(picture taken in Morocco, 2013) 

Before I was instructed to inject hypodermic needles into my own tender skin, the nurse let me practice on oranges.

With my left thumb and forefinger, I pinched an inch of the fruit’s flesh, and with my right, slid the thin needle into its pulp, pressed down the plunger, and injected two units of saline. After three more rounds of practice, the nurse gently took the oranges away. She handed me a fresh, orange-capped syringe. I shifted in my hospital bed so that my gangly, pre-teen legs were straight out in front of me.

Soon, I’d learn that there are various places a person with diabetes can inject insulin: upper arm, stomach, hips. My first spot was my upper left thigh. Trembling, I pinched my flesh, like I had the fruit. Determined to do what I must to save my own life. My hospital room smelled like citrus all night.

 

This past year has been almond butter, popcorn, La Croix. Minestrone soup, coffee with cream. Not much. A lot of air.

23 was Amsterdam: pasta carbonara, aged gouda cheese. Yogurt on granola. Translating Dutch in the grocery store, balancing bags on my bicycle handles. Learning to cook perfect hamburgers for a family of four. Belgian beers.

22 was senior year: roasted brussels sprouts, vegetable omelets with hot sauce, bottles of red wine while writing literary critiques.

21 was France: chunks of brie on fresh baguettes, ratatouille crêpes from the underground shop. Too much Nutella, never enough Nutella. French wine: red, white, rosé, depending on the weather and time of day. Street food in the 12 countries I traveled.

20, 19: Cheese quesadillas. Whatever booze someone would buy me.

18: Perfecting the water-to-grain ratio of brown sugar instant oatmeal, prepared in my dorm room microwave. Dining hall salads, or whatever else was vegetarian. Red cups of bright fruit juice mixed with cheap vodka, poured by frat bros. I lost 8 pounds that year.

15, 16, 17: Jager bombs, beer bongs, various fruit-flavored rum. Buffalo chicken bites and cups of ranch from the Irish-themed burger joint I worked at, where older men told me I should smile more, before making their way to the bar.

14, the year of my diagnosis: turkey and cheese sandwiches slathered with mayonnaise, cups of vanilla pudding, boxes of apple juice. The year I first drank alcohol: airplane bottles of Smirnoff, warm Natty Lights we got from someone’s older brother, taking a sip, passing it around.

My childhood, from 5 to 13, was artichokes with lemon-butter. Sometimes cups of raspberries, and other things, depending upon which of my parents I was with that night. Mondays and Tuesdays with Mom. Every other Wednesday with Dad, and every Thursday. Every other Friday, Saturday and Sunday with Mom. Back and forth like that, with my pink duffle bag. The way I know how to live: adaptively, in motion, a baby bird taking flight.

They would call me as I re-packed my bag at the other’s house, and ask me what I wanted for dinner that night.

I never quite knew. I said artichokes, my answer consistent, familiar. Whatever I hungered for, it was always the same.

 

Guys, I’m tired.

I am really, really, really, really tired. And it is not for lack of sleep. It’s the kind of well-rested tired that stems from trying to get my blood sugar between these two lines and to STAY THERE, while acknowledging that it quite literally never will.

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The kind of tired that comes from not only trying to hold my health together, and not only trying to hold the rest of my life together, but trying to propel these things forward by showing up to all the doctors appointments, and showing up to work every day, and refilling the medicine on time, and going grocery shopping before I end up eating stale crackers for lunch and carrying a 3-day old bottle of Coke in my purse for emergency glucose because I’ve run out of juice boxes. It’s the kind of tired that comes from the reality that Donald Trump is literally, actually, SERIOUSLY going to be the next President of the United States. It is the kind of tired that comes from checking my bank account. It is the kind of tired that comes from remembering that I still have a gym membership I’ve used 3 times in 4 months. It is the kind of tired that comes from unlearning the lifestyle I’ve grown up in to make space for one that is actually sustainable, which I’m told will one day feel less insurmountable than it currently feels. It’s the kind of tired that comes from carrying on despite feeling this tiredness for days and weeks and months on end… because that is what we do, right? We keep showing up. We keep checking our blood sugar. We keep fighting the good fight. This is what I’ve been trying to do, anyway.

But today, my alarm went off at 7:30 and I laid in bed until 8:10, made coffee that I didn’t have time to drink, went to an appointment at 9, drove home, and promptly crawled back into my bed, which is exactly where I am right now, writing this. Drinking that heated-up coffee. Because I am tired. Today, my entire body feels weighted, cloaked. This weight is behind my eyes and on my shoulders and in my chest and down my legs. It is in every deep breath and the subtle ache in my head. It is everywhere. And it is telling me to sit the fuck down.

I am confident that some of you–many of you… most of you?–recognize what I am feeling. This burnout.

Our task is great, in taking care of our fragile and fluctuating health the way we do, and in taking care of our entire sprawling lives the way we do. Absolutely worth it, I’m reminded by wild, glimmering, every day magic–but also absolutely exhausting at times.

I know I’ve been experiencing burnout in all realms of life, and diabetes burnout, specifically, by the subtle ways I’ve been handing (or not handling) things: walking around with an expired Dexcom sensor on my thigh because I just can’t find the energy to replace it. Eating 4 Reese cups at work because… I WANTED THEM AND THEY WERE THEREand, sure, taking the insulin, but then watching, apathetically, as the blood sugar spike-and-crash effect ensued. Realizing a low is creeping in, and instead of immediately getting up to get some juice, spending 3 minutes sitting on the edge of my bed with my head in my hands, thinking only, I. Am. So. Tired. 

Speaking of low blood sugar, my blood sugar is low now, as I write this, so… I have to go take care of that now.

This feels like an accurate way to end this particular post, anyway. By no means ideal, but accurate.

 

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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, The Faraway Nearby by the ever-brilliant Rebecca Solnit, in which 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 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. I can’t truly 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. To go down that path would be to end up with a body divided. That is a dangerous place to be. I know, because I’ve been there. Minimizing, disassociating, demonizing, 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 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.