Just Like Everyone Else
Adolescence is like purgatory. You understand that adulthood is on the horizon, waiting for you to arrive, but for the time being, you believe you will be judged for whom you are and what you do. Anyone who has survived those teenage years with diabetes (and that includes parents!) will admit that mistakes are inevitably made. One of my largest mistakes (and there were many) was a simple one.
I wanted to be just like everyone else.
A month after my diagnosis, my grade went on a science camping trip. My brave parents took a collective deep breath and signed my permission slip, committing me to three days away from their watchful eyes. I packed my sleeping bag, my meter and insulin, tons of Lifesavers, and my bathing suit. I looked forward to swimming with my friends, perhaps even getting pushed off the dock by that boy I liked.
The bathing suit never made it to Bear Brook State Park. My parents were fearful about the effect that swimming would have on my blood sugars and new insulin regimen, so there would be no dunking during the outing. I whined. I pleaded. All of a sudden, the entire trip (and quite possibly, the rest of my life) was ruined. I didn’t want to be banished to the beach while everyone else perfected their cannonballs from the float.
It was the first time I thought that diabetes made me different from everyone else. I felt even more at odds with the world when my diabetes, despite numerous changes to diet, medication, and exercise, fought with my hormones to wreak havoc on my blood sugars. It was maddening to do everything as I was told and still have out of range numbers. I thought that I was different from my friends because of my diabetes and different from other diabetics because I wasn’t “in control”.
I beat myself up constantly, believing that every high blood sugar displayed on my meter was my own personal failure. (Not all of the results were high, but I only concentrated on the “bad numbers”.) By my mid-teens, I stopped checking, as my flawed logic stated that if the numbers were going to be miserable anyway, why even bother? In my mind, I couldn’t even be like all the other diabetics, so I gave up. I fudged my logs, scribbling numbers in different pens and making up random notes. On paper, I was a good teenage diabetic. The labs told another story.
I heard about diabetics who checked their blood sugars several times per day, ate healthy food, exercised, and left their appointments with huge smiles and an A1c of 7.0% or less. I wanted to meet just one of these mythical creatures, if only to ask how to be just like them. (Or punch them for making me look bad.) If I had known then what I know now, I would have realized that everyone struggles with control at times – and some of those “perfect diabetics” were just like me. They just persevered through the changes that life brought them.
Things became easier when I grasped the idea that my diabetes only set me apart as much as I would allow it. Checking my blood sugar and finding it to be outside of the range I wanted it to be wasn’t a failure, but rather an opportunity to make changes and learn what I can do to regain control. Talking to other diabetics opened my eyes to the fact that many of us struggled through adolescence. Having diabetes is not a test in which you pass or fail. We are human. We make mistakes. Hopefully, we learn from them.
I didn’t get to swim on the camping trip. Instead, I hung out on the beach with my friends (who suddenly decided that swimming was pass) and laughed as cannonballs turned into bellyflops. The boy I liked sat next to me the entire afternoon. Our beach group ended up being larger than the swimmers.
It turns out that I was, and still am, just like everyone else.
dLife's Daily Living columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team to find out what will work best for you.
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