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Diabetes Doesn’t Define Me: Overcoming Type 1 at 21

The diagnosis

The world didn’t end in 2012 but the way I perceived it and experienced it was forever changed.

Unknowingly, that winter, my body had been afflicted by a disease. I weighed 145 pounds at 6 feet 2 inches tall. I was experiencing a lack of appetite, weakening vision, unexplainable weight loss, digestion issues and diminishing strength.

At the half-way mark of my senior year in high school, just a few days before Christmas, I was admitted to the hospital. Due to unknown factors – with a blood sugar level of 1,280, 18 times above the normal range – I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes eight days after my 18th birthday.

I left the hospital wondering how I would care for a body that needed to be pricked by lancet devices, pierced by needles, pumped with insulin and squeezed for blood every day. Multiple times a day. For the rest of my life.

That was three years ago.

It has been an unnerving journey – constantly having to read signals from my body and take action to remain stabilized. I try my best to control the shakes, emotional swings and getting too hyper. I have to believe that my fluctuating blood sugar levels won’t cause me to wake in the middle of the night with clothes drenched in sweat.

Glucose levels above the 400-500 range have the potential to alter my mental function. If my blood sugar levels are consistently high for a long period of time, I could experience future mental impairments.

Managing my condition

Getting into a new routine was challenging. I was never told that coping with a chronic disease could negatively affect your psyche, especially in the beginning. I didn’t understand how my actions and mental state could be linked to the disease.

I’m learning how to manage living with diabetes by educating myself. I had to become my own advocate because everyone’s needs are different. I needed to grasp how artificial insulin worked in my body and how I could still live an active life yet accommodate for my health.

Figuring out how much insulin I need for any given meal is like determining the perfect salad to dressing ratio. It’s trial and error.

Wearing my insulin pump made me feel like a robot. I felt like no one would be attracted to me because they could see my pump and the infusion set sticking out of my shirt. My pump is about the size of a pager, but seeing the tubing come out of my body made me feel unconfident.

I was so embarrassed that I stopped wearing the pump and returned to insulin injections.

For months I dealt with the hassle of sticking my skin with needles. Hidden from view, I would lift my shirt just enough at the dinner table just to squeeze the little fat I had to then feel the insulin pass from the insulin pen into my stomach. At least no one could see there was something wrong with me.

The shots made managing the disease more complicated. I was overdosing on insulin and suffered from low blood sugars. Underestimating how much insulin was already in my body and miscalculating how much insulin I needed, my glucose levels sky-rocketed.

My endocrinologist begged me to go back on the pump. Many months later I gave in and called her office. My blood sugar levels were uncontrollable.

My pump has a built-in calculator that displays how much insulin is in my body and how much time it’ll take to lose effect, and it’ll let me know (once I type in my blood sugar level) if I’m at risk of running low or need to correct a high blood sugar.

I had to get to a point where I did not care how my insulin pump looked to other people. I had to stop thinking that my pump should influence how I physically perceive myself.

Pride was another issue. I was too stubborn to believe a pump would be any better than taking multiple daily injections. Looking back, I know I was wrong.

Taking steps toward better health

For the most part, people with Type 1 diabetes don’t get prevention warnings. What we get are the symptoms once we’ve been afflicted. We are still insulin dependent regardless of how healthy we are. Even though five percent of those living with diabetes is Type 1, we handle our infirmity the best way we can.

Despite your limits, a part of dealing with this chronic illness is wising up and accepting the responsibility you have to play in this journey.

A majority of the diabetes community live with Type 2. This group can still produce insulin, but their bodies aren’t properly utilizing the hormone. They are considered insulin-resistant. Development of Type 2 can be genetic, but it’s also due to living an imbalanced life. Long-term poor food choices coupled with a lack of physical activity can increase one’s chances of developing diabetes – especially African-Americans, who have a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

I’m always finding ways to stay fit, whether it’s running around my neighborhood or doing pushups in my bedroom. Activity balances my blood sugar levels and keeps me focused on my goal: health.

Those struggling to overcome Type 2 diabetes have the chance to live a healthier life, free from medication. It’ll be hard work, but it’s possible. If I can set realistic goals for myself, to manage the disease and maintain my health, I believe you can find it within yourself to fight against a progressive disease.

I used to think I didn’t have a choice to live freely while battling diabetes. The truth is that I do. I make choices every day that contribute to managing the disease. Make the decision to live a healthier you.

The more I wore my insulin pump, the more my attitude began to change about it. Sometimes coping with a chronic condition, even if you’re in denial, is giving yourself time to adjust.

I accept the fact that I’m battling a life-threatening disease. But I don’t have to live in fear of my disease and it doesn’t define me. I’m more educated, confident and hopeful about overcoming diabetes than ever before.

Member exclusive type
HAP's CareTrack™ Diabetes program is available to all members ages 18 and older who are diagnosed with diabetes. The program supports your relationship with your physician by helping you stick to your prescribed treatment plans.

Categories: Get Healthy