Sometime in August of 2010 I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. After months of symptoms that got worse day by day, I was just happy to finally have an answer. I did not grasp the effect this disease would have on the rest of my life. Weeks later, I resumed my life not knowing that the next ten years would be filled with the ups and downs of continuous care, countless trips to the Endocrinologist, and a growing frustration that comes with the perils of a chronic condition.
Recently, amidst a global health crisis, I was feeling particularly beaten by type 1 diabetes. Maybe it was the lack of social connection or perhaps just the stress of a pandemic that contributed to my dwindling motivation, and control, of an illness that has intertwined itself with my own identity. Either way, I felt exasperated and resentful, vexed at this broken body of mine. I decided to do some research, looking for answers but secretly hoping for a panacea. What followed is a journey in itself. As I traced scientific journals, self-help sites, and reddit posts, I found content that left me annoyed, depressed, uplifted, and confused. Here are some of the most important takeaways from my research.
Everybody knows that the complications of uncontrolled diabetes are deadly. Before my research, I allowed warnings from nurses and doctors about kidney disease, foot amputation, blindness, among a myriad of other complications, to go in one ear and out the other. I've always known that my kidneys could be compromised by poor care but I did not realize the extent of the effects diabetes has on the human body. From your nerves, to your skin, to your heart, kidneys, and even your mind, diabetes has the potential to do damage on every part of your body. This knowledge did very little to ease my discomfort.
Intuitively, it makes sense that a disease with so much control over your body can contribute to mood swings, from irritability with high blood sugars to confusion with lows. This fact, until I looked into it, escaped me. With this came data about the connection between living with diabetes and suffering from anxiety and depression, and alarmingly I found literature regarding diabetes and intentional insulin overdose. These facts overwhelmed me but also contextualized some of the issues I suffered with, how I can be doing better and how much worse it could be. I also learned, for the first time, about an emotional response called Diabetes Distress. Reading about the sense of hopelessness and frustration that comes with the burden of care for a chronic condition, gave me a huge sense that I am not alone in feeling powerless. In fact, Diabetes Burnout is more common than I ever could have thought. At this point, a lot of the frustration I was experiencing had vanished; it's not my fault for struggling with this disease.
In truth, I have not taken advantage of the wide array of communities of diabetics at my disposal. There is a CDN chapter at Providence College as well as events held and groups meeting all throughout the world. However silly it sounds, I found much of this sense of community from blog posts and the T1D reddit forum. There were stories from people like me, struggling with a disease as complex and daunting as this, all at my fingertips. This realization brought me immense joy.
The Silver Linings
When I was twelve, I wrote an essay about the silver linings of living with diabetes. I surmised that diabetes gave me a reason to pay attention to what I put into my body and I would always have an innate awareness, like some psychic sixth sense, of when something is wrong with me. While it might be true, looking back on it, it is really clear that I was reassuring myself and that I was fearful to confront the truth. The truth is that I was suffering in the same way I was suffering when I decided to scour the internet for answers. I know now that I was shielding himself from the horror of the complications to be felt. I needed to read about the complications and the effects on mental health in order to come to grips with the nature of this illness. There is an immense amount of power that came from acquiring this knowledge. Only with this knowledge, have I been able to exert control over my chronic condition. I'm also aware that setbacks are inevitable; I am bound to have bad days where diabetes wins. But there are countless people just like me and the knowledge is freeing.