The first of November marks the beginning of Diabetes Awareness Month, a month that too many people let slip on by without doing anything or without making positive change for those like me who have a pancreas that decided it just wasn’t going to work anymore.
My diabetes journey starts off like many others. In 2017, I was thirteen years old when I experienced the excruciatingly painful symptoms of type one diabetes. The pain of diabetes is something that I don’t think is talked about enough. Because, when you’re body starts to ‘fall apart’ and you are so young, it feels like dying. And it is dying, because undiagnosed and untreated type one diabetes is deadly.
I was fortunate enough to have a family that supported me (though I think looking back we all would have taken my health decline more seriously right away if we knew what was to come…) and also a doctor who listened, which is sometimes an atypical experience. The more and more ill that you become as a person, you start to discover another side of the medical system that leaves you with trauma and sad, horrible memories of moments when you were in pain and you weren’t even treated like a person. A lot of my friends can’t believe my experiences in the hospital, but to me it has become so normalized. It was normalized from the moment I became diabetic, with a doctor reacting to my first ever glucose reading with a “oh, you’re only at 756 mg/dL” or even a nurse telling me “diabetes isn’t that bad.”
These experiences, they start breaking you down. And you experience things like this even more if you are disabled, queer, trans, fat, or of color. And some of us are only thirteen when we have to go through this.
Even though those comments made my by nurses and doctors might seem bare and harmless without their full context, to imagine that anyone could ever say that to a dying teenager that has yet to even experience the world, let alone anyone who has ever been in pain or lived at all, is horrible. It is harmful. And it is something that we, as a whole people, need to stop.
I was in the hospital for three days. I took the next week off from school, and then it was back to normal. “Normal”, as the school would have it. They had made everything equal by creating a 504 plan for me that I neither understood nor was completely told about, and they had given me time off. I could have died in that hospital. But I got a few days off from school, so I guess that made up for it.
And it was through this facade of equality that I was expected to come into school with a smile on my face after being diagnosed with diabetes. I was learning to cope with the changing landscape of my world and yet, there was the expectation that I would have to continue pretending to be a normal, healthy, non-diabetic kid.
This is the most painful part of chronic illness. It isn’t the insulin shots or the CGM injections or the low blood sugars. Sure, they’re horrible too, but they never get to me like this. To me, having to spend years of my life pretending to not have diabetes was just as deadly as ketoacidosis. Looking back, I still feel as though I lost years of my life, doing everything that I could to hide my diabetes so that way I wouldn’t be made fun of, so that way no one else could tell me “it isn’t that bad.” I remember being thirteen, and I remember hating myself, not because I was diabetic, but because I had diabetes. To some, these statements are the same, but to me, it was a world of difference. I didn’t mind being diabetic, because to me it was about being something, about getting to be myself. But I hated having diabetes, having something that everyone around me saw as a problem dealt with only by those of alien DNA. I hated the idea that I wasn’t like everyone else. And there wasn’t anyone around me that ever made me feel human for being diabetic either. It has only been through online blogs and Internet posts by my fellow diabetics that I have found any sort of love for myself.
So, for all of the non-diabetics reading, for this Diabetes Awareness Month, I encourage you to make it Diabetes Acceptance Month. I ask you to love all of the diabetics in your life, and love the diabetic parts of them. Love all of them, because we diabetics go through more than most people will ever understand. We have to smile everyday, even when we’re in pain. We have to keep doing insulin, and keep checking our blood sugar, even when it so often feels like it would be easier to stop.
To my diabetic friends, thank you for existing. Because it is only through our community that I have gotten so far. And I hope that we will continue forward together as we reach for new goals, and achieve them, too. I hope that we can make this November a good one, because if we all loved each other a little bit more, even if only for one a month a year, being diabetic would no longer be so bad.
Writing and photography by Hazel J. Hall. Instagram posts by respective owners.
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