How do you make the transition from a carefree 10 year-old with no restrictions to waking up one day with type 1 diabetes requiring lifelong insulin injections and rigid management of your body? That’s what happened to me when I found myself in the hospital scared and not knowing how diabetes would affect my life. At age 10, I was active in dance and gymnastics, played games with my friends and wanted to be like everyone else. Being different was not necessarily a good thing. And someone telling me that every day I need to take insulin shots, prick my finger, eat certain food and be careful with my body was like the world was against me. Much to my dismay, needles were at the top of my fear list. So, how could I be normal when I was different and how could I do the same things like eat ice cream when I had to be so careful with my diet?
After a week in the hospital I learned diabetes 101 and to my advantage, my mother
was a dietitian and was very helpful in managing my diet. I learned how to give injections to a teddy and slowly had no choice but to get over my needle fear. However, back in school I knew that all my classmates were aware of this change in me and I found it difficult trying to fit in. I recall giving a presentation to my classmates on diabetes and showing them how I pricked my finger to test my blood glucose, which my classmates found a bit “cool.” And even though my friends didn’t treat me differently, I still felt estranged.
In order to meet other diabetics and obtain helpful resources, my parents and I joined a local chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). This group was a great support to me as I started to see that I wasn’t the only diabetic around and that spreading the word about diabetes was a good thing. I became involved in the fundraising walks creating my own team - Team Erin - where my friends and family walked for me. It was amazing to see the support I had around me, which I felt better about having such an illness. However, I remember when I wrote the fundraising letters to ask for donations it discouraged me, because the letter highlighted all the diabetes complications and I thought, “I don’t want any of that to happen to me, I want to live my life to the fullest.” This is when changing my mindset started to sink in.
The best thing to happen to me was participating in a diabetes cycling camp when I was a teenager. Everyone at the camp had diabetes and was no different from me. We all woke up at the same time, tested our blood glucose together and gave our insulin shots out in the open with no fear of anyone seeing us. This environment made me thrive and boosted my confidence and I thought, “I’m just like everyone else.” We cycled to different natural spring locations every day with check-in stops along the way. During our time together we laughed, told stories and just enjoyed being ourselves. I didn’t want to leave, but that next year in school I shined like a star and became more normal in my own head.
Through the next few years, I attended university and I tried to keep up my spirited
attitude despite my diabetes. However, I wasn’t very forthcoming at telling new friends or even my boyfriend that I had diabetes. I was secretive with this aspect of my life since I was in a new environment surrounded by new people and in a scene where everyone wanted to have fun without supervision. Of course, I also wanted to have fun without worries, and sometimes I tried to forget about my diabetes, which put my body at risk at certain times. This was a hard phase, because even though my diabetes set me apart from certain things, I tried to deny this fact and push my body and my mind to the limit. However, I learned before if I wanted to feel normal I had to surround myself with support and familiarities. So, I did so and started to learn more about diabetes research and what great technologies were to come about. With this, I started on an insulin pump and it allowed me to be more flexible with my activities. It showed me that technology and the constant research is always trying to find ways to help normalize diabetes and make daily life easier.
From that point, I wanted to work and travel abroad. I knew that I was capable of
travelling to a different country because diabetes is a worldly disease and there is a support network everywhere, which I need at one point during my travels in Australia. I learned special things I could to manage my diabetes abroad and this adventure made me feel alive and fulfilled especially because I previously thought it was a hopeless challenge. But I continued to take on greater challenges thereafter. I started to acknowledge that diabetes was my normal and the only way to alter my thinking was to believe in myself and meet whatever goals I set out.
Becoming active in my disease whether it was learning about the latest
developments or being an advocate to support other diabetics, helped me to come to terms with my diabetes and gave me a shield of relentless will and determination that has pushed me to do things I never thought were possible. Throughout my life, I sought out ambitions that would test my body and diabetes from running a marathon to cycling through Central America to having children. I knew that the world of diabetics were sport athletes, artists, actors and more, and I wasn’t going to let diabetes hold me back from doing anything I want to achieve. Being different is a good trait and the fact that diabetes came into my life, I met people and accomplished milestones that I wouldn’t have done without it. So instead of seeing diabetes as different, embrace the uniqueness, as it will only make you stronger. Being different is what makes us tick.