Because I work on the social media team for Baylor Scott & White Health, I often have the opportunity to share people’s stories. Powerful stories, sad stories, inspiring stories, stories with a purpose. It’s always a privilege to write them. But this time, I have the opportunity to tell a different kind of story — mine.
When I wound up in the pediatric intensive care unit two days before Christmas Eve in 2006, my world changed forever. Soon it would be a whirlwind of doctor’s visits, insulin injections, finger pricks and carb counting lessons. It was a lot for a little 11-year-old girl. A girl who, by the way, was terrified of needles.
But next month, I’ll celebrate 11 years of being a type 1 diabetic — my 11th “diaversary,” as it’s known in the diabetes community.
That’s 11 years of a disease that is often frustrating and confusing. But that’s also 11 years of life to be grateful for. Eleven years that, had I been born 100 years earlier, I would not get to live. (Many thanks to the gentlemen who invented artificial insulin. I thank God for you every time I open a new vial.)
At 22 years old, on this particular “diaversary,” I will have been diabetic for half my life, although I have a hard time even remembering those pre-diabetes days. The thing about diabetes is it’s a disease that lives beneath the surface. Unlike many other illnesses, there’s no physical deformity or visible handicap. It’s invisible to the naked eye, but very much a part of every minute of my life.
I’m thankful for Type 1 diabetes.
That probably sounds a little odd, to say I’m thankful to have a disease. But I’m thankful for diabetes because it’s taught me a lot about myself and helped shape me into the person I am today.
It taught me perfection is impossible.
Diabetes is a never-ending balancing act, a constant numbers game. It’s my first thought in the morning, “What’s my blood sugar?” and my last before I go to sleep, “Will I go low in the middle of the night? If I do, will I wake up?”
I’ve always been a perfectionist, but diabetes has taught me to cut myself some slack. No one’s perfect. There will be good days and bad days. There will be times when I feel like I’m a diabetes queen and other times when I feel 11 years old again, clueless and confused.
But diabetes is a lifelong journey, and a very unpredictable one at that. All I can do is my best, and I’m learning to let it go when things don’t go my way.
It made me love my differences.
When I was younger, I hated that I was “different.” I just wanted to be normal again. I hated that I had to be escorted to the nurse’s office every day at lunch. I hated the pity my teachers gave me. I hated it when I had to sit out at tennis practice with low blood sugar and listen to my friends joke about how they wished they had diabetes so they could skip the workout too.
But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to embrace my differences. I may be different, but it’s just part of what makes me me.
It helped me grow up.
I remember being told as a kid that I was so “mature” for my age, and I’d say it’s pretty unusual for a middle schooler to be mature. I didn’t realize it at the time, but diabetes forced me daily to make big decisions with potentially big consequences. I guess having your health in your hands at 11 years old makes you grow up pretty quickly. Growing up with diabetes taught me self-reliance, discipline and patience, all qualities I’m thankful for today.
It reminds me to laugh.
My friends often make fun of me because I’m diabetic. That sounds mean, but I promise it’s a good thing. See, diabetes can be many things. Stressful. Annoying. Embarrassing. Frustrating. Painful. There are lots of ups and downs, and sometimes it’s overwhelming. After all, this is the only disease I know of where you make decisions every day, multiple times a day, that could kill you.
At the end of the day, you have to keep a sense of humor, and just laugh when your friends call you “Diabetes Girl.”
It makes me appreciate my life.
Because I work in health care, I often meet people whose lives have also been changed by disease or injury. I’m thankful for this because it reminds me that I’m lucky. I’m lucky my disease is treatable. I’m lucky insulin exists, and I’m lucky I can afford it. I’m lucky to have incredible doctors to support me and parents who’ve been with me every step of the way.
Honestly, I’m lucky to be alive.
As I think about my disease, I don’t find that I’m bitter or resentful. I’m just thankful. I’m realizing more and more that diabetes, more than probably anything else in my life not including family, has made me who I am today.
Of course, I’d rather have a functioning pancreas if given the choice. But this is the life I have — and I’m grateful for it.