You've followed me around ever since the doctor let loose the thunderstorm that would become my life with Type 1 diabetes. Not long after the nurses taught me how to give myself a shot and "feel" a low blood sugar coming on, they started mumbling about what could happen if I didn't take care of myself: blindness, kidney failure, heart attack, amputated limbs. I vowed at age twelve not to become a statistic. I would be the perfect diabetic. Complications, I blame you, for why I struggled so much with my illness as a teenager. I would wake up in the middle of the night with a high blood sugar and think "I've failed." And I would wait for all of those terrible things to happen. Often times it felt like no matter how hard I tried -following the perfect diet, exercising, injecting insulin- the number on my glucometer would still be high and imperfect. I began to feel panicky and depressed. I started purposely letting my sugars run high because it felt easier than struggling, and I could lose weight like magic and at least deal with that aspect of being a teenage girl. Your shadow overwhelmed me. And I almost gave up. Luckily, the Muse herself arrived on the scene. She whispered, "Don't give up, Angela," and lit my path with poems.
I emerged from those years without you manifesting in concrete form. I let go of the eating disorder (which now they have a name for- diabulimia) and the only evidence of you was the subtle mark of depression. I kept testing my blood sugars and taking my insulin. I worked two jobs to pay for medical supplies and doctor's appointments. I researched vitamins, herbs and any other remedy that seemed to have credibility. All to fend you off, Complications. My sugars weren't perfect, my A1c was always at the edge of normal or a little bit high. After every round of blood work and urinalysis would come back normal, I would breathe a sigh of relief. Then I would have a bad day, and your shadow would darken my life. My mom would reassure me, pointing out test results and unchanged eyes, "Well, you must be doing something right." I filled notebooks with my doubts and fears.
In my mid-20's, it happened. You got a hold of some nerves in my stomach. Gastroparesis was a new word to me. I was furious when they told me. It wasn't on that list those nurses gave me in the early years. I ranted and raved, feeling that if I had just known about it, if somebody had brought it up, I could have avoided it somehow. A subtle move on your part. I turned some of that ranting and raving on myself. How could I not know about this complication of diabetes? I always prided myself on keeping well educated about my illness. I was crushed. Now my "perfect" record was ruined, and, worse, it felt like you had me in your scope.
In essence, I ran away from my life at that point. Trying, I think, to escape you. I left a marriage, a job, friends. I was so over it all. I spent three years punishing myself with a string of dangerous choices. I felt like a coward, a failure, a fool. You breathed hot down my neck. My dreams grew very sad and dark.
Some part of me held on to hope, to the Muse's whisper in my ear. I found myself alone, but healthy. I cried alot, read alot. Filled countless notebooks with my heartbreak. I learned to stare right back at you. I started yoga, went back to college, found a job with amazing health insurance. I sought out a therapist. I learned martial arts. I switched to an insulin pump. Your shadow lightened a bit. I met the love of my life.
I crossed the twenty years with no "major" complications mark. Then the twenty-five year mark. The gastroparesis dealt me some bad days. But I tried not to let you overshadow my life.
Twenty-six and 1/2 years after you started following me around, I woke up one morning and found my whole body, especially my legs, consumed with pain. I took tylenol, ibuprofen. Tried a heating pad, icy hot. Within a week I could not eat or sleep because of the pain. My blood sugars refused to drop below 400. My husband took me to the ER. When I left that hospital ten days later, I had lost 15 pounds, oozed opiates, and needed a walker. No one had even attempted a diagnosis. Within 24 hours, it was clear I needed more care than my husband alone could give. He put me on an airplane so I could be with family and familiar doctors. I spent four more days in a hospital, and was tentatively diagnosed with diabetic amyotrophy, a very rare form of nerve damage for a woman with Type 1 diabetes (less than .1%). The doctors started me on Neurontin and my recovery began. I was stunned and humbled by your seeming power. Again, you appeared in my life wearing a face I did not recognize.
It has been two years since then, Complications. And strangely, I find you more benign than ever. I don't want to be afraid anymore. I want to live as magical a life as possible. I want to do something to make the world more beautiful. You, Complications, are ONLY a shadow, a cloud easily moved by the wind to reveal a sun and blue sky that are always there.
Free Free Free,
[This post is part of the 2nd annual D-Blog Week coordinated by Karen at www.bittersweetdiabetes.com. Over 150 people in the diabetes online community have signed up to blog about their life with diabetes each day this week. Be sure to check out their stories on this topic here!]