Healing With Feeling

The day after my eleventh Easter, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. I got a shot that very night, and at least two shots every day for the next fifteen years, until I went on the pump. It seems appropriate that on the day the disease took over my body, a fire took over the chimney of our house.

I’m from New England where being stoic is prized, so there weren’t a lot of feelings attached to the diagnosis – at least, not then. My family didn’t talk about it. We just did what had to be done.

Every winter weekend I skied hard. My jacket was always packed with cookies and Lifesavers, syringes and alcohol swabs. To keep it from freezing, the insulin vial was zipped into an inner pocket. My mom was always panicking that I’d be on the mountain and crash: not with my skis, but with my blood sugar.

When I turned eighteen, I did crash – but it had nothing to do with blood sugar and everything to do with extreme disappointment. When I was first diagnosed, a renowned specialist had said to me, “Don’t worry, Nina. By the time you’re eighteen, we’re going to have a cure for this disease.” I counted on that. “You can do this,” I’d tell myself, cringing from a finger-stick or riding out the sick feeling of a blood sugar out of control. “It’s only for a short time out of your whole life, and then it’ll be over.”

At breakfast on my eighteenth birthday, I looked at the cereal in front of me and thought, “I’ve been eating that bowl of cereal since I was able to eat solid food. I’m sick of it, and I’m sick of the testing and the needles and being different from my friends. I’ve done everything right, and there’s no end in sight.” It was like a knife stuck into my chest, hurting so much I wanted to die.

Instead, I went into therapy, and there I figured out that I was angry. I learned that I hate having this disease. Even with wonderful family and friends, you deal with diabetes all alone. You’re the only one who really lives it.

To feel anger without fear is healing. The cliché is that being angry is dangerous because you’ll act aggressively, even violently, to fix things. But just as I learned to give myself shots or program my pump, I’ve acquired skills to accept my anger. All I can fix is how healthy I keep myself and how fully I live my life. And that’s enough. I’m free now to get on with my life in ways large and small – work I enjoy, being at the ocean, making and exhibiting jewelry, gardening, and time with friends and family.

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