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