Today, thanks to a very generous reader named Cathy Fisher, I’m able to host a guest post about being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as an adult in the form of a letter from Cathy, to her newly-diagnosed self.
Cathy was diagnosed November of 2003 at age 18, in her first semester of college. At the time, she was the first diabetic she knew. She has spent the 13 years since her diagnosis writing about diabetes. Cathy is also an entrepreneur and avid traveler living in Lisbon, Portugal, and I’m honored to share her words today.
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You were diagnosed 13 years ago, during your first semester in college. You had just turned 18. You passed out in the dining hall at breakfast, in DKA. Do you remember waking in the emergency room, doctors hovering above you, blurred images like scenes from a movie? The thirst. The phone call to Dad, all terror. The CD mix from Lauren, “Get Well Soon.” Your first episode of Saturday Night Live from a hospital bed.
You struggle(d). And you’ve learned/are learning. There’s so much I wish you had known from the beginning, and so much to keep in mind still. Here is what I can put into words:
There’s knowledge. You’ll wake in a hospital bed with a new identity to own – “Type 1.” There’ll be so much to learn. How to fill a syringe, the difference between bolus and basal, what the heck a carbohydrate is and how to count it (please learn this one ASAP, it will serve you well). Etc. Etc. Etc. These are all tools. Seek and use them.
Seek wisdom. Book knowledge is only part of the story. Your body will teach you its own truth, a sort of wisdom that doctors can’t teach. Be present for what your body has to say – how different foods make you feel, or how to sense an oncoming low. How to recharge emotionally. Be receptive to your body and mind’s own insights. They can be more important than what you can get from a pamphlet or Google.
Respect your body. Use your body in every way that you can … seek adventure, explore, and do what you love. Go backpacking in Peru, dancing with friends, running by the ocean, for a sunset glass of wine with Pete. Pull an all-nighter, be a student of yoga, try new foods, get lost walking through a city. Catchphrase: with respect. Cathy, it will take you years to learn this, but not all limits need to be pushed. Remember that time you partied on a Friday, ran a half marathon on Saturday and went skydiving on Sunday? That was probably too much. Treat your body with tenderness. Can you find the place where adventure, challenge and harmony meet?
Love yourself. Love your beautiful brilliant diabetic self. You have always been enough. The day you were born with a perfect pancreas. The day your pancreas began to fall apart. That time you “cheated” (could we call it “excursioned”?) over tiramisu in a hostel in Puerto Montt. You are inherently wonderfully made.
Own it. Diabetes contraptions and all. Rock your glucose sensor anywhere that works for you. Clip your pump to your bathing suit bottom, give yourself injections on the subway as needed, and understand that your diabetes paraphernalia can be a sexy thing. And if you ever get weird looks, never underestimate the power of Sass (No, this is not an iPod clipped onto to my hip and INSERTED IN MY SKIN) and teaching opportunities (It’s for diabetes – want to see how this works?).
Make love, not war. Sass can be an ally, but keep your feistiness in check. Don’t take feelings out on diabetes! There are days to hate it, and I hope most days you can accept it. Try to make friends with it sooner rather than later.
Humor helps. Sometimes, all you can do is say “Oh shit,” shrug and move on.
Yes, you can. You have never let anyone tell you that you can’t. You go, girl. Keep it that way. Because yes, you truly can. You can do what you dream of, with or without diabetes. Be a person you are proud of, explore, reach for what’s important to you, set goals and reach them, make mistakes, learn, love and be loved. There is a part of you that is diabetes neutral. Listen when it tells you: yes, you can.
Inspire yourself. Look for inspiration everywhere. Truffaut, Zadie Smith, paper journals, Tokyo, a place called Cherokee, yoga, learning, travel, dawn, morning coffee, the ocean, solitude, people. Diabetes can be heavy, so fill yourself with what inspires and nourishes. And when you do this, can you see the world through a lens of wonder?
Seek community. And lean on it. Friends and family, near and far. The diabetes community, online and in person. Support groups. Your doctor, nutritionist, diabetes educator, psychologist. Putting yourself “out there” can create the most unexpected and meaningful connections.
Perspective. This will be your greatest tool. Your diagnosis was crushing. You felt profound grief for the first time. But you’ll find moments of perspective. When you do, hold onto them, they will humble you. The question will shift from “Why me?” to “Why not me?”. This will feel so good.
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Thank you for this amazing, introspective letter, Cathy. Hopefully you’ll inspire others to pen one of their own … working on mine now.