Today marks the eighth anniversary of the day I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
Some people don’t remember when they were diagnosed. Some people let it pass without notice. Many diabetic friends, I have discovered, celebrate their “diaversary” with….cupcakes! Delicious irony, if you will; a way to give the middle finger to diabetes and have fun doing it.
I’ll tell you the truth: I can’t be happy today.
I wish I could. I consider myself to be a terrifically cheerful and optimistic person. I do laughter yoga, for goodness’ sakes, which teaches you to laugh even when you break things and are running late and have no money. You’d think I’d be able to throw a shindig with desserts galore, or in the very least let June 27th pass with nothing but a shrug.
But ever since I was 17, the day passes with a little more emotion than a shrug’s worth.
I’ve talked with a bushel of diabetics about their diagnosis story, and I can safely say that nobody (yet) followed the strange and dismal path to diabetes that I did, rife with mysteries and misdiagnoses. That’s another story entirely, one probably not appropriate for the Internet, but suffice to say that when we showed up at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia that day to see their adolescent medicine specialist, I was brimming with anxiety. I still remember my stomach flip-flopping as I sat in the waiting room. I still remember studying the wallpaper with crosseyed concentration, trying to distract myself from boredom and nerves.
I still remember the doctor walking in and telling me, “You have lots of sugar in your urine,” in a gushy voice reserved for kids young enough to believe in Santa Claus. He never actually said, “You have diabetes.” I still remember wildly hoping in the days and weeks that followed that they were wrong, that somehow this was another mistake the doctors had made and that everything could be fixed with a pill.
I still remember the choked-back fury I felt towards my parents, who had dismissed me in various ways when I thought that something was wrong: scolded me for eating too much or always needing bathroom breaks, flat-out denied that I may have diabetes because I wasn’t chugging a gallon of water every day, or accused me of of having an eating disorder.
And the rage towards my doctors at home, who had seen me, who had looked at my food diaries of 4,000 calories a day with no weight gain, and who just referred me to outside specialists. With a little internet sleuthing I figured out that I might have had diabetes; how did medical professionals miss it? FOR MORE THAN A YEAR?
Despite the anger, I still remember the complete numbness I felt when my mom, stepdad, and I drove to the inpatient side of the hospital, in order to go to the ER and be admitted.
I still remember the ravenous hunger I felt, hooked up to the IV drip at 9:30 PM and scowling at the flabby chicken and limp broccoli that the hospital provided. When the nurse came in and presented my carb options for McDonald’s– just chicken nuggets, just fries, or a mix of both– I grumbled, “Both, for the love of God give me AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE.”
I still remember my stepdad turning around to drive the three and a half hours back home, to get clothes and my toothbrush and the things I needed to last through a hospital stay, as I kept thinking to myself, over and over, Is this really happening? Or is this a bad dream? I actually pinched myself, alone in the bathroom, where I had to pee in “the hat” so that they could monitor my outrageous ketones.
The pinch hurt, just like the IV needle and the nurses sticking my fingers and the insulin injections I would learn to give myself without so much of as orange to practice on. Not a dream. Dammit.
My life has changed a lot as it has unfolded. Hell, my life has changed a lot in the past eight years. But nothing changed my life so suddenly and drastically as the day I was diagnosed. Sure, there was the day that my parents told us they were getting divorced, or the day that I moved out for college, or the day that I listened to “Born to Run” all the way through for the first time. But June 27th is the only day of my life that drew a line in the sand, between how things were and how things would be. As my mom said that autumn, in the waiting room of one of many, many doctor’s appointments that followed, “You’ve got B.D. and A.D.– Before Diabetes and After Diabetes.”
I still remember realizing this, on day 3 of my hospital stay. It hit me abruptly and without warning, like a collision: my life was never, ever going to be the same. I was always going to be pricking my finger and figuring out carb counts and injecting insulin and dealing with the stress of it. I shut the miniature bedside TV off and sobbed until my chest hurt.
So I can’t be happy today. I can be grateful for the good things that diabetes has given me since June 27, 2003. I have a passion for health in my personal and professional life, lots of fabulous friends I’ve met through the d-community, and the patience and grit that you only earn by living with challenges. If you ask me what my life would be like without that line drawn in the sand, I couldn’t tell you– because at this point I can’t imagine my life without diabetes.
But if I could be rid of it tomorrow, I would. I can’t muster much glee today, because the painful memories remain sharp. I can’t be happy today because the past eight years have also had so much stress, confusion, tears, anger, frustration, hopelessness……surgeries, procedures, diminished eyesight and poor circulation and fear of worse complications in the future…..blood, pain, wounds, and scars.
So I’m going to take care of myself today. In a laughably terrible turn of events, I actually have to spend the whole day in a professional seminar about….the diabetes epidemic. (Breakfast and lunch apparently will be provided. What are the odds that they are disgustingly high-carb and unhealthy?) I’m going to go to my Monday night laughter yoga club and soothe away the sadness with giggles. Unlike the vast majority of my d-friends, I’m not going to have cupcakes or cake or ice cream or whatever desserty concoction you can think of. I understand why some people take pleasure in it, but to me– why eat something where I totally guess the insulin dose, still end up spiking high, feel icky, and am reminded of the suckiness of diabetes all over again? No thanks. I’ll be comforting myself with zero-carb treats, the foods that I can indulge in precisely because I’m diabetic and don’t need to worry about my blood sugar when eating them.
So you’re all welcome to share the cheese I’ll be slicing and the bacon I’ll be frying.
I’ll be eating it with the hopes that I can maneuver through yet another year with Type 1 diabetes with grace, problem-solving, courage, laughter, and the space to feel sadness whenever it comes up.