Stepping Stones

In the way that taking one path can lead to your next footsteps, living is filled with complexity as yesterday’s fights are unyielding, and bleed past midnight. To cross the river, there are many stepping stones you are forced to go over, not all of which grant you with kind gifts.

Like many of the people who have been dealt a seemingly smaller hand in life, I had a very long phase of screaming into the universe, “why me? Why did this have to happen to me?”

This pattern resulted in nothing but years of self-doubt, wishing that I could go back and take a different path, even if my own actions couldn’t change the final outcome of my life regardless. Nevertheless, I was persistent in believing (more so an ignorant sense of wishing) that if I could have tried harder or done something different, I could have been happier. If only I had chosen to cross by a different stone, my life could have been ‘better’.

My path began to darken in middle school, like six years ago now when I caught some sort of virus that was flying around the school. It was nothing serious–I think I missed two days of classwork, tops. I had a fever and felt like I was on fire the whole time but that eventually went away and I was a healthy kid again. I didn’t think much about it. Why should I? Kids get sick all the time; sickness was supposed to be a temporary occurence.

Seventh grade started. I wasn’t sure why but from the very beginning things were different; I felt worse. A lot of the people I mentioned this to wrote it off. Because aren’t all teenagers miserable all of the time?

My body started experiencing aches and pains, I wasn’t as fit as I used to be, my mental health was declining, and I was suffering. My grades began slipping and I lost touch with many of the friendships I had had because I didn’t have the amount of energy to maintain contact with people for long. It was clear that I was sick with something and needed to get help.

I’ll spare you most of the details of my pre-diagnosis struggles. It was a lot of the same thing: “but you don’t look sick.”

Getting into the doctor’s office was a journey. I still remember the anxiety I had sitting before my childhood doctor, nervous that she, too, would be convinced I was making it all up. It’s difficult being sick for an endless sea of reasons, but, for me, one of the worst ones is always wondering if anyone is going to listen to you or if you are not in enough pain for them to care.

It’s a big shadow to grow up in: your own doubt of other people’s empathy.

I left my doctor’s office with directions to go straight to the ER. Thankfully, my doctor had listened to me, diagnosing me with diabetes before I left.

At age 13, I was in the doctor’s office with a case of diabetic ketoacidosis (a word that I wish no one ever knew how to spell or could even wrap their minds around).

This was one of the most notable days in my life; a stepping stone.

The cause of type one diabetes is still widely unknown but, at this moment in time, the largest scientific theory is as follows:

Type 1 diabetes is thought to be caused by an autoimmune reaction (the body attacks itself by mistake) that destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin, called beta cells. This process can go on for months or years before any symptoms appear.

[…] Being exposed to a trigger in the environment, such as a virus, is also thought to play a part in developing type 1 diabetes.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: What is Type 1 Diabetes?

Knowing that I was possibly being attacked by of the fundamental genes of my body, I was left wondering, “why me?” As I said before, it took me a long time to get this thought out of my mind. It was persistent, since luck is only loved when it favors you.

I often wonder what my life would be like if I was never diagnosed with type one diabetes. I know I would certainly be significantly happier but, at the same time, I’m always proud knowing what I’ve gone through, that I’ve lived through events that make me so much stronger than everyone else. And while I hate the fact that I must always be strong to make it through the day, through the night, it’s something that most people wouldn’t be able to appreciate. Which, once more, is bittersweet. I’m strong, but it’s a heavy burden to carry, so often alone.

One of my friends once jokingly told me that diabetes makes me more interesting than everyone else. She told it to me after I apologized for not being able to walk; I was having a low blood sugar. I have always appreciated this moment, even when I don’t think I can smile.

And there are the other times. Like when I was diagnosed, and in the hospital. I emailed my friends to tell them what had happened to me. One of them asked if I was joking when I mentioned I had become a diabetic. A slap in the face sitting in that hospital bed, remembering death vividly but still wondering if all of it was just one big practical joke, wishing I could go a few stepping stones back and become a different person.

The fact that life offers no rewind makes it difficult. Time is a once-lived venture for us, short and sweet.

This information seems to be widespread, a fact amongst all people. And yet, there have been so many moments when I, and so many others, have been left to grow up in the shadows of humanity’s worst traits, the entire course of our lives shifted because someone came into school with a cold that we caught, or someone told us something that undermined our perceptions of our very experiences.

Sometimes I wonder, if I could go back and change things, if I would be happier because of it. Could I have had a different story? Do I even want to know?

In the current state of the world, I think about this a lot now. And wonder how all my future friends are doing.

Writing and photography by Hazel J. Hall.

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