Defining Diabetes

I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in April of 2009. I stayed up that night for hours crying, clutching the bed sheets into my tearstained face, knowing that somehow my life was different; I would depend on something more than the standard necessities of life to keep me alive.

From April of 2008 until I was diagnosed, I underwent a series of tests as a part of a study of siblings of diabetics. From the first test, it was clear I had the antibodies that cause diabetes, and I was going to be diabetic. After two more daylong, pallor-inducing blood tests and one excruciating year of knowing my pancreas was slowly losing its function, I was officially diagnosed. Yet, while I was technically a diabetic, I still produced enough insulin that I did not need medication and only checked my blood sugar a few times a day. I found myself in yet another state of tension. I checked my blood sugars, yet never treated my worsening condition; I slowly watched my blood sugars creep up, knowing that a vital function was receding, waiting for it to necessitate medication. In contrast, my sister’s diagnosis – and the diagnosis of most Type 1 Diabetics – included extreme weight loss and fatigue, several days of hospitalization, and then automatically being thrown into the world of counting carbohydrates, frequent blood sugar checking, and calculating and injecting insulin with every carbohydrate and high blood sugar. While I did not have to undergo this trauma, I underwent a drawn-out version of it over the course of more than a year.

I finally had my first endocrinology appointment on my first day of high school. With my new doctors I made the decision to begin medication, even though in tiny doses. It was time to treat and define myself as a diabetic. However, injecting insulin into my abdomen a few times a day did not give me a new sense of identity; even when I began using an insulin pump, which received instantaneous attention from my peers, I was not somebody new to myself or to anybody else.

But I did change.

I was at a new phase of my life. I no longer was condemned to watch a fundamental function of my body leisurely fade into retirement, for now I was tending to it and accepting its demise. I now understood my older sister’s diabetic vocabulary, her diabetic humor, and we grew exponentially closer as we became more similar – high school Type 1 diabetics.

Painstakingly, helplessly, agonizingly watching a part of my body die over the course of a few years gave me a new appreciation for the vitality of each and every cell of the human body, for the perfection of every complex function, and for the congruity in which they compose the whole. I have gained a level of appreciation for my body, for my health and fitness, and ability to carry out day-to-day activities without having to monitor or accommodate for any body part other than my pancreas.

Although I am still young, healthy, and vibrant, I am kept alive by a machine tucked in my front pocket, attached to me by tubing. I have to ensure that my blood sugars are correct in order to attain my full potential power in rowing, I have completely cut out juice and candy from my regular diet, and every time I see a high blood sugar in my reading I know that it is contributing to my slowly debilitating eyesight, circulation, and overall health. However, I have always fully accepted and embraced that I am a diabetic; it is simply part of who I am, and something I must live with. While being diabetic in itself has taught me to value the wonders that a properly operating physiological function truly grants the body, slowly watching my body become dispossessed of that wonder was what taught me to truly appreciate and understand what I was losing.