In the eighties when I was in grade school, a classmate named Scott did a show-and-tell about his diabetes. He pulled out his syringes and testing supplies. With a bulky blood sugar meter, he tested his blood, took a shot, and explained what he had to do each day to control his blood sugar. I went up to get a closer look at the table of supplies. I remember seeing all the needles and thinking, “Thank God I don’t have that.”
I went back to my desk and soon forgot all about Scott’s diabetes. To this day, I wish that I’d shown more compassion. It was my only interaction with diabetes growing up. I didn’t think of Scott or diabetes again until I was in college, when I learned that I too had diabetes.
I was 18eighteen at the time of my diagnosis, still riding in fast cars, hanging with delinquents, and running around with raccoon eyes, skull t-shirts, and miniskirts. As a shy, quiet teen, I felt far from perfect. In my eyes, the diagnosis further proved it.
The symptoms were undeniable. My entire body hurt, and no amount of water could quench my thirst. My vision got so blurry that driving became dangerous. I visited the eye doctor for a new prescription, but when I picked up my new contacts, I still couldn’t see. I was hungry all the time and ate and drank constantly, even ordering regular sodas while watching every last ounce of weight fall off my already slender build. I became so thin that my sister, who was away at college, called my mother after I came for a visit to ask if I had an eating disorder. I ran to the bathroom frequently, barely making it on numerous occasions. I literally had every single symptom and yet I was completely clueless as to what was happening to me.
Devoting what little energy I had left to my college photography course, I was in denial that anything was seriously wrong. I was convinced that, at worst, I had a urinary tract infection. Attending a nature photography field trip to the Indiana Dunes, I ran back and forth, snapping pics and racing to the bathroom. Once, as I fought to unbutton my pants in time, I fumbled and dropped my camera. The sound of my precious, expensive camera hitting the stone floor crushed me. Just like me, it would never work the same. I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes shortly after the trip.
Reflecting on the 17 years I’ve spent with diabetes, I realize how thankful I am to Scott. I’m thankful that he shared his story, even if I couldn’t fully appreciate it at the time. I’ll never forget his openness, his honesty, and most of all, the bravery he showed in sharing his diabetes with his classmates. Today I share my diabetes story with others. I try to spread awareness about diabetes. I don’t hide my diabetes. I “show and tell” my diabetes experiences in hopes that each and every member of our community will know they are never alone.