It whispered in my ear two January’s ago, when a low blood sugar came too close to becoming terrifying as I felt the whoosh of that bullet go by. I’d never felt anything like that before, that aftermath of fear and numbness. Then I marked twenty six years with type 1 diabetes, and I just wanted to outrun this disease, to stay ahead of it, to pretend that it can’t ever possibly catch me.
Then there was this weird feeling, one I’ve never felt before. It wasn’t depression, I don’t think, because it didn’t feel … I don’t know … like anything I’d ever read about or been warned about by my doctor. I didn’t feel uncontrollably sad, and I didn’t have thoughts that would have concerned my family.
There was this emptiness, though. And I can’t put my finger on where it came from or what its role was in my life. Not an all-consuming feeling, but it did strike me at the oddest times, like during a conference when I was hoping to be more social, or during a movie that was supposed to make me laugh, or like when I would be in the car by myself and pull into the driveway of my house, and I’d feel lost. And empty. Coming into the house and seeing my happy daughter and my husband filled me back up, but for those brief moments before opening the car door and letting the sounds from outside come rushing in, the quiet was overwhelming. I’m normally a happy person – quick to laugh, and happy to be surrounded by people – but I suddenly wanted to be alone, only being alone made me feel better, for a few minutes, then ultimately worse.
I talked with some people, including my husband and my closest friends, trying to understand why I felt this way and how to keep the feelings from becoming everyday. It wasn’t all diabetes-related, but there was something about having had this disease for twenty-six years that made me feel trapped. I started doing destructive math in my head, about how nothing had been introduced into my life that I’d had longer than type 1 diabetes. Diabetes has been part of my life for longer than school, longer than any romantic relationship, longer than any hobby, longer than any car or t-shirt or memory. I thought about life’s milestones and the influence of diabetes on each one, sometimes just a light touch, not enough to leave the smallest mark, other times a heavy-handed drag of claws.
A few months after marking the twenty-sixth anniversary of my diagnosis, I turned 34 years old and felt convinced that I was having a mid-life crisis. I feared death, actively and aggressively, nervous to go to sleep at night because of the low blood sugars that sometimes crept in. I started feeling nervous about unreasonable things. Panic attacks, like the ones I had back in college (when my parents split and my immediate family life was very unsettled) revisited for a few weeks, making my chest feel tight and making me wonder if it was indeed panic or was I having a years-of-type-1-diabetes-induced heart attack.
But then I started filling back up, emotionally. While marking a diabetes anniversary was the catalyst for darker times, acknowledging the feelings that made me feel unsettled made healing easier. I didn’t see a therapist (though I would if these feelings were to resurface) and I didn’t add medications to my list (though I would have, were they necessary), but I did ease myself into things like family trips, private (non-blog) journaling, and finding time to dedicate to quiet jogs that stopped my brain from going into panicky overdrive.
One afternoon, I realized it had been days since I’d felt empty. Weeks went by, turning into months, and then the emptiness started to become harder to remember, harder to pinpoint the “why” of, and life felt more like I remembered before my twenty-sixth diabetes anniversary.
I don’t miss feeling that way – all that emptiness – but I’m not surprised that I felt it. Diabetes is intrusive and touches everything, like a kid with grubby hands. For decades, I didn’t mind wiping away the fingerprints that were left everywhere, but last year, I reached not so much a breaking point, but a moment when I couldn’t bend things any further without snapping. I didn’t want to deal with this disease. I was mad. Overwhelmed. And then that empty. It was a strange grieving process for a disease that wasn’t going anywhere and for a life that wasn’t over.
It was raining a little when I started running this past Tuesday morning, September 10th, but I decided to go anyway. I set out after sticking my Spibelt underneath my shirt instead of over it, to protect the Dexcom receiver from the rain. Sneakers worn from a year’s worth of logging miles and my pump clipped to the top of my pants, I ran. I’m not a pretty runner – I slog and huff and puff and probably resemble more ‘laboring pug’ than ‘actual human’ while I’m on the trail, but I made the decision to keep going. With each step, it didn’t get easier. I wasn’t riding endorphins during my run, and I felt the strain on my muscles and my resolve, but I kept going because it’s good for me to run. It’s good for me to try. It’s good to feel healthy and to look healthy and to be healthy.
The following day, Wednesday the 11th, I marked my twenty-seventh anniversary with type 1 diabetes.
I wish I had a more gracious outlook on my experiences with diabetes, but I don’t. I wish I felt that it was some kind of blessing, but to me, it isn’t. It’s a thorn in my side that digs in deeper with every passing anniversary, but fuck you, diabetes. I’m tired at times, but I’m not stopping. I’m afraid, but I’m still going. Diabetes has brought me to some of the edges of life, daring me to look into the abyss and wonder just how long I’d know I was falling before I hit the ground, but there’s power in that. I’m living with diabetes, with all the accompanying ugliness and arrogance, power and determination, all the perspective and perseverance and bitterness, all the fear and fearlessness that comes with any life, but is micro-scoped and magnified by a disease that never, ever takes a breath and doesn’t leave my world until I do.
Yesterday, my daughter and I baked a cake, but I didn’t eat it, or explain why or why not. She wanted to make fancy treat, and I wanted to see her smile because she fills my soul. We put candles on it, hummed a sort of tuneless ‘happy birthday,’ and blew them out, marking a celebration of absolutely nothing and at the same time, everything.