She was in her early fifties, she told me, but she looked much younger. She had a toughness about her when you first meet her, but it softened quickly with an easy smile and a twinkle in her eye. She had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes just 8 months ago in October. We talked about the product my company makes, but it became clear after a few minutes that truly all she needed was just the company of someone who understood. Sometimes this happens in my job. You meet with a patient at the request of their doctor, but technology is the furthest thing from their mind.
She didn’t understand why it was happening to her. No one in her family had Type 1, and she’d lived this long without it. She was tired, she said, of all the ups and downs. She was tired of explaining to people that this disease was not as simple as taking your meds and cutting out sugar. I did not have the heart to tell her that this is something people would think for as long as she has the disease. Which would be forever, by the way (pending a cure of course).
She told me some days she felt so sad and frustrated about it that she didn’t know what to do with herself. The final layer of armor deteriorated as the tears filled her eyes and she looked at me.
“It’s just so hard sometimes” she said. I told her that I know it is.
And I told her that it gets better. Well, maybe not better, but easier to understand. It will always frustrate you, because that is what it means to live with this disease. But I told her that things would make more sense as time went on, that she would build on her previous experiences and be able to handle new situations better. I also told her that it was completely normal to feel totally and utterly pissed off about having diabetes, and that there will always be days that literally make no sense. There will be days that you do everything “right” and still get the short end of the stick. But that also, she could still do everything she wanted to do.
Sometimes, after 21 years with this disease, I forget what it must feel like in those early months of learning to live with diabetes. I forget what it feels like to have to learn what a low does to you, how bad finger sticks can really hurt, and that there are carbs hiding in EVERYTHING. I forget what it feels like to do everything the doctor said and still have to wake up with diabetes the next day, much to your bewilderment. I forget sometimes how frustrating the first 8,000 times you explain to someone that this disease is not cured with diet and exercise (because I’m on explanation number 21,004, it seems).
And yet, we still share so many of the same feelings about diabetes, her only 8 months in, and me 257 months in. And although I was diagnosed at age 10, and her in her 50s, the challenges are the same: highs, lows, pain, unpredictability. But I do hope that when she gets to 21 years with diabetes she will know at least that she will be ok.