Have you ever wondered why people with type 1 diabetes talk about the anniversary of their diabetes diagnosis as if it’s a birthday or a wedding anniversary? A type 1 diabetes diagnosis is so life-altering, almost no one can forget the day of diagnosis There’s even a slang word for it: diaversary.
I bring this up now because I’m about to celebrate my ten-year diabetes diagnosis anniversary. It’s a little hard for me to believe I’ve been living with diabetes for an entire decade. But instead of being sad or upset like I’d expect, I feel strangely happy about it. I feel good and I feel like celebrating.
Since I was diagnosed as an adult, my perspective is different than it would be if I had been diagnosed as a child, or if I were the parent of a child with diabetes. According to Barbara Anderson clinical psychologist and professor of pediatrics at the Baylor College of Medicine, “Many parents remember the day their child was diagnosed with great feeling, certainly not happy, but not depressed either. I hear parents say “how far we have come” and “if only I’d known then what I know now”. I hear parents reflecting on their growth and development as a family living with diabetes.”
Grow and develop. This is true for me, too. I hardly recognize the person I was ten years ago, refusing to go to the doctor, unable to face my failing body. I knew something was wrong, but I ignored it. Now I’m in touch with my body by the minute, correcting even the slightest high blood sugar, getting blood tests four times a year, making tri-annual trips to the diabetes clinic.
When I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes on April 28th 2002, I had had symptoms for months but didn’t go to a doctor until I’d lost 25 pounds, lost feeling in some toes, had blurry vision and couldn’t get out of bed except to go pee every few minutes. At diagnosis my fasting blood sugar was 420 and my A1c was 15.7. Once I learned what those numbers meant, I knew I couldn’t ignore my body any longer.
The news that I had type 1 diabetes was a relief in one sense, knowing I wasn’t really on the brink of death. But at the same time it was a huge devastating blow. My terrible physical condition became real to me. It had a name. I wasn’t just tired from lack of sleep or too much exercise. I was sick, and I wasn’t going to be cured. All I could do was manage the condition. It would always be there. Life was now life with type 1 diabetes.
My self-esteem was shattered. I’d been a strong 32-year-old guy. I believed my body could take any kind of beating and always come out on top. That was something I’d put to the test many times. And now I was the sick person, the one that needed to stop and check his blood sugar, take insulin and consider every piece of food he put into his mouth. I was the one who got sweaty and confused several times a week.
I can’t say exactly when things changed, when I stopped feeling like the sick person. Somehow diabetes went from something I had to something I am. When that happened, I was different. I hadn’t been cured, but I was better. I had promised myself when I was diagnosed that diabetes wouldn’t change me, but it did, and despite the hardship, I’m happy it did.
Having diabetes has changed the way I eat and exercise. It has motivated me to do things I never thought I could do (and continues to do so). I’ve run six marathaons, and I’ve signed up for my seventh. Diabetes has also made me reevaluate my life. I look at things in a different way. I don’t measure success by a job position or a salary. I have an entirely new sense of what’s important. Diabetes helped me put family first and made me appreciate life, not just as a whole, but in the minute by minute. It’s a kind of appreciation that may only come when you know the chance of death is, if I may quote the Rolling Stones, “just a shot away.”
I also discovered a parallel world of diabetes that I didn’t know existed ten years ago. Then, I felt totally alone. Now I know there is a world full of inspiring people with diabetes, people I am lucky to work with, people I haven’t met, but who inspire me to do better and to be stronger. I am part of a community based around a disease which somehow seems to be a healthier community than most. Our community transcends borders, age, race and gender (maybe John Lennon was writing about this world).
After ten years of life with type 1 diabetes I no longer remember what life was like without diabetes. After a decade of insulin, glucose meters, highs and lows, constantly thinking about diabetes in some way or another, I don’t feel like I know otherwise .
I still can’t say that I’m happy to have type 1 diabetes but I can see the good in it. I can see the good in me. Maybe, what I really meant when I said that I would not let diabetes change me was that I wouldn’t use it as an excuse not to do things, or hold me back from being the best person possible. If anything, I do so much more because I have diabetes. I give more, too.
So this year on April 28th I’ll be celebrating a decade of life with type 1 diabetes. It’s not going to be a day of sadness or regrets or wondering how I would have been without the disease. This is an occasion celebrating me and my life with diabetes. The numbers I’ll be thinking about are not only the ones on the glucometer, but the ones on the clock when I finish a marathon, and the 3,650 days I’ve already gained thanks to insulin. And I’ll be feeling grateful, and looking forward to the next decade of life with type 1 diabetes, unless of course there’s a cure.