Elation, Vindication and Grief

I’m thrilled that I have type 1 diabetes. On the whole, of course, it would be more accurate to say that I’m devastated. But given the events of recent years, I feel blessed to have a name for the nasty affliction that has plagued me for so long.

My identity has always been wrapped up in hyper-productivity and high energy. I love to run. I always take the stairs. I never cut short an enjoyable conversation, even when hours of work loom on the evening horizon. I squeeze a page or two of a good book into each otherwise wasted moment of my day. When faced with a major challenge or decision, I research exhaustively to get myself up to speed.

But before The Diagnosis, I, quite simply, felt like crap. I dragged my beleaguered body through each progressively more painful day, increasingly neglectful of my responsibilities, friendships, and marriage. I tried running, but half a mile felt like a marathon. My work fell to the level of mere adequacy, with my usual excellence slipping out of my grasp. I began asking for special dispensation — deadline extensions, permission to work from home — and rejecting opportunities that would have propelled me forward in my career, but I lacked the words to justify these changes. I rejected invitations and ignored emails, drifting away from my energetic friends. “I’m too tired to spend time with you” doesn’t garner much sympathy among people like us. We’re too young to understand what it’s like to get slammed up against the wall by illness. And besides, I “wasn’t” sick.

I spent three years imploring doctors to figure out why I was so tired, but they brushed me off with dismissive, insecure shrugs. “You need to get more sleep.” “It’s just stress. Slow down.” Never mind that I slept for 12+ hours a day and still felt exhausted. I complained of constipation, stomach distension, and bloating that was only relieved (and slightly at that) if I drank buckets of water all day long. “Hormones,” is what they said, but “crazy hyperchondriac” is the message I read in their smug and patronizing eyes.

My husband thought I was depressed, and after coming up empty with the doctors, I began to fear that he was right. But I didn’t feel depressed. I just felt tired and distressed at the losses that my fatigue was imposing on my life. No one understood, and the resulting alienation was unbearable.

Of course, The Diagnosis was not a joyful event in my life. It invited even greater losses — the freedom to forget, to move without baggage, to allow my eyes to be bigger than my stomach, to indulge in a cupcake on the run, to enjoy a meal without revealing my personal health history to my companions. But now I have the tools to feel better, as well as the words to explain why I’m unwell when my tools fail me. So while I’m crushed that my life has been thoroughly gutted by this beastly ailment, I’m delighted to be able to say that I have type 1 diabetes. I’m angry at all it has taken and will take from me, but I have renewed confidence knowing that I am not lazy, not a whiner, not the girl who cried wolf. And now that I’ve been vindicated, perhaps my formerly frustrated friends and colleagues will give me a few moments to grieve.

The Final Lap

Naturally, I turned to Google when I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. I knew what most healthy people know about the disease: something about insulin, blood sugar, and diet.

But for some reason, I didn’t know about the complications. The list is horrifying: blindness, leg amputation, heart attack, stroke, organ failure, neuropathy, sexual dysfunction, frequent infections, and so on. These are not just problems that, like type 2 diabetes, can arise due to poor diet and lack of exercise. These are the direct results of hyperglycemia, and even the most careful diabetics have higher-than-average blood sugar levels.

I didn’t have to put two and two together on my own. Most websites were kind enough to spell it out for me: diabetes would almost certainly decrease my life expectancy. Or, as this website put it, “[l]ong life with diabetes still has to be fought for and won; it can never be taken for granted.”

Of course, average life expectancy is just that: an average. I didn’t know my actual life expectancy before, and I still don’t. But there’s something devastating about knowing for sure that, barring perfect management of my blood sugar, my diabetes will only serve to reduce it. Neither a death sentence nor a birthday gift.

Which is why my tears welled up a bit when reading this article: The Race Grows Sweeter Near Its Final Lap. The death of the author’s newfound love is meant to serve as the most poignant and stinging moment in the narrative, but I found myself crying at the mention of carefree days in retirement filled with running, travel, and living large. If I want to experience the calm and peaceful beauty of that final lap with my husband, I will have to fight for it. And fight I will.

Just a little bowl of rice

Such a simple dish. The glue that holds a meal together. The thing you don’t even bother mentioning when someone asks what’s for dinner. A culinary afterthought. And yet.ImageOnce a taken-for-granted component of every home-cooked meal, this simple bowl is now the devil on my shoulder. I know I should be eating brown rice. More fiber, better GI, yadayadayada. But I don’t like brown rice. It doesn’t clump together with that sticky, delicious moisture. I can’t grab it as easily with my chopsticks. Its strong taste overwhelms the delicate flavors of my meal.

So I go for the white. It’s just half a cup! I even leave a few bites at the bottom of the bowl, trying to convince myself that I’ve successfully offset the sugar spike that is awaiting me. My reward: a two-hour postprandial reading of 157 mg/dL. Not horrific, but decidedly not healthy.

You can run, but you can’t hide.