I’m new to this. The bloody fingers, the math problem called carb counting, the balancing act that is life with diabetes. It’s all so new, and hard to believe that it will be my life forever. I’m also struggling to eliminate gluten from my diet after a recent diagnosis of Celiac disease. It’s hard — really hard — and I feel like I will never get to lead a “normal” life.
When I’m being honest, I’m even fairly new to the vertical world. I started climbing years ago, but it’s really only been in the months since my diagnosis of type 1 that I’ve had the energy and focus to make it a regular practice.
Blood sugar fluctuations, emotional ups and downs, constant stomach aches, utter panic and uncertainty when anyone other than me touches my food. Insane envy as I watch skinny guys stick like spiders to the wall at the gym and kids half my size swinging like monkeys from holds I can only dream of one day reaching. Working odd jobs where I can to make ends meet, and spending every other waking moment attempting to build my career. This is what my life looks like right now.
Last May, during finals week, shortly before my 25th birthday and a few months after the man I love walked out of my life, I landed in ICU with diabetic ketoacidosis. Sometimes I wonder if my pancreas broke the same day that my heart did. Other times, I’m convinced that it was building up after years and years of being stressed and on the go from working and studying and projecting and exams and jobs and all nighters and pursuing a college degree. Or maybe it was the stubborn sinus infection that plagued me throughout the winter.
Regardless of the cause, my body didn’t stop producing insulin until I was a full fledged adult. A grown up with bills to pay, obligations to fill, a household to keep, and nobody to feed me dinner. My mom is amazing, and she came to help me get back on my feet after I was discharged — but she lives on the other side of the state. Eventually she had to go home and I was left to face the world alone with my meter, insulin pens, and an unfamiliar, life-altering disease that most people get to grow up with.
The changes that have come to my life have been many and major, and by no means easy to deal with. I hate how high blood sugar makes me impatient and headachy, how low blood sugar makes it impossible for the words in my head to come out of my mouth, and how swallowing a single bread crumb makes me feel like I got hit by a truck. But I feel more like myself than I ever have. I am understanding myself like I never knew that I could. I feel like I belong somewhere, that I mean something, that I can make a difference. It doesn’t look like the path I thought I would take, or the one I wanted to take through life, but I know with certainty that I am finally on the path that is meant for me.
I had to replace most of my kitchen things to eliminate any traces of gluten. It was easy enough to throw my cheap-o nonstick pans in the Goodwill pile and to toss the splintered wooden spoons in the trash. But the red colander that was my mom’s before it was mine, the one that I’ve been straining pasta with for as long as I can remember? And the pot we bought from the thrift store before I left for college almost 8 years ago that cooks the perfect pot of sticky rice, but has also has heated countless soy based sauces and noodley soups? Those things were hard to get rid of, and more than once as I sorted through my things I found myself in tears thinking “why ME?” “why now?” and “how did this happen?”
When those thoughts cross my mind, I also reflect on the fact that for as long as I can remember I’ve been a picky eater. EXTREMELY picky. The biggest battles I had with my parents as a child were over food — I liked plain meat, plain rice, and plain veggies, nothing else. If someone put a marinade on the meat, sauce on the rice, or gravy on my potatoes I’d refuse to eat it. I have never liked pizza, or pasta, or sandwiches or soup or cereal. I have always felt like a pain in the neck when eating out or at someone else’s house. I would order food but ask for most of the ingredients to be left off or end up scraping the sauce and seasonings to the side of my plate. All of the things that I hated? huge sources of gluten, either obvious or hidden.
I’m realizing that though the official diagnosis only came a few months ago, maybe I’m NOT so new to this. I think that gluten intolerance is something I’ve been dealing with my whole life and I am only just now understanding the reasons for my pickiness. Perhaps the easiest way to deal with it is to listen to my body, to give it what I crave — which still happens to be meat, rice, and veggies. Oh yeah, and now that I’ve discovered gluten free dough, I finally understand that pizza is pretty dang delicious!
Though I still consider myself to be a novice climber, I’ve been surprising myself lately at the progress I’ve made. On my last trip to the gym I was feeling weak and ragged, not climbing particularly hard or well. There was a couple of bros sitting next to me. They were big, buff, and loud as they struggled to climb the problem in front of us. One of them made it halfway up the wall several times in a row before falling in exasperation onto the pad. The other couldn’t seem to stick the first move. “This one’s tough!” I heard one of them say. “I don’t get it,” said the other.
I felt like if these strong guys couldn’t climb the problem, there was no way that I could make it to the top — but when they took a break I tried anyways. The first move was tough, and the middle moves were awkward — but one hold after another I steadily made my way to the end of the problem. As I dropped from the top of the wall, I heard one of them say to the other “yeah man, it’s easy — just do what she did!” and as I sat down on the bench, I thought to myself, maybe I’m not such a bad climber after all.
I started this blog by saying how diabetes is so new to me. I don’t have a lifetime of experience, like many adult type 1’s do. I’ve been dealing with needles and test strips for less than a year. It’s new, yes, but it’s also starting to become routine. Carb counting is now second nature, I don’t have to solve such a structured math problem in my head every time I eat — I just kind of know how much insulin I need. I also know that if I mess it up (which I now understand WILL happen occasionally, no matter how carefully I plan my bolus) I can simply adjust my carb or insulin intake later to fix it.
People who don’t see me frequently often ask me “don’t you need to go take insulin before we eat?” and I laugh to myself, because I already did, and they didn’t even notice. I’m getting the hang of this diabetes thing, and some day it will be second nature for me.
I will leave you with this blurb I wrote just days after my discharge and diagnosis. It captures the minutes when diabetes was REALLY new to me. When I had no idea how to handle the world and my blood sugar at the same time, and when I had to constantly remind myself and those around me that things were forever going to be different. It’s title is “Moment.”
It’s hot and muggy as we pull into the Quickie Mart parking lot. “Here,” says Mom, as she hands
me a five dollar bill, “go get us something to drink.” “OK,” I say, and as I hop down from the truck
she calls after me, “Want to share a Coke?”
I pause. I think about it. They have Mexican Cokes here. The kind that comes in a glass bottle.
The kind that is made with real sugar, not high fructose corn syrup. My favorite.
What feels like an eternity passes in mere seconds, and I shake my head, “no thank you.”
I watch as a wave of something — sorrow? regret? remembrance? — passes across my mother’s
face and I pop into the gas station, returning moments later with an ice-cold bottle of unsweetened tea.