Today is November 1st, the kick-off of Diabetes Awareness Month. This month means many different things to many different people. And today I realized, that it means something different to me than it used to.
Sarah Lucas from Beyond Type 1 and a crew from Omnipod were ringing the closing bell at NASDAQ this evening, so I ran over to Times Square to see Henry’s face the size of a skyscraper. When I popped up out of the subway and rounded the corner on Broadway, I looked up… and immediately started to cry.
I sort of surprised myself. WTF? Why are my eyes leaking? Is it because as a (sort of) New Yorker I have just found myself in the middle of our collective nightmare aka Times Square? No, that wasn’t it. Besides, I had plans to treat myself to Sephora after. It also wasn’t because I felt sad, or angry that there’s still no cure after 94 years of treating type 1’s with insulin.
It was because 11 years ago when I was thrown on to this insane, diabetic roller coaster, I wouldn’t have even known who Henry was. I would have never given Beyond Type 1 a chance. And I certainly wouldn’t have gone to Times Square to be a part of it. Back then, absolutely not one person that I knew or cared to know, spoke my new language. And I didn’t speak the existing language of the disease. But here I was, a decade later, staring up at it in giant flashing pixels, 15 stories high in the center of the universe.
When I was diagnosed, though surrounded by amazing friends and supportive family, I was the loneliest Libby I had ever been (which is saying some thing, because I was [artificially] emo as all hell at that age.) I was the only person who knew what it was like to feel my version of a low blood sugar. I was the only person who knew the sting of a cold Lantus shot under my skin. No one knew how much extra effort I was exerting to push through an afternoon high when I had deadlines breathing down my back. No one knew the anxiety of playing a full 45 minute half of soccer without any clue what my blood sugar was. Or the embarassment of having to pee every rest stop when I was first figuring out what “blood sugars” even were.
No one knew the fear that came with hiding my brand new insulin pump in my night stand so guys wouldn’t ask questions I didn’t know how to answer yet. No one knew the frustration when I was helplessly late for class or work because an inexplicable blood sugar incident held me back 15 minutes in time, and 15 universes in cognitive presence. No one understood my rationale for developing a serious aversion and later anxiety of staff meetings and long lines at TJ Maxx because of one bad low. No one knew how maddening it was to be told, “sorry, no more refills” on a prescription you pay out the ass for, but need to survive a mere 4 hours, when, at the counter to your right a guy is picking up his $1 pain pills for f*cking a headache.
For the longest time, I played the loner card. But I wanted it that way. I chose to be alone.
For the first 6 years of having diabetes, I didn’t want to be associated with the world behind it. Like, AT ALL. I was 17, I was popular enough to be easily embarrassed by change. I didn’t like talking to doctors. I didn’t want an insulin pump. I wanted to drink Jungle Juice at frat parties and sleep until 1PM on the weekends. I hated the thought of sacrificing my budding college social life just because my pancreas decided to kick the bucket before school even started. Sure, I did JDRF walks, but if you look back through photos, I a had a very fake smile on my face…”It’s for the kids!” I would tell myself, “I’m doing the right thing!” But I’d stand around at those walks, staring off in to space, surrounded by incredibly supportive friends and family, but feeling like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Big. Unwelcome. And Misunderstood.
Fast forward 4 years, one nasty bad break up, one college degree, and a new summer internship later. It was time for a change. I was so tired of the language barrier. Was there REALLY not one other “normal” 22-year-old diabetic girl in the world?
So one morning, I picked up my laptop, I opened a WordPress account, and I started The Sugars.
11 years ago, I didn’t know any of you. And trust me, I didn’t want to know any of you. I thought you were all aliens. I thought you were boring. I thought you all wore padded socks from Walgreens and only ate butter substitutes and sugar-free Jelly. I thought you were all afraid to travel and that you all worked at non-profits. I thought you were all socially awkward, and didn’t drink alcohol or eat bread. It makes me sound like a real bitch, but again, I blame the language barrier. No one spoke what I spoke, and what was being disseminated to me could not possibly have strayed me farther away from reality.
Now at age 28, I’ve never been prouder to be “associated” with anyone. I’ve never enjoyed the company of and conversation with any other community more than my fellow diabetic buddies. I’ve learned so much from every single one of you. We understand each other. And because of the supportive nature of this language that we all speak, I’ve accepted that diabetes is not a death sentence at all, it’s actually a life sentence.
Because I finally cracked the language barrier, I’ve been able to reinvested so much positivity into myself that I never had before you. And for that, I am incredibly grateful. I’m truly sorry for all of those years that I avoided and misunderstood you. For assuming that because I didn’t ask to be a part of your world, that your world was a horrible, scary, flavorless place. I’m sorry for thinking you’d ruin me, or make me less capable. I’m sorry for assuming that you all wore gross socks. That was particularly rude of me. I am so glad that after all the horrible things I thought and misconceived, you still embraced and let me in. I didn’t want to know you. But now because I know you, I actually know myself.
NOW (ESPECIALLY IF YOU’RE A PERSON WITHOUT DIABETES), GO HUG SOMEBODY WITH DIABETES, THEY PROBABLY REALLY, REALLY, REALLY, REALLY NEED YOU AND WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT EVEN IF YOU DON’T SPEAK THEIR LANGUAGE, YOU’RE AT LEAST WILLING TO BE THERE.