When I was seven years old, I had a favorite shirt. It was white with lines of blue and pink looping in sparkling cursive: It looked like a notebook. On the pseudo-paper, the words “Write On!” glittered back. Sure it was a pun, but the message it conveyed to me then was evident, “You’re doing a good job; keep going.” The shirt was something that made me smile. It made me feel clever. I was a good girl, who did good work, who listened to her parents (well- most of the time). I wore cat-eyed glasses, and when I sprained my ankle, excusing me from P.E. for two weeks, I did my own kind of running- out of books.
When I was seven years old (and almost 11/12ths), I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. My mother, being a Dietitian, saw the symptoms early. I was having migraines in class, I was thirsty all the time, and I was constantly running to the bathroom. Soon, my parents made me tag along to my brother’s well-baby visit, where I was transferred to a Pediatric Endocrinologist in Cordele. As they say, the rest is history. But during that time, I was terrified.
I remember the first time I met my doctor. It's silly sometimes to think about the details your mind picks up on. I an still hear my name calling me back to the exam room. From there, my doctor came in, finding me in tears.
"Kaycee, why are you crying?" he smiled. "Do I scare you?" he asked. Bending out the door, he called to his nurse.
"Nancy? Can you bring us a cup of water?" And he handed it to me. I was confused, and tear-stained, so I asked my mother what it was for. “He just wants to see how you drink it. How fast,” she assured me with a smile. With my pancreas not producing Insulin, my blood sugar was dangerously high, which caused me to be so thirsty. Ever the hard-head, I thought then that I could trick them. I could trick my parents, I could trick my doctor, I could even trick myself. If I didn’t drink the water, he wouldn’t think anything was wrong with me, and I could go home. None of this would ever be a problem again. But, I was wrong.
I was launched into a world I never knew existed. There were new words to learn like "blood sugar meter" and "carbohydrates" and "hyperglycemia." I began pricking my finger and taking shots multiple times a day. It meant a change to my entire life.
A few months ago, there was a huge Facebook post trend titled "This is What Diabetes Really Looks Like" by a Type 1 Diabetic about my same age. When I first read the original post, I was overwhelmed by the honesty and truth that I felt throughout the article. Now, with the beginning of November and Juvenile Diabetes Awareness Month, I want to share mine. This is what Diabetes really, really looks like.
It looks a lot like me.
And it looks a lot like other people too.
That's kind of what makes us special. So of the 1.25 million people in the United States with Type 1 Diabetes, here's some stories from me.
In the event of a zombie apocalypse, I've come to the conclusion that I'd die first. I have come to terms with the fact that there would be no point in prolonging it, and I have accepted my position as a liability. Okay, all jokes aside, it is a constant worry. Diabetes is my insulin pump running a low battery and me having to go scrambling for a AAA battery at Disney World on fall break. My Diabetes is all the times that I'm out to dinner and someone asks why I drink Diet Cokes because "don't you know how bad those are for you?" It's the times that I change out my pump site and double over from hitting just the wrong spot. My Diabetes is having a low blood sugar and wanting to eat everything in the house because I'm starving and I can't stop. It's me being unruly and unreasonable when my blood sugar is too high or too low because nothing makes sense, and no matter how hard I try I just can't get it to.
The day that I was diagnosed, and for a few times afterward, my parents and I had to attend a Diabetes Learning Center where they taught me a few of the basics. I remember the teacher, in a poor attempt to make me laugh, tell a story about an upset little boy who found out that he would not be allowed to be a semi-truck driver or a pilot anymore. With all of the possible issues related to blood sugar, and people’s lives being in danger because of it, there were more rules and precautions than there were the opposite. I related this story to my mother once, years later, and she suddenly became completely serious with me. “You can do anything you want to do. If you want to fly airplanes, if you want to drive trucks, you can do it. There’s nothing saying you can’t,” she said stiffly.
I was struck by her adamancy, her insistence. I now realize that I can’t remember my parents ever crying in front of me when it came to my diagnosis. They never acted like it was a problem. It happened, and there was no reason for them to pretend otherwise. I don’t mean that in a bad way, I love it. I love that they were strong, that they were brave for me. I think that’s part of the reason I took up the responsibility the way I did; they were firm, while flexible, hard and soft. “We’re a team,” my dad said. And we still are. A decade later- an entire 10 years of my life later- my family and I are still a team.
If I've learned anything, it's that God doesn't put anything on you that you can't handle. And the older I get, the more times He proves that to me. I should look at my Diabetes as a blessing because it just means I'm a stronger person because of it. It forces me to remember that I won't ever be able to change things on my own. My Diabetes looks like me because it is me.
P.S. And for the love of everything that is pure and good and optimistic and holy in this world, STOP with the jokes already. Diabetes is not those seven candy bars or chocolate cake. It's a real thing, and those are offensive.