A Letter to Myself at Diagnosis
Editor’s Note: Bella is a member of the Diabetes Scholars Class of 2021 and will be studying at UCLA. Diabetes Scholars is a program of Beyond Type 1.
I know the moment you’re trapped in right now. It’s a lightning bolt in my mind. Truly I know it all: the way your dreams of serving the Navy vanished into the dark, the boy in the hospital room next door who played his loud Transformers theme song on loop for what seemed like 100 times, the fruity way your breath tasted and the way stereotypes and guilt about diabetes devastated your mind. How could I not remember it vividly? The diagnosis changed everything. Every meal after bore tremendous responsibility and every moment since has been haunted by the cognizance this illness brings. But it’s not all wrought and discord – it’s silver linings and hidden strength. That’s what I am writing to tell you.
If I could, I’d give you the biggest hug and embrace the aching body you feel has failed you. (It hasn’t!) Together we’d share dear pictures and treasured stories from diabetes camp. We’d Facetime the friends that this illness has so graciously led you to and reminisce over our inside jokes. I’d let you intimately share your fears and questions. I’d answer with honesty and the semblance of wisdom I’ve gathered. I’d show you my rhinestone-adorned insulin pump. To top it all off, we’d order the biggest black and white cookies from our favorite Jewish deli and I’d walk you through how to devour it responsibly with your carb ratio.
The truth is, there’s so much I don’t know. But there is so much I have learned. It’s a Dunning-Kruger effect of the pancreas. Managing diabetes is an art, not a science. No amount of precise ratios and high-tech devices could wholly predict the unpredictable way your blood sugar wavers during a track race. I promise it will get better with discipline, grace and sacrifice.
What you need to know is that precision counts. This disease never sleeps, no matter how badly you need the rest. You can’t cut corners when your life is at stake. Make sure you’re deliberate about your carb counts and please for the love of God, triple check that the waiter never gives you regular coke when you ask for diet. Know that this isn’t an impediment. You can run fifteen miles, deliver speeches in front of a thousand people and go to college without anything stopping you. Anyone that tells you that you need to take it easy is absolutely full of it.
Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. With constant scares and monitoring, of course this disease is mentally draining. Surround yourself with the people you treasure and know it is okay to ask for help. I recommend Afrezza insulin to eat food before activity. It absorbs quicker. I also recommend being transparent with your teachers about your diabetes so you get the support you need. This communication also helps when your blood sugar alarm goes off in class.
What hurt most then was when people showered you with praises of your strength. Frankly, you couldn’t care less when people said they “could never give themselves a shot every day.” Strength is a privilege, and I am so sorry that it is one you weren’t granted. I know how deeply you’re aching, and that the serene strength they see is just an acceptance of your body’s helplessness. I’m proud of you. I’m happy to tell you that soon your implied strength will be an intrinsic afterthought. The truth is, they’re right. I am strong and always have been.
Now, it’s hard to comprehend a life without considering diabetes. The fact that people can go out to eat, order what looks good and then just eat it without any calculations or hesitation still baffles me. It’s not painful anymore and it hasn’t been for a very long time. As much as it hurts to admit, I am strong. It’s all thanks to you.
Not everything is foreboding warnings and confessions. This diagnosis isn’t a life sentence, it’s just a shift. With grace and commitment, you can make the best of it. You’ve found celebrations and communities. Thanks to diabetes taking your dreams of joining the Navy away, you’ve found another way to harness your patriotic passion. You just concluded your term as the State Director of Activism for the most wonderful, student-led organization called JSA. Currently, you are interning with your fifth political campaign. The exhilaration of it all still lights you up. You’ll be happy to know that you’re still running. You concluded your high school track career by qualifying for CIF Championships and you’re getting ready to run the New York City Marathon with Beyond Type 1. You’ve even found exercise to be a keen form of diabetes management.
Diabetes has connected you to the greatest opportunities and dearest people. Thanks to Beyond Type 1’s Snail Mail Program, one of your best friends, Abbie is always a call away. You count on her for humor, candor and the sweetest letters. Through JDRF, you’ve used your passion for politics to advocate for equitable insulin prices on Capitol Hill. It was the greatest three days of your life. Type 1 has been like a domino effect of you finding strength, finding yourself and finding purpose.
As you sit on that hospital bed, clutching your knees, thank your parents for their perseverance. Make sure you order the chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast, they’re fantastic. Most importantly, never doubt yourself, your body or your strength for a second. It’s all downhill from here.