Last week marked 21 years that I have been a Type 1 diabetic. When I was diagnosed, I was 10 years old and a week and a half away from another fun Halloween of trick-or-treating with friends. But I wouldn’t be eating a bag of candy that year.
I would have just recently learned what blood glucose means and how to draw up and inject a syringe of insulin into my abdomen. I would be attempting to wrap my mind around the fact that a cure was being researched, but didn’t exist. That technically, this was something I’d have to live with for the rest of my life. It’s hard to imagine turning 16 years old when you’re 10. Far harder to imagine being an adult with diabetes.
Despite nearly 8,000 consecutive days of testing my sugar, dosing insulin, and dealing with the highs and lows, I am only now at 31 beginning to grasp the never-ending reality of being a Type 1 diabetic. I’ve done a decent job at keeping myself in good control over the years, but even good control is nothing close to what a non-diabetic’s health looks like.
As is statistically appropriate at 20 plus years in, this disease has negatively impacted my mental health and vascular system. About one-third of Americans with a chronic illness suffer from symptoms of depression. When the anniversary of my diagnosis came around, I felt sad for the little girl who believed that with her best effort she’d somehow be the one to beat all of the statistics. In many ways, I have lived a totally normal, even exceptional, life. But on the inside of my body, the story isn’t quite so simple.
I am tempted to choose despondency. It’s been a long road since October 1997. The road ahead is going to be even bumpier and now I have kids to worry about. But such is the case for any of us. We cannot guarantee our futures. However, we can shape them to the best of our ability. That counts for a lot.
So I’m using best practices from years of experience, medical advice, and good books (see: “The Diabetes Diet” by Dr. Bernstein and “Eat to Live” by Dr. Fuhrman) to give my body my best effort. I am supported by a loving husband and family that will continue to encourage me and keep me girded up in love. And I am choosing gratitude over despondency. It’s been a long road, yes. Isn’t God good? There is more road ahead. And hope in research and technological advancements. The story isn’t all written just yet.
For more on Type 1 diabetes and opportunities to support, visit www.jdrf.org.
Natalia Naman Temesgen is a playwright and professor of creative writing at Columbus State University in Columbus.