After a hectic week with the conference in Philly and then Chris’s great news, I need to spend some time today catching up on everything. Thankfully, Jessica Phillips has offered to guest post today, writing about marking 500 days with type 1 diabetes. She’s come a long way, and I’m proud to host her words here on SUM.
As I was injecting myself with insulin on a lunch break at work, a co-worker walked by and exclaimed, “I could never do that! EW! I hate needles!” Less than two years ago I might have agreed. I never had a strong phobia of needles, but that is not to say that I particularly liked them either. I was known in my childhood to run out of doctor’s offices into the parking lot at the first mention of “shot”. Now when I hear such a strong and callous remark to my now normal routine of insulin injections, I struggle with trying not to angrily reply, “Well you would have to give yourself shots if you had to in order to live!” or, “How do you think I feel? You think I want to do this?” I’ve learned as of late to simply smile and say, “It’s not easy.”
Reactions like this are commonplace for those of you who have experienced Type One Diabetes for many years, and even some for the majority of your life. For me, June 9th, 2009 marked my 500th day with type 1 diabetes. I was diagnosed in my hometown of San Diego, California on January 25th, 2008 at 26 years-old. For a couple months prior to diagnosis I had been experiencing the typical signs of hyperglycemia and a failing pancreas as I was constantly dehydrated, urinating, and tired. Being a college student and in a constant state of stress, I quickly attributed the majority of my symptoms, from dizziness to infections, to be solely related to my immune system’s battle with my constant stress. After many weeks of procrastinating, I finally urged my doctor to order a blood test. I went in to the lab on January 23rd and was called by my doctor 24 hours later while I was driving to school. The tone in her voice immediately caught my attention and set me in a state of alarm. She informed me that my blood sugar the day before was above 300 mg/dL and I was to avoid sugar and be referred to an endocrinologist immediately.
Luckily I was able to see an experienced endocrinologist the next day, and he diagnosed me with type 1 within minutes of being seated in the exam room. I was in complete shock, and felt confused, angry, and overwhelmingly sad all at the same time. I felt a struggle between trying to remain alert to the bombardment of information he was feeding me, and trying desperately not to cry. The doctor left the room to retrieve my new meter and insulin pens, and I lost it. Luckily I had some moral support with me, but I have never felt so alone and lost. I kept thinking, “how did this happen?” and, “what did I do wrong?” To have gone many years without having anything major occur medically, not even a broken bone, it was a major shock to hear I had something irreversibly wrong with me. I not only had something wrong, but I could not do anything to change it.
The next few days were extremely challenging to say the least. I was unable to give myself insulin and had to have someone else do it for me for the first couple days. I would sit and look at the needle and could not conceive of how this tiny piece of metal was going to go through my skin. I just kept thinking it was so wrong, and foreign. I also cried. A lot. And I researched online and in books so much that I felt as though I could speak at a lecture on the biology of diabetes. I found the knowledge empowering, and the more I grasped what my body was actually doing, and not doing, I became more confident in my ability to control my state.
Now, 500 days later, this diabetic routine is normal to me. I can hardly even remember a time when diabetes wasn’t on my mind. The memories have faded of when my blood sugar was not a concern, and when I was able to look at food as just food. The last year and a half has been a giant emotional roller coaster, full of ups and downs, but they have changed me. Sometimes I get the look of sympathy from others when I detail my hardships with this disease, anywhere from medical costs to just the simple annoyance of pricking myself all the time, and I have found myself realizing that although I would not choose to have this disease, I consider myself lucky. I am lucky of course to not have something worse, but having gone through this change has made me look at my life through a new and clearer lens. My bottom-line now is a cliché idea, but it is so true … life is short, and you only get one shot, so make it worth it, no matter what.
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Thanks for sharing your story, Jessica. (And for the record, Jessica is the one with the fantastic hair on the right in that photo. Also for the record, I just realized that today is my 8,209th day with diabetes. Holy crap, my pancreas is lazy.)
*This blog post was originally published at Six Until Me.*