I was a dehydrated, skinny little girl when my insatiable thirst landed me in the ER. I can still remember my green socks poking out of the sheets at the end of the cot. In the weeks leading up to St. Patrick’s Day, no matter how many times I poured myself a drink, there was no getting rid of the sandpaper-like dryness in my mouth. For reasons still unbeknownst to science, my body had ignited a ferocious autoimmune affront, causing my white blood cells to attack the insulin-producing cells in my pancreas. My body was rendered unable to process the levels of sugar in my bloodstream, and I joined the ranks of people with Type 1 diabetes.
It didn’t take long for me to become tired of endlessly pricking my forearm to check my blood sugar, taking injections, and wearing my insulin pump. I hated telling all of my teachers in high school that “ I was recently diagnosed with juvenile diabetes and may need to eat in your classroom or use the bathroom unannounced.” In college, I grappled enough with stress, eating regularly, and working out; and then I had to keep track of my blood sugar on top of it. Even post-graduation I’d find myself saying over and over that things were never going to get better. Being a girl is hard. As a writer, asking the world to pay attention to what I have to say about life is hard. Throw a chronic disease into the mix and we’re well outside the comfort zone.
These feelings have a name: diabetes burnout. I often feel embarrassed talking about it, especially in such a public forum, because I know so many people who live with diabetes like it’s no big deal. And most of the time, it really isn’t a big deal. Most days I feel like a normal person too; sometimes, though, I do get upset. Someone recently tweeted about an article I’d written, decribing it as an account of my “struggle” to manage my diabetes. Struggle? I just do the best I can! You have no idea! What I hate most are the implications of that word. To struggle, to be fighting a losing battle, to be failing.
Like most ambitious young women, I have always had aspirations and dreams. Most of the time, I’ve been successful after working hard to make them happen: Get a job? Check. Live and work abroad? Check. Maintain tight control of my daily blood sugar and have stellar lab test results at every doctor’s appointment? That one is more elusive.
Writing about it has helped me to channel those tumultuous feelings in a more positive direction. It’s also been an unexpected game-changer, creating travel, work, and friendship opportunities that wouldn’t have existed otherwise. Putting my thoughts about diabetes on paper (or on screen) is scary, because it requires me to be honest about how I really feel about it, ugliness and all. I’d been afraid that diabetes would forever make me a failure regardless of what else I achieved, but I’ve come to realise that success is about much more than living up to certain standards.
In a world where constant pressure and sky-high expectations seem to be the norm, learning to love myself has been quite a journey. But I’m slowly learning to give myself credit for the things I do achieve and for all of the living I’m doing. I may have challenges I’ll have to deal with for the rest of my life, but I’m learning to value my intrinsic worth as a person. Rather than trying to be a straight-A student in the diabetes classroom.Support Villainesse