The day I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 17, I came home from lacrosse practice to my mom crying in the kitchen with the news. I leaned back against the mudroom door and sunk to the floor, stunned. It was like a scene from Sixteen Candles. I felt like a shell of myself. This meant that, for the first time in my life, I had to go to the hospital. And even worse, this meant that I had to miss my boyfriend’s lacrosse game that day. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that our children’s hospital was going to give me a bed. I wasn’t even sick. “Mom, there are really sick kids out there that need this bed, not me,” I said.
There was also nothing good on TV. What was I supposed to do in the hospital, read? My best friend’s mom, who is a nurse, brought me a block of extra sharp cheddar cheese. “You can still eat this! And it’s your favorite!” I narrowed my eyes at her, “What do you mean, still?” How could the world suddenly feel like it was spinning backwards? The nicest person I encountered during this time was the large, bald, tattooed phlebotomist who checked my blood sugar and my IV every few hours. He was funny, and he was the only person who knew what to say to make me feel somewhat okay. I felt comforted by him. In contrast, I distinctly remember the diabetes educator who gave me an insulin pen and so sensitively told me to “go in the bathroom and stay in there until you muster up the courage to jab yourself with it, okay?” Again, I narrowed my eyes at her: “Okay…”
Forty-eight hours later, when I walked out of the hospital to resume “normalcy,” I didn’t even have a cool lime-green cast or snazzy crutches to show off to my friends when I went back to school. All I was given was a black synthetic test kit, some stinky clear liquid that smelled like my third grade art room, and a chip on my shoulder the size of an elephant.
The first few days were like the twilight zone. I hardly remember the cadence of events, because I think most parts of my brain just… shut down. But sure enough, the shock wore off, and I was expected to function again. People around me treaded lightly, but we all did — we were learning together. Slowly, I began to figure out how to make it all work.
For the last 11 years I’ve progressed through everything from anxiety and depression, to empowerment, to a sense of humor, and finally a feeling of fulfillment. There were days where I felt exhausted from the permanence of everything, and then days where big happy light bulbs would illuminate above my head with ideas on how to make this better for an entire community. But looking back on the whole journey, the tougher days were incredibly necessary.
You could almost compare it to someone going through the full process of grief. I had to let go of how I had envisioned transforming into a carefree adult without diabetes, I had to surrender some of my dietary freedom, and I really had to say “ta-ta!” to my body’s physical real estate. I needed to make room for needles. I needed to make room for doctors. And I needed to make room for the hours of commitment to testing and order fulfilling and insurance customer service rep negotiating. I needed to fully process and come to terms with what I was now living with, and take my time developing a positive relationship with it. And eventually, I did.
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.