It was early 2000, and I was sitting at a Mexican restaurant in Texas with my mom. She had just picked me up from school because I hadn’t been feeling well. Even though something wasn’t quite right, I was starving and couldn’t seem to get enough food or water. I was a small kid, a first grader who just turned seven, and on this day, as my mom will tell you, I downed twelve glasses of water in half an hour. Later that day, after a trip to the doctor, I was admitted into the Children’s Hospital ICU with a blood sugar of over 800. I was lucky, the doctors told my family, that I wasn’t in a coma.
That day, my life was flipped upside down. That day, I became one of over three million Americans diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
Now, fourteen years later, I’m a 21-year-old college student living on my own in Nashville, Tennessee. I’ve experienced the ups and downs—literally, the “highs” and “lows”—of living with Type 1 diabetes, but have always made a conscious effort to stay positive and look on the bright side of my situation. There have been struggles, though. Diabetes is a confusing disease to the general public, and there are several misconceptions surrounding the disease. Type 1 diabetes, also called juvenile-onset or insulin-dependent diabetes, is a genetic disease that requires constant treatment with insulin. Type 1 has almost nothing to do with lifestyle choices or diet—it cannot be prevented, and its symptoms usually manifest in childhood or young adulthood. From the time I was first diagnosed until I started fifth grade, I took between six to eight insulin shots a day. After that I started insulin pump therapy, which drastically changed my life. An insulin pump is a device that continuously delivers insulin like an actual pancreas does.
Although there are some similarities between the two diseases, Type 2 diabetes differs from Type 1 in several key ways. With Type 1, the body makes little to no insulin, whereas with Type 2, the body cannot use the insulin that it makes. Type 2 is triggered by many factors including lifestyle choices, health, age, and genetics. It can be managed through controlled dieting, lifestyle changes, and pills. According to the Center for Disease Control, only five percent of diagnosed cases of diabetes are Type 1.
The misconceptions surrounding type 1 diabetes have been an endless source of frustration for me. Throughout my life, people have continuously told me that I’ll “outgrow” diabetes, or that if I “eat right” it will “go away.” This isn’t true for Type 1 diabetics. Until there is a cold hard cure, we will continue to live with it. Other people have tried to force herbal supplements, spices, and other weird products on me because it will “cure” me. One person went so far as to try to convince my mom to take me to Mexico for a surgery. Thanks, but no thanks.
For me, living with Type 1 diabetes is a challenge, but one that I embrace with humor and humility. I don’t try to hide the disease that I live with. It would be hard if I did. I check my blood sugar multiple times throughout the day and use my insulin pump (which I wear like a beeper on my waist) continuously. It is annoying, though, when people tell me how much they hate diet soda, that their grandma has diabetes, or my personal favorite: “I could never do it. I hate needles…” Because I love needles? Trust me…I hate them as much as the next person, but I don’t have a choice! Life with Type 1 diabetes is a constant battle between the truth of the disease and the ignorance projected about it in the media. Diabetes is an epidemic that’s affecting millions of Americans, so it’s important to know the facts. I’ve never been overweight, I’ve always been able to eat birthday cake, and while I appreciate the concern, on behalf of all diabetics, please stop asking, “Can you eat that?”