On April 15, 1998, I was inducted into the world of diabetes. I had no idea what lay ahead of me and it was a year where I really didn’t have time to be diagnosed with a chronic health condition. At the time, I was 24 years old, in the middle of wedding-planning, trying to buy a house, changing careers and moving. Diabetes wasn’t part of the plan. It still isn’t, come to think of it, but I don’t really have a say in the matter now.
Today, I’m reposting a letter I wrote to my 24 year old self about what I could expect. I’ve made a few little changes (you can read the original post here) , and the reworked one below:
Oh, sweetie. Diabetes sucks. You don’t know that yet, but let’s clear that up from the beginning. It sucks. It’s not fun and it is a pain in parts of you that you didn’t even know could hurt. But figuratively more than literally.
Right now, you are overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, scared and terrified. In a couple of weeks you’re going to get angry. Really angry! It’s OK to be feeling all these things.
You will be fluent in a new language within the next few weeks. Words that you’d never heard of become part of your vernacular, and you become incredibly conversant in anagrams. BGL, CSII, HbA1c, DA-Vic, CGM, ADEA…. And you will delight in the fun way mmol/l rolls of your tongue. (I promise – that will make sense!)
Believe it or not, you are going to be absolutely fine about sticking a needle into your skin four times a day. And you’ll find that actually, it doesn’t hurt. You won’t be quite as comfortable about the jabbing your fingers what feels like a million times a week to find out what your blood sugar is doing.
But things get better. The lancet device you have now is pretty horrendous and in a couple of years, you’ll get a new one that doesn’t make quite as nasty a clunking sound, and will hurt less. Also, the first meter you have will take 20 seconds to count down to tell you your BGL. Wait until you get one that takes five seconds! You won’t know what to do with all that extra time in your day! And one day you’ll get a meter that plugs into your iPhone. (And one day, you’ll know what an iPhone is!)
Find out everything you can about insulin pumps. Speak with people using one. In three years you will have one and it will change your life. I want you to hold on to that over the next couple of years when things are not going as you’d like with your diabetes management and you think that you’ll never work it out. You do. And your pump is a huge help. Technology that you have no idea about is going to become an integral part of your life. Don’t be afraid of it – embrace it. But remember that these tools are there to help YOU manage your condition. Don’t become a slave to the data and don’t feel that you can’t take a break and go back to basics if that’s what you need.
(Also, perhaps tone down the evangelical pump attitude you develop. You become a little zealot-like. Yes, it worked for you, but it may not be for everyone. BUT INSULIN PUMPS ROCK!!!! As for CGM – let’s just say that your mind will be blown!)
Can we just talk about guilt for a minute? Diabetes comes with a lot of it and you’re going to learn that really quickly. Here are some things that you absolutely should not feel guilty about:
- The fact that you don’t change your lancet EVERY time you check your BGL
- Ditto goes for pen needles, and after three years, pump changes
- What you eat. Food does not have a moral compass.
- When you feel overwhelmed and completely ‘over’ having diabetes
- Not wanting to be a diabetes advocate ALL THE TIME
- Accepting that saying ‘that’ll do‘ when it comes to your diabetes doesn’t make you a bad person; in fact, it makes the whole diabetes palaver more manageable!
As you are in the middle of your wedding plans, here are some things I want you to know about that day so you can relax a little. It is a fantastic day. Your dress is stunning, your hair looks fine and you find the shoes you have been searching for. Diabetes comes along for the ride, but it’s in the background and no one mentions it on the day except for your mum asking quietly if your BGL is OK. When you think back to your wedding day, look at the photos and watch the video, you won’t be thinking about diabetes. You’ll remember the song that was played as you walked down the aisle and the faces in front of you. You’ll remember dancing the tango at the reception and the band playing Stevie Wonder as ‘gli sposi; were introduced to their friends and family.
(Also, the cars will be running late, but they’ll get there; and deliver you to the church inside Aaron’s ‘you’ve-got-fifteen-minutes-or-I’m-heading-to-the-pub’ timeframe.)
Oh, and when you meet your endocrinologist for the first time, he is going to tell you that diabetes will not stop you from having babies, as long as you have finished having your family by the time you are thirty. And you are going to wonder how it will be possible for you in the next five and a half years to fit in all the things you planned AS WELL as have a couple of kids. Don’t stress. Soon, you will find an endocrinologist who sets you straight. And when you are three days shy of thirty-one you will have a daughter. She’s a delight.
He will also show you some scary pictures of amputated limbs, kidney failure and tell you that you may go blind. Please, please, please don’t be shocked by what he says. The scare tactics that are used on you by him and other diabetes health professionals you will meet in the next couple of years will actually make you angry and determined. This is a good thing. As you seek out information, you will learn that complications are not inevitable and you will do everything possible to minimise your risk. And you will also come to understand that the guilt associated with complications is not fair.
You are going to meet some incredible people in the next few years – some of them become some of your best friends. Having a support network of people living with diabetes will inspire you, help you. Seek them out! And you have no idea what this means, but when, in 2011, you decide to get on Twitter, embrace it like there’s no tomorrow. Your mind will be opened up to a world of amazing, inspiring, caring, funny people all over the world who, like you, live and love with diabetes. You will call these people your friends and you will be part of a global community that makes you feel accepted and safe.
So 24-and-a-half-year-old me. The future isn’t as grim as you think it is right now. Your life isn’t life with diabetes. Diabetes isn’t the central part of it and I know that right now you wonder how it can be anything other than that. But it’s not. There will be times where you feel that it is all consuming and taking over everything, but by and large you manage to keep it in its place. You will get to forty and be healthy and surrounded by the people who love and support you and while you will have encountered some of the most difficult times, you will also have encountered some of the most wonderful. Diabetes is only part of your life.
Also, go and eat a cupcake today – just because you want to. It’s what I am going to do right now!
Much love from your much wiser, 40 year old self.