I sat on the examining table with my legs barely hanging off the end. I was wearing my Cars T-shirt, shorts, and my light-up Lightning McQueen sandals. The doctor's words kept ringing in my ears, louder than any engine you would ever hear. "You have diabetes." I was eight years old. I could not sleep. I woke up eight times a night to go to the bathroom. My thirst and appetite were colossal. I looked like nothing more than a frail compilation of flesh and bone. I felt miserable and thought I was going to die.
Looking back, I have very few memories of my life prior to my diagnosis. Because I have lived with diabetes for over half my life, it is an integral part of me. When I was first diagnosed in the hospital, I was surrounded by therapy dogs, cable TV, and comfy pajamas. Being enclosed in a hospital setting, I really did not think having diabetes was that bad. Under the care of doctors and nurses, I felt better and thought I would go home cured. It was only when I was discharged that I realized that diabetes meant constant vigilance and management. It was here to stay, and it was a game changer. It was a race I wasn’t sure I could win.
Going to school and managing my diabetes required diligence and discipline. Not strong areas for most eight-year-olds. I was checking my own blood sugar, counting carbs, making calculations for insulin, and injecting myself 5-6 times a day. It was a strange new world. Because it was important to me to feel normal, I was still doing all my chores at home and making straight A's in school.
When people ask me about my diabetes now, I say “It’s just like driving. You have to take care of ten different things all at the same time, maneuver in a defensive manner because you never know what’s going to be thrown at you; oh, and if you make one simple mistake — it could result in a life or death situation. So no pressure really.”
As an eight-year-old, I would have trouble cutting out paper snowflakes, coloring within the borders of pictures, and coming home with hands the same color I went to school with, so asking me to manage my own medication was an unimaginable task. I remember one night I got my Novolog insulin (the insulin taken before meals) mixed up with my Lantus insulin (the insulin taken prior to bedtime). Since the dosage of Novolog insulin is based on your carbohydrate intake, my greatest problem was now trying to find a way to cover up my blunder and eat 150 carbs after ten o’clock. You would expect most eight-year-olds to be excited at the fact that they get to stay up past midnight, eat pizza and chips and whatever other high carb junk food that can be found all while watching Rocky 2. I mean, nowadays, I would be down to do that on any given night, but as an eight-year-old, every bite of pizza and every potato chip made me sick to my stomach.
Diabetes made me bitter. I often asked myself why I was the one who had to get this condition? I didn't know where I’d wrong — I did my homework, I ate my vegetables, I cleaned my room, and now I had to deal with diabetes. Fearing that everyone would think of me as contagious, I kept it a secret and made few friends. Even some of the “nicer” kids in school segregated me for having diabetes, and made ignorant statements such as “You can’t play with us because you’ll pass out!”
I felt remorse. I didn’t understand what other kids did to avoid this disease and why I was the unlucky one who got it. What did I do to drive a normal childhood away? What horrible deed(s) could I have done to thrust the misfortune of this disease upon me? Having just started going to public school for the first time, I struggled enough as it was making friends, and now people had a permanent reason not to like me. I felt as though I was driving alone with no clear path in front of me, no one to guide me and no one to help me along this path.
During winter break of fifth grade, I was hospitalized for ketoacidosis, a complication where the body produces excessive blood acids. Afterwards, it turned out that my episodes of hyperglycemia were caused by excessive consumption of desserts and sweets during my school’s Christmas parties. Great, I thought, now I can’t even enjoy my desserts like a normal fifth grader. It seemed my world could not get any worse. I had hit rock bottom. My mind was racing with negative thoughts, and my feelings of deep indignation towards the world grew stronger. It was then that my mother told me about the serenity prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Little did I know that this small prayer was about to change my life.
In 2010, I attended Camp Lydia Mann, a local summer camp for kids with diabetes. I was astonished. I had never seen so many diabetics my age in one place before! Suddenly I did not feel out of place. I did not feel like the only kid in Peter Piper Pizza who had to check his blood sugar and inject insulin in front of everyone. The camp allowed me to connect with people on a different level, and I was able to make several friends, friends that I still keep in touch with today. My fear of diabetes was soon assuaged, and I began to see that diabetes was not going to prohibit me from achieving my goals. My bitterness and anger evolved into optimism, and this sense of optimism developed the positive outlook on life I still hold today.
By having diabetes, I have learned to adapt quickly to new circumstances, a skill I find indispensable in all aspects of my life. Managing my time between college, sports, and my health has helped me prioritize my work and fulfill my responsibilities. The ability to stay vigilant yet calm in stressful situations is a skill I have mastered with years of practice, not out of convenience, but out of necessity. I realize that diabetes, while ceaseless, lethal and unforgiving, has unexpectedly become my greatest teacher. As I became more educated to the realities of diabetes and continued driving down the choppy road of life, I realized if I took care of myself, diabetes was no more dangerous than my initial fear of it. It is a part of who I am, and I have learned not just to survive, but to thrive.