful recipe!

Any one of my friends can vouch for the fact that I’m not really that into sweets*. I would choose a bag of salty chips (preferably Trader Joe’s Olive Oil Potato Chips because SO GOOD) over a cupcake or handful of candy any day. But around my sophomore year of college, I stumbled upon a recipe for sea salt chocolate chip cookies, and they were the perfect balance of sweet and salty, and I really couldn’t get enough of them. I mastered them. They were so delicious and everyone loved them, but I had to refrain from baking them because my blood sugar couldn’t handle anymore “I think I’ll just have 4 cookies for breakfast” kind of mornings.

I’d actually forgotten about that sugary phase of my life until I read the recipe Katy sent me the other day. I read Chewy Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Sea Salt and it all came flooding back. And I decided this definitely had to be my first gluten-free baking experiment.

So yesterday, these happened:

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And they were awesome.

The only thing I did differently is use regular granulated sugar instead of coconut sugar because that sounded very cool and exotic but also very Whole Foods aka very $10 for a small bag of sugar. (I could be totally wrong. I didn’t even look into it.)

The recipe is completely grain-free, so instead of using flour, they call for a cup of raw almond butter. And somehow, they still manage to have the perfect coveted crispy outside and chewy inside that every cookie tries to live up to (without a weird nut butter taste or anything.)

It’s a GF chocolate chip cookie miracle! 

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*this excludes Sugar Shack doughnuts and all milk chocolate


 

EDIT:// I think (actually I KNOW because I’ve already had 2 for breakfast) that these cookies are even better the next morning. Nom nom nom.

not in another place, but this place

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People always joke on my ability to throw a relevant quote into any conversation (but I know they actually love it.) I have a million quotes buzzing through my brain all the time. Sometimes I think I might actually think in quotes instead of forming my own sentences. I have pages and pages of Word documents saved of quotes I love, and binders of quotes I’ve printed out.

Okay, yes, maybe I’m a weirdo. But really I just love words a lot. Usually I’ll stumble across a quote that is really relevant at the moment, obsess over it for a day or a week or maybe a month, and then I’ll move on. This is the one I’m currently in love with:

Will you seek afar off? you surely come back at last,
In things best known to you finding the best, or as good as the best,
In folks nearest to you finding the sweetest, strongest, lovingest,
Happiness, knowledge, not in another place but this place, not for
another hour but this hour

- Walt Whitman, from “A Song of Occupations

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All hail Walt Whitman.

This is the reminder I needed right now, amongst the anxious in-betweens that my life seems to hang in right now (between college & career, Amsterdam & America, moving out of my little home on Clay St. & onto an air mattress at my (amazing, generous, life-saver) friend’s house for a month.) It’s a reminder to stay in this moment while I have it.

Which is HARD. It really is, in our fast-paced culture and in my fast-paced mind. I’m a dreamer, I like to think about the future and what things will be like and all the things that could happen and where I could be and where I will be. I like building little possibility-worlds. And with the excitement of moving to Amsterdam (to see afar off) and all the planning involved, it’s easy to get wrapped up in September as these sweet July days roll by. It’s easy to dream of the new places I’ll see, the new people I’ll meet, the happiness, the knowledge. 

But I love Richmond. I love Virginia. (Not in another place but this place.)

I love all the brilliant people I know here (In folks nearest to you finding the sweetest, strongest, lovingest) my home, my friends, my family, my language, and I’m going to miss it so much. I want to absorb every inch of every day until I leave. (Not in another hour, but this hour.)

I know the future is so bright, but now is pretty cool, too.

Shout out to my homie Walt for reminding me of that.

 

 

I bought the plane ticket // Postcard from Amsterdam

 The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are.
-John Pierpont
I bought the plane ticket.
The plane ticket has been bought.
In early September, my year-long Amsterdam adventure begins!
To celebrate, here is a postcard flashback to one of my previous visits to this beautiful city of bikes + canals!
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Postcard from Paris

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Happy Bastille Day, beautiful France.

I’m never not missing you.

On Going Gluten-Free

I’ve been sick, really sick, for months.

It started with complete appetite loss in mid-April. Like flicking a switch, my appetite just shut off. Later came the stomachaches, nausea, bloating, extreme fatigue (really weird for a normally high-energy person like me), weakness, lack of motivation to do anything, brain fuzziness, and irritability. = Extreme sadness and extreme extreme extreme frustration, also.

When the symptoms were only worsening near June, I made an appointment with a gastro specialist. I was afraid I had celiac disease, as 10-20% type one diabetics do, and I matched many of the symptoms. I had a blood test done, waited a week. Negative. Had an endoscopy the next week, and that, too, was negative for Celiac and/or anything else. I was very relieved it wasn’t Celiac, but throughout all the waiting and tests and more waiting, I was still suffering all of those symptoms every day and I just wanted a goddamn answer. I just wanted a pinpointed diagnosis. I’ve spent so much of this summer lying in my bed, too tired or sad or sick to do anything. I just wanted an explanation. So next, I had a gastric emptying test done to make sure I was digesting food at a healthy pace. This is literally one of the weirdest things I’ve ever had to do:

  1. Eat a radioactive egg sandwich (no, really)
  2. Lay under a machine for 2 hours to track radioactive lunch being digested

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When the results came in, everything checked out. Again, I felt relieved, but empty handed, still aching. (Not to mention now sifting anxiously through a growing pile of medical bills.) So I backtracked. I thought maybe something outside of my stomach was causing my problems. I went back to a general doctor and got a Complete Blood Count. Everything looked good…. except my blood sugar at that precise moment (whoopsie). I had tests for pancreas function, thyroid function, liver function: check, check, check.

Nothing.

I told the doctor how frustrated I was, how something is fucked up, and I was thinking maybe I had an intolerance to something, like gluten or dairy, because what else is left? And you know what she said to me? Experiment. Only you know how you feel. A patient knows their body far better than a doctor does.

So, I’m experimenting.  One week ago, I cut gluten out of my diet. (What a weird word, by the way, gluten.) It’s been easy(ish) because weirdly enough, when I lost my appetite in April, I especially lost all desire for bread-y things. (It’s the secretly hidden gluten-y things that are tough.)

And I’ve felt so much better ever since. It makes me happy and sad, but mostly relieved. It’s actually hard to believe how much better I feel. I was sick for so long, it was wearing me so thin. I was breaking down. I was so worried. And now, what, it’s over, as long as I don’t eat gluten? I guess we’ll see. My friends feel bad for me, saying things like I can’t believe you can’t eat gluuuuuten! What about beer?! What about bread? What will you eat? I could never give up those things.

Which is when I politely offer the same response as when someone tells me You have to take shots? I could never do that! I’m not good with blood. I’m not good with needles!! Eeeeek!!!!

Lol. As if there is a choice.

My response: You would be surprised by the things you would do to survive.

Me eating gluten free cheese bagels while everyone else eats french toast

My breakfast: Gluten Free Cheese Bagels // Everyone else’s breakfast: Baguette-style French toast

Not being able to eat gluten isn’t the end of the world. It’s certainly the end of a world of mine, at least for now, the end of a more carefree world where I could drink beer and eat pizza and breadsticks and “only” have carbs and blood sugar and insulin to worry about. It’s another thing to worry about, to scan the Nutrition Facts for. It’s another thing to avoid and another health-thing to take up space in my head. But it’s not the end of the world.

When I was first confronted with the idea of a gluten-free life, back when I thought I had Celiac, my mom said, “So if that’s what it is, you’ll just have to re-adjust your lifestyle. It’s not like you haven’t had to do that before.” And that is what pisses me off. The fact that I have done it. I molded my entire life to a dramatic degree 9 years ago, upon diabetes diagnosis. I’ve done this. I’ve done it. And now, after being brave and positive and strong for so many years- now this too? This new obstacle, this new limitation?

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I can handle whatever is going on. Of course I can. Diabetes is a hell of a force to be reckoned with, and my skin is 1000x thicker for it. But I guess I’ve just always had the lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place mentality.

And so it seems that, too, will need re-adjusting.

PS- If anyone has any awesome GF recipes/brand suggestions, send ‘em my way please & thank you!

Coffee & Insulin has a Facebook page!

YAY! CLICK HERE!

(Be back with an actual post after I get my post-vacation life together.)

In the meantime, let’s reminisce on how good FRIENDS was:

rachel ross

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