The Uninvited Guest: Making Peace With Diabetes

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I hate diabetes. I hate it! Diabetes sucks. It’s hard. I can’t be perfect.

Sound familiar? Allow me to take a step back and rephrase that.

Diabetes is a part of me. I’m stuck with diabetes. I didn’t choose for my pancreas to be dysfunctional, but it sure is.

If not for diabetes, I wouldn’t ever have to think about insulin injections or finger pricks, and the edges of my otherwise fair fingers wouldn’t be tough and speckled.

I should probably change my lancet more frequently. (You, too?)

I wouldn’t know about HbA1C. I wouldn’t anxiously await my diabetes report card, laying bare how I managed my blood glucose levels for the last few months. That can shatter an illusion of control. Have you ever felt helpless and cheated, your diligence and efforts gone to the dogs? Though perhaps my attempts to control my blood sugar protect me from a dimmer outcome. I know to keep that in mind.

If not for diabetes, I probably wouldn’t understand how my pancreas works (or doesn’t) or why it’s even there. I wouldn’t know about the endocrine system, and how beta cells are supposed to produce insulin, and what insulin does, and the interplay between so many biochemical processes. As it turns out, when I “max out” and run my fastest mile ever, my perfectly functional liver will release a shot of glycogen. That will jack up my blood sugar.

The more I know about my body, the more I can help and protect myself. I can ask better questions. There are fewer surprises.

Sometimes, when my friends see my restrictive food choices, they are amazed by how I consider every single bite. It’s more than a full-time job. There are no breaks, no vacation days, and no rest. My body knows exactly what I’ve done, and it responds methodically and without exception. Like HTML code, it spits out a perfect rendering of the various inputs; nothing is random or without cause, though I may not understand what just happened. Regardless, I then manage the aftermath.

When I was diagnosed with diabetes at age 19, I could no longer freely eat my mom’s homemade chocolate chip cookies. Those cookies were a staple of my childhood and, I thought, our family food culture. The warm aroma of melting chocolate and crisp cookie edges rolled through the halls of our home and drew me to the kitchen for a deserved snack. I never dreamed that just a couple of years later, those chocolate chip cookies would be dismissed, shuttered, and relegated to faint memory.

When my older sister saw I would no longer eat refined white hot dog buns (or any refined white product), she hugged me and said, “Oh, hunny, you have to grow up all at once!” Diabetes arrived abruptly, just as I was settling in to college, planting itself smack in the middle of my food choices, my doctor’s visits, my social life, my thoughts, my identity. It arrived uninvited, and it will not leave.

My friends are amazed that blood sugar testing is such a regular part of my life. That for the most part, I know what my blood sugar is at any given time. And while I can’t anticipate or respond perfectly to every spike and dip, I can listen closely and patiently to my body.

As I’ve embraced the food choices that reduce my reliance on insulin, my friends have noticed. More than once, I’ve received a high compliment when someone comments that, perhaps, they will think about making food choices more like mine. They admire me for the attention and intent I devote to my food choices.

Diabetes has become a part of my identity. This disease is more than an inconvenience, or a burden, or an adversary. Diabetes has opened my eyes to the incredibly, beautifully direct relationship between what I do and how my body responds. That’s a lesson tough learned, but an important one.

When, as my sister noted, I had to grow up all at once, I lost a bit of carefree innocence. I’ve eaten my final white hot dog bun.

It’s not all loss. Or, I should say, it’s not all negative. I’ve lost my ignorance, my cavalier attitude toward my body, my invincibility complex. I won’t always make perfect choices, but I have so much to gain by trying, by challenging myself, by making positive, intentional food choices. Instead of avoiding and fearing temptation and craving, I know to expect, manage, and, in due course, dismiss these normal feelings. I know to listen closely and patiently to my body.

Have you ever eaten a hot dog not in a bun, but instead resting on a bed of arugula, drizzled in olive oil, with a dab of mustard, sprinkled with toasted sunflower seeds? There are worse fates.

Diabetes is a part of me. It entered my life uninvited and has shaped who I am today.

This uninvited guest and I will plow forth on our journey. I don’t hate what I’ve become. I can’t hate diabetes. I can’t hate me.

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