From Di-abetes To Liv-abetes

January 5, 2018
Sarah Richards
Pennsylvania State University '18
Sarah Richards is a senior majoring in Human Development & Family Studies at The Pennsylvania State University in University Park, PA. she has had T1D since 11/06/2007 and has been involved with The Diabetes Link @PSU since it became an officially recognized University organization in October of 2016. She served as Treasurer during the 2016-2017 school year, and is now serving as President for the 2017-2018 school year.

What were you doing on November 6, 2007? How old were you? On November 6, 2007, I was diagnosed with type one diabetes (T1D). I was eleven years old. Ten years later, I am finally able to fully look back and reflect on the biggest life-changing event that has happened to me so far.

November 1, 2007 was about the time when symptoms started to become noticeable. I spent each night chugging down at least three bottles of water as I woke up sporadically from my extremely uncomfortable dry mouth. Unsurprisingly, I was also moseying my way to the bathroom over three times each night. As a sixth grader, I was starting to face body image issues as well. My body was changing and I was not too pleased with the results. However, because a symptom of type one diabetes is drastic weight loss, you could actually see my ribs poking out of my torso. Yet, I was still unhappy and found things I didn’t like.

Before I knew it, I was in the bathroom yet again, getting ready for our church’s Sunday morning service. This time, I was physically unable to get up from the toilet seat. My body was failing me. All I wanted to do was get up and continue getting ready so I could get my praise and worship on. I screamed bloody murder for my mother, who was downstairs ironing my father’s Sunday best.

It was time to see a professional to figure out what was going on, but since it was a Sunday and our family physician was closed, I spent my day on my parents’ bed eating a loaf of Wonder Bread and a bag of Cheetos until the next morning. I was ready for the unknown to become known. It was eating me up inside as I attempted to eat everything in the house.

Several blood tests, urine samples, finger pricks, conversations with strangers in white coats, and low-carbohydrate meals later, I was officially resting on a hospital bed as a T1D.

All I knew about T1D was that my father’s father, my Pop-Pop, had it since he was a young adult and was in and out of the hospital because of severe complications. He even lost a leg because he did not take care of himself.

No matter how much the nurses and doctors tried to educate me, it just was not making any sense. How could this be? Was it my fault? Was it my Pop-Pop’s fault? Out of all of my family, why me? The youngest, most innocent, least deserving of this news. What about my father’s siblings, or their kids, or their kids’ kids? Will my leg have to be amputated? So many questions, so few answers.

I remember even enjoying the life-or-death responsibilities that were now being thrown at me. This took place for about one year as those in my life and I were adjusting to my new lifestyle. This quickly led to burnout and constantly feeling like a failure as I learned how difficult this disease truly is. The word “diabetes” could not even come out of my mouth because I was just so sick of it all. I hated the way it sounded, what it implicated, and how it made me feel. My classmates called me “lucky” for always getting to leave class to go to the nurse’s office, when in fact, I was always leaving because my blood sugar was either dangerously low or high – something I would never even wish on my least favorite classmate. Diabetes was becoming more than just getting special attention in school, or buying cute medical alert jewelry, or going on shopping sprees after endocrinologist appointments. Diabetes was becoming my life, and I could not handle it anymore. I had to start defining it differently.

“The word “diabetes” could not even come out of my mouth because I was just so sick of it all.”

Ten years later, I have grown to accept this disease and it does not define me. I no longer wish that other family members were given this kind of life instead of myself. It was not anyone’s fault and my leg does not have to be amputated as long as I continue to take care of myself. I can confidently say and believe these statements all thanks to my faith.

There are no precise rules, formulas, or medicines on that makes life with T1D go as planned. Doctors can make suggestions, but there are still several hindrances; for example, sleep, stress, exercise, and menstruation. What scared me most about T1D was the lack of control I suddenly had over my own life. As a Christian, I believe that God is in control of my life. Once I started to base my life off of this, my whole world changed. I am not trying to preach here, I just genuinely want everyone to know how my perspective did a complete 180.

“Doctors can make suggestions, but there are still several hindrances; for example, sleep, stress, exercise, and menstruation.”

I have been motivated to strive to find the meanings as to why I was diagnosed with this disease. Through that, my once half-empty glass is now half-full. I am so grateful for the plethora of platforms I have to shed some light on this chronic illness since T1D is non-stop, 24/7/365.

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