Diabetes and Me
November is American Diabetes Month. And, many of you may not know that I have Diabetes. Type One Diabetes, and I've had it for 16 and a half years. Goodness, that's a long time and I don't think I realized it had been that long until I typed it out just now. My diabetes is so old it could almost vote, or be enlisted. It's so close to getting into an R-rated movie by itself. Look at my Diabetes. All grown up...
The truth is, I don't really remember what it's like to live life without Diabetes. After all this time, after most of my childhood and my entire adult life with this disease, it's simply a part of my life and it's not something I've talked about often on this here blog of mine. And to be honest, I'm not exactly sure why. Maybe because I don't feel like this is the audience for it, maybe because it feels like any talking about it would basically be one big vent session... whatever the reason, I'm talking about it today. In honor of American Diabetes Month, I thought I'd reach out with the only real platform I have to shed a little light on something so often left in the dark.
I was diagnosed when I was 7. We were in the middle of a move and I remember my mom was packing up the kitchen and I came running to her saying, "Mom, my hands smell like tomatoes." Little did we know it was toxins in my blood from high blood sugars, little did we know the hardships we would face to get an actual diagnosis, much less find out it was a chronic disease that would impact almost every single thing I would do for the rest of my life.
I've been hospitalized twice, I'm on my fifth insulin pump, can give myself a shot with no hesitation. I've been bullied because I was different and wore "a pager" to school, made fun of for being disoriented because of a low blood sugar, lost entire days to feeling like crap, lost entire nights' sleeps for the same reason. I was told I might never be able to have children when I was 15. It's not been an easy disease to have, by any means, but I try to stay positive and just do the best I can with what I have been given.
So I made a list, as I usually do, of things I'd like to say about Diabetes, maybe things you've heard maybe things you have't. But I think it's important I say them either way. Like I said, I don't share much about my Diabetes but whether I do or don't, it's still a huge part of who I am.
1. Type 1 Diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes are completely different diseases. I was born with this disease but it didn't surface until I was 7. It couldn't have been prevented, has nothing to do with my lifestyle choices or weight, and it's not curable. (Also, I feel like this article does an excellent job of explaining the difference between the two.)
2. Diabetes affects everything I do, but it does not dictate my life choices. I was able to have a perfectly healthy and normal twin pregnancy, I can have birthday cake or a cookie when I want to, I can do anything a "normal" person can, but I have to be conscious of my disease always. This is maybe the hardest thing I work through with my disease because no matter what I'm doing, my diabetes stays with me. Every meal, every activity, every day and night.
3. Being a mother with Diabetes has made it both extremely hard and extremely easy to take care of my diabetes. My day to day life does not accommodate a debilitating disease very well. Moms don't get sick days, and even though I try my hardest to prevent blood sugar problems, they happen. And it's extremely hard to function when they do. Sometimes I feel guilty for parenting less because of my disease. But my children are wonderful motivation to take care of it. I want to show them that I am strong, that we can overcome these obstacles no matter how persistent they may be, and I want to be around for their children to see it too.
4. There's something incredibly humbling about this disease. And something very eye opening when I realize a little machine smaller than the palm of my hand is the reason I am alive today. I am more than this disease, but it's hard to wrap my head around the reality of it sometimes.
5. I'm really really good at doing arithmetic in my head thanks to my diabetes. Counting carbs in my head since I was 7, then dividing them according to my insulin ratio made basic math a breeze for me. I also know the approximate amount of carbohydrates in almost any food. My friends used to quiz me on it in middle school.
6. The saying - be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle (Ian MarcLaren) - hits home for me, hard. My diabetes is invisible other than a blaringly obvious insulin pump. And sometimes I like it that way. I don't always love to explain it or defend it. And sometimes I wish I could explain it better when I'm "sick" but not contagious, tired because my infusion set failed, anxious because I have a (nother) doctor's appointment coming up. It's given me a lot of empathy for other people in realizing I can't see everyone's battles or their whole life picture, I don't know what they're dealing with. But kindness and compassion regardless of those things goes a long way.
7. Yes, sometimes it hurts. I mean, they're needles. But it's better than a hospital stay so I'll take it.
8. No, it doesn't make me hyper when my blood sugar is high. But it does make me really tired, and really thirsty, and can upset my stomach. And when my blood sugar is low, I get tired and confused, shaky, and really hungry. Both can throw off an entire day and it's hard to recover from.
9. No, I didn't have big babies because of my diabetes. My diabetes was perfect throughout my pregnancy. My babes were just full grown humans.
10. Every year on the anniversary of my diagnosis, March 10th, I celebrate. Sometimes more publicly with my husband, sometimes by myself. It's always with something decadent that "I'm not supposed to have," *eye roll* And I give a little cheers to making it this far, to keeping on keeping on, to me and my diabetes working together, and to many more March 10ths to celebrate.
11. I think it's a bigger blessing in disguise than a curse. This is probably the biggest thing I want people to know. I'm not just a diabetic. I'm a mom, a wife, a friend, a photographer, a blogger, a horribly dramatic karaoke singer... I just do it while wearing an insulin pump. I'll happily eat that cookie, and bolus for it. I'd love to go out tonight, but I need to change my infusion set and brush my teeth first. I'm sometimes tired because I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning with a blood sugar problem.
Sometimes I'm not really good at taking care of it, sometimes I am. But I'm trying. And I don't want sympathy. I want to take this gift I was given (albeit in ugly, frustrating wrapping paper) and pay it forward. Maybe in the form of education, in raising awareness, in empathy for others and their own individual battles, for someone else feeling like their body is failing them - I've been there (a lot). The fact of the matter is that I have this disease and all the time I spent in my life being upset about it got me nowhere. So choosing to be positive about it and move on with my life is a lesson I learned not just with my diabetes but with lots of other things too. So for that, I'm forever grateful.