Image by Robert Wu
At age 16, I peed in a cup and my life changed. I was at the medical center for a physical to attend Girl’s State, a model government experience that promotes leadership for high school girls. I was not sick…or so I thought. The blood draw confirmed it. I had Type 1 diabetes.
Well, shit. This overachieving star student would spend the week of Girl’s State hospitalized learning diabetes survival 101.
I don't recall having a dramatic emotional response to my diagnosis. I was surprised and curious. My mother was stunned and understandably frightened. She carried the same questions as me, but I recall that I asked many questions of the kind endocrinologist (whose name I regrettably forget).
WHY me? There is no family history of diabetes. What does this mean? What suddenly changed in my body? Isn’t there a cure?
My stay in the hospital that June before my junior year was great, truly. I was there 5 or 7 days while they stabilized my blood glucose and monitored insulin levels. I was educated on nutrition, human physiology, insulin dosing and so much more. It felt like summer school and did I mention LEARNER is my core strength?
As I learned about my new bff diabetes, I could see the symptoms clearly in hindsight: Incessant thirst and consequential frequent urination, mood swings, and weight loss. All the symptoms could be rationalized – Mood swings? I was a teenager. Weight loss? I was hustling busy shifts as a hostess at IHOP (that's International House of Pancakes for you Waffle House fans).
I will never forget the day the RN came in with a large navel orange, syringes, and insulin vials filled with water and said, “You can go home once you've mastered giving yourself shots.”
My mom was with me that day and looked at me wondering how I would respond. I was crystal clear as I stretched my arm with the IV, “Sure. Will you give me the orange?”
I surprised myself and certainly my mom when I saw her expression – mouth open and eyebrows raised – ease into a smile with a sparkle of joy in her eyes.
I imagine her joy was rooted in the fact that I embraced the challenge rather than shrank from it. I really wish my mom was here so I could hear her tell this story. Little did we know she would lose her battle with breast cancer less than 7 years later.
As challenging as life with diabetes was then and is now, I appreciate the role I play in it. I can’t explain why, but I didn't hesitate to take responsibility for my disease; I accepted it.
I guess I felt grateful that it was (and is) a condition I can influence directly. In fact, many (and I may say all) conditions are ones we can influence with our disposition, thoughts, and actions.
I want to be VERY clear here. I am not saying you can think your way out of diabetes. What I AM saying is how you see the world…and more importantly your place in it with a disease…affects your nervous system and those around you. You need not be defined by it. To read about my real-life pivot point to learn this lesson click here.
Diabetes is not a death sentence; I see it as a life sentence – a path to mindful living.
It is entirely possible to live a long, full, healthy life with diabetes. I choose a mindful, compassionate, and informed approach to achieving good numbers, building awareness of my patterns, and remaining agile in my approach. I invite you to shift from controlling diabetes to living in harmony with it.
I am stepping up and out to share what I’ve learned over 35 years living with diabetes and 20 years thriving with it. I’m certainly not perfect, but what I AM is not defined by my diabetes.