This is a shout-out to all the sweet girls. The ones hustling so hard to live like normal. The ones with type 1 diabetes. Some of you have been living with diabetes as long as you have been breathing. Some of you are newly diagnosed and need to know someone who has been managing diabetes for years. I have been living with type 1 diabetes for 17 years, and I see you. Whether you have been diagnosed for 17 hours or 17 years, chances are I’ve felt what you feel too.
I’m here to tell you that type 1 diabetes takes effort, but it turns out OK. It is hard, but you can do hard things. I’m here to tell you that you are seen. Your illness may be invisible to the majority of the world, but I see you. You’re doing a great job taking care of yourself. And so what if you’re not? Well, then it’s never too late to start taking better care of yourself.
I see you when you give yourself that very first shot of insulin or that first finger stick. And I still see you the 9,000 times you do it again after that. I can picture the wave of overwhelm that washes over your face when a doctor tells you that you have to count every carbohydrate you eat and balance it with the correct insulin dose from now until the end of time. I know your acronyms. CGM, A1c, BG. Numbers and letters that measure how well you are at any given point.
No matter how much these numbers change over the hours, weeks, months, and years, it feels like they define your life.
Like a report card—grades for how healthy you are. I know how hard you try to make these numbers fall within the expected range. I know the disapproving glances from medical professionals when you aren’t quite measuring up.
I see you when you’re trying to find a spot for your insulin pump in your swimsuit, your prom dress, your wedding dress, or in a hospital gown on the day you have your babies. I promise you will get better at stowing it and you get more creative as the years go on.
I see you when you are riding the highs and the lows. Knowing you are supposed to keep your blood sugar “between the lines” of tiny graphs that mock you as your glucose soars or plummets beyond the limits. There will be times of tight control and times of total blood sugar chaos. Good blood sugars are worth the hard work, but there will still be off days.
I know the frazzle of filling your suitcase, your pool bag, or your purse with syringes, pump supplies, glucose meters, and snacks. You will have more fun if you have everything you need to feel well, but it can be a chore to get all the things together.
It can be a burden to bring those things with you wherever you go.
I know the answers to the questions from friends, family, and strangers. “Can you eat that?” “What’s that thing on your side?” “You have to wear it all the time?” “All you have to do is take insulin, right?” “I could never give myself shots like that, I don’t know how you do it.” They mean well and are curious. Yet, the answers to so many of these questions are complicated, and you don’t always have the energy to explain the entire process that goes into keeping you alive. Sometimes you would so prefer to eat a huge slice of your favorite cake in peace—it’s 68 grams of carbs, thank you very much, and I already did insulin for it.
I know what you feel like when you count your carbohydrates wrong at a restaurant and feel crummy, but try to seem OK to your friends. Or when you’re at work trying to appear normal as you shove snacks in your mouth before running a meeting.
I know the anger you feel when the technology doesn’t work right, when your continuous glucose monitor won’t stop beeping. You just want it to stop, and of course, it needs the most attention at the most inopportune times. Like during a presentation. On a first date. In the middle of the night.
I feel your mounting frustration when the insurance company denies your medication or supplies again. Yes, you still need those to live, so you spend hours on the phone, while your kids are yelling for your attention. Then I know the absolute dread that consumes your whole body when your diabetes supplies break on vacation. You start to make frantic phone calls to get replacements.
Those are some of the hardest days—when inconvenience collides with a medical emergency.
There are nights you wake up to beeping alarms, and you realize you need glucose more than air, so you find what you need in the total darkness and then drift back to sleep. I’ve felt that too. I see all the lows that scare you. The ones that brushed too close to unconsciousness, but you just swallow sweet sugar and silent prayers of thanks as you regain your strength.
I know the exact feeling when your sugar goes so high it hurts. Your head, your throat, your stomach. It all hurts. The bitter taste of “something’s wrong” fills all of your senses as you begin to troubleshoot. It takes time and effort, but it turns out OK.
If you end up with another chronic condition on top of type 1, I know your struggle. I promise you can do hard things. I also promise it’s OK to collapse on the couch and binge-watch your favorite shows on those days that chronic anything just takes too much energy to manage.
It’s OK to cry about diabetes even after 18 years of practice.
I know the cocktail of excited terror you might feel when you see that “pregnant” result. You’ll spend months becoming a rigid human calculator. Balancing insulin, food, water, and exercise like your baby’s very existence depends on it. Because it does. At least that’s what the doctors and the late-night internet searches tell you. I’ve been there and have two healthy babies to prove diabetes is very much worth your undivided attention for the sake of your children.
When you wish you could have more babies, but high-risk pregnancies just take such a toll on your body and your mind. You might long for more, but you just can’t do it all again medically, mentally, or safely. Oh, sweet mama, I’ve been there. I’m still there.
I see you when you whisper prayers over your kids. That their little bodies will function as intended. That type 1 diabetes will never be a part of their story. This will be a thought you will have to surrender to Jesus over and over again. If you know how to completely stop worrying about this one, please let me know.
When your mind wanders to all the complications of diabetes, my mind wanders there too.
When you think about nerve damage, blindness, kidney damage, and a shortened life span, I know the weight of those thoughts. When you teach your 7-year-old what to do if you become unconscious and daddy isn’t home, I know that plan well.
When your kids are the ones with type 1 and your whole life becomes about keeping them safe, my own mama feels that. She sent me to college, she allowed my husband to learn how take care of me, she waited in the hall for my two C-sections. Praying for safe sugars all the while. Mamas of kids with type 1, we see you. Keep praying. Keep checking in on your kids . . . even as adults.
I know the triumph you feel in the small things that are actually big things. Like when you have steady sugars all day, doing something that would normally rock the boat. When you learn to count carbs just by looking at the size of a piece of pizza. When all of the technology works together in harmony. When you get to breathe for a minute and be more of a human than a calculator. I hope you have more wins like that.
For all those sweet ladies with type 1 diabetes who are managing all of the things to stay alive and loving life anyway, you are amazing. All of the carbohydrate counting, the doctor’s visits, the guessing, the checking, the learning, the needle sticks, the pump site changes, the CGM alarms, and the preparation are worth it. They are all worth the effort because you get to be here. Standing right here, reading this. Alive and always working towards being well.
My sweet friends, keep going. I see you. Your health is worth the effort.