“What the f*ck is wrong with me?” I cried as I laid in bed in excruciating pain at 4 in the morning. The tears rolled down my face as my legs stiffened.
This was night number five.
I attempted to stand up to make the leg cramps subside, stumbling to the ground as soon as I tried.
I laid on the ground for a few minutes, feeling defeated and helpless just like the night before. I reached for my water beside me, chugging it in hopes of ameliorating the problem. Maybe dehydration was the problem. I just needed to drink more water and the leg cramps would go away.
“You need to stretch more and maybe take it easy on your legs, you’re always on them.”
“Eat more protein.”
“Drink more electrolytes.”
“Get more sleep.”
I became thirsty. Always thirsty. I assumed it was because my body was craving more water since I had made an effort to drink more to make the cramps go away. I filled a giant water bottle every night and placed it beside my bedside, knowing I would wake up with cotton mouth at some point in the middle of the night. However, it never satisfied me. Refilling it twice a night became habitual, just like my muscle aches.
Drink more water. Eat more protein.
I was eating right, perhaps even eating more than usual, but my weight was dropping rapidly. At first it felt good. “I’m more active now,” I told myself. Constantly walking, always on my feet. This is great.
The more weight I lost, the weaker I felt. Spinning classes were no longer enjoyable, they were a feat to push through. A 10 pound weight was no longer something I lifted with ease, my arm would shake as I attempted to pick it up.
The legs that could once run a half marathon could hardly push through an 11 minute mile.
Drink more. Eat more. Sleep more.
My body was telling me to do these things, but I simply couldn’t. A gallon of water was hardly satisfying, neither was a giant slice of pizza. Walking to work was no longer enjoyable, it took too much energy out of me. I was growing increasingly irritable with people; anxiety became an part of my daily life.
For about a month, I accepted discomfort as a norm. Eventually I would feel better. This was just a weird phase.
Reluctantly, I booked a doctor’s appointment with my PCP to find out what was going on with me. Although, I had already diagnosed myself with hypothyroidism (thanks, WebMD). I walked into the doctor’s office fairly positive that I would be prescribed medication and I’d be back to feeling normal again. No biggie. Sh*t happens.
I ignorantly disregarded all the other possibilities she discussed with me. Whatever was wrong with me was a quick fix.
I had to get a series of blood tests done in the lab upstairs. Spending 2 hours at the doctors was not how I wanted to start my trip home. She injected the needles into my arm as I stared at my watch. Get me out of here.
I eventually made it to the hair salon, and I was finally doing something that I wanted to do. The foils sat in my hair as I chatted away with my hairdresser, when my phone rang, it was the doctor’s office. I knew the blood test results would come back later that day but I didn’t realize how fast it would be.
I listened intently as she began to explain my lab results. She said a lot, but all I heard was a single sentence that made my face turn pale.
“We believe that you have type 1 diabetes.”
They advised me to get to the ER, my blood sugar was dangerously high and I apparently was in diabetic ketoacidosis (I didn’t know what that was until I Googled it either).
I drove myself to the ER, not really knowing how serious my condition was (looking back it was probably an awful idea to drive). I checked myself in as my phone was blowing up with questions from my parents and my sister. No one really knew what was happening. No one understood.
My life had quickly spun into a whirlwind yet I still felt blissfully unaware of the situation that I was currently in.
“For a blood sugar count of 700, you look pretty darn good,” the nurse at the front desk said to me. That number didn’t really mean anything to me. I politely smiled.
A normal blood sugar count is roughly 90-140.
I laid in the hospital bed waiting for my family to arrive. The tears still refused to fall, as confusion was the only emotion that I could really feel. They set me up on two IVs, one filled with insulin, the other filled with salt water. My nurse periodically came in and checked my blood sugar and my vitals, eventually I became numb to it all.
I don’t remember the exact moment that it set in. Perhaps it was the 2 AM wake up call to prick my finger and check my blood sugar. Or maybe it was the third time I plead for food only to be told to wait until my insulin drip runs out. It may not have been an exact moment, but possibly a culmination of overwhelming events, conversations, and ‘I’m sorry’s.
You didn’t do anything to cause this. This is just a bump in the road. You can live with this. You’ll be okay, Beth. You’re a healthy person, this will be manageable for you.
I talked to dozens of different nurses, dietitians, and doctors. They periodically came into my room in the ICU, asking how I was doing, reassuring me that things were going to be okay. Saying this would soon become a “new normal.” Telling me that my life wouldn’t be any different, I’d just have to make some adjustments here and there. I was so exhausted and overwhelmed that these words went over my head.
But this was my life now.
I stared at the “Diabetes Management” book given me to by one of the dietitians. On the cover was two overweight elderly people. One was holding a tennis racket and the other was cutting vegetables. A f*cking tennis racket and vegetables. Honestly? Be more irrelevant.
The first page read “What is Diabetes?” It was plastered with the symptoms that I had ignored for a month. I quickly shut the book and threw it back on the chair beside me.
I spent the entire week in the hospital. At first they would inject my insulin for me. I would lift up my shirt and they punctured the needle into me–the physical pain was minimal, however, the mental pain is what hurt the most.
“Do you want to try doing it on your own?” She handed me over the insulin pen. I held it with shaky hands. The tears started to fall again.
This was my new normal.
My constant tears in the hospital didn’t seem warranted for. There are more people in this world in far worse shape than I am currently in.
Diabetes was continually described to me as a “livable disease.” I was told I could still do what every other 22 year old does; that sooner or later it’ll just become an part of my life.
It’s not the technicalities of it that scare me. I don’t need to change my life all that much. The needles aren’t large, the finger pricks to test my blood sugar hardly feel like a pinch.
What scares me is my ignorance.
I stare at my plate, it no longer looks like food. It looks like carbs, fats, proteins; it looks like poison. I stare in my purse, it no longer looks like a black hole for my house keys. It looks like a safe haven for my diabetes kit.
My stomach is no longer skin, it’s a grid split into quadrants; quadrants that are meant to be punctured with a needle 4 times a day.
What scares me is failure. Low blood sugars when they should be higher. Exercising at the wrong time. Forgetting my glucose tabs when I’m in desperate need. Not knowing how to respond to people saying “eat this,” when I know I can’t. Pricking the same finger too many times. Running out of test strips.
FAILING AT BEING A “GOOD” TYPE 1 DIABETIC.
I have more questions than I do answers. And that is what perhaps scares me the most.
I have a new normal, except, it’s not normal yet.
Featured Image via Verne Ho.