Nine years ago, I was lying on a bed in the emergency room when a doctor rushed in and told me that my year-and-a-half long battle with a mystery illness had a name: type 1 diabetes. I would spend the next five days on an insulin drip while I learned how to count carbohydrates, dose and inject insulin, and test my blood sugar.
Nurses handed me glossy brochures with “diabetes” printed across the top in a font that suggested I was bound for an exotic vacation, not a lifetime of disease management. The potential complications of my disease include, but aren’t limited to: blindness, kidney failure, depression, cancer, sexual dysfunction, amputation of feet or legs, and developing other chronic diseases.
Until forevermore, I’m insulin-dependent, which means that without the life-giving hormone, I will die. However, modern technology is a beautiful thing, and I’m staying alive with the use of an insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor, two devices I have on me at all times.
Pretty exciting, right?
Despite having many sick days, frustrations, and falters, there are some perks to having Type 1 Diabetes:
1. I get felt up before every flight. The devices, tubing, and transmitter I use to stay alive are of great interest to the TSA. I get the whole “stand on this square spread your legs and arms” and “I’m going to use the back of my hands on your sensitive areas such as your breasts and buttocks” spiel. While my husband and children (as well as the handful of strangers who want to see what I’m in trouble for) stand on the sidelines gawking, I get to chit-chat with the stranger who gropes my “sensitive areas.” Unfortunately, my feeler-upper has yet to be Ryan Gosling.
2. I get to pick the restaurant, every time. Inevitably, when it’s the rare occasion when I get to eat out with friends, they always insist I choose the restaurant because of my “restricted diet.” I put on a bit of show by looking out the car window as if I’m contemplating the healthiest eateries. Imagine my friends’ surprise when I order cheese fries and a mojito.
3. I can demand snack breaks. We can be under the tightest deadline to be at an appointment or gathering, but if I yell, “STARBUCKS!” my husband or friend is required, by chronic disease rules, to comply. Iced, sugar-free vanilla soy latte, here I come!
4. I get high-fives from my medical team. Because I have a disease where 90% of the patients are obese, elderly, and generally stubborn and confused, my doctors practically bow and sing the Hallelujah chorus when I sit before them wearing boyfriend jeans with my insulin pump clipped prominently to one of the front pockets. I freely accept the praise and reward myself with Starbucks afterward.
5. I always have snacks. Other moms love me. When they show up to the park and then five minutes in their children start whining for something to eat, I produce apples, granola bars, and cheese sticks from my Mary Poppins-proportioned purse. The moms, like my doctors, sing my praises (this mom has her shit together!) while I pretend to be embarrassed by the attention. I’m pretty much a superhero.
6. I entertain children. Kids love my insulin pump. It’s got buttons, lights, and tubing. They stare at it, wide-eyed, and ask me, “What’s that for?” I then get to tell them about cool things like blood, needles, and sugar. The whole disease thing is quite intriguing. I’m cooler than the latest Xbox or iPhone.
7. I get to buy expensive shoes. Diabetics are prone to foot problems such as numbness. I can’t buy a pair of four inch heels that cost $30 at Marshalls. No. I shop in the “special” shoe section at Dillard’s, where a basic pair of heels will cost well over $100. And while I see women wear this “don’t trip and don’t wobble” look on their faces for an entire evening, my cushy insoles keep my feet happy and my wobbles to a minimum.
8. I can blame my craziness on my blood sugars. Picked a fight with my husband, forgot a friend’s birthday, put the milk in the pantry? All can be remedied with three words: I have diabetes.
9. I don’t worry about how I look. My insulin pump is my lifeline, so it’s on me 24/7/365. I clip it to my two-piece while sunning poolside. I whip out my glucose meter and test my blood sugar at the dinner table. My hips, lower back, and stomach are covered in tiny purple and pink scars from various device insertions. My fingertips are covered in tiny red scabs from testing my blood sugar. I see these things as evidence of a life being lived, not as flaws to be hidden, shamed, or obsessed over.
10. I am a reformed perfectionist. I am a type A lady who thrives on predictability, organization, and punctuality, but my disease has rendered me powerless and vulnerable more times than I can count. Because I’m learning to “bend with the wind” and “go with the flow,” I’m teaching my children to do the same. Things won’t always turn out perfectly, but when they don’t, eat some cheese fries and try again tomorrow.