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My disease is not my identity

In a month overtaken by a presidential election and Thanksgiving, others dates fall in the shadows of these larger events. November is recognized as National Diabetes Awareness month, with Nov. 14 acknowledged as World Diabetes Day.

Why does this matter? Because a new case of diabetes is diagnosed every 30 seconds within our nation, with 26 million individuals already diagnosed to date. To me, it matters as I am the granddaughter of a type 2 diabetic, daughter of a type 1 diabetic and a type 1 diabetic myself. However, I rarely let anyone know about the disease I deal with day in and day out.

My world revolves around insulin, needles, testing blood sugar levels and counting carbohydrates with each and every snack or meal I decide to consume. It’s not a glamorous world, but it’s the life 1.25 million Americans, including myself, with type 1 diabetes must assimilate our daily routines around.

My disease doesn’t cease to exist while I sleep. It makes the ones I love fearful and constantly worried. I stress about missing out on enjoying events with my friends because of a low blood sugar I cannot prevent. I live with a disease that will cause me to have medical expenses approximately 2.3 times higher than those who do not have diabetes.

However, the most frustrating thing to me is feeling defined by my disease. It shouldn’t be my single identifying trait.

I don’t tell people about my disease unless they ask about the insulin pump, if it comes up in a conversation, or if someone makes a diabetic joke. It feels like the moment I tell someone I’m diabetic the response I get is an apology or an “Oh, so you can’t have sugar, right?”

My disease is hard to explain to anyone who is not directly affected. As much as I try and try, it is weird to describe the extent of the disease which caused highs and lows in the past 10 years of my life.

One author trying to put type 1 diabetes into perspective said, “Imagine living a life where you have this huge weight on your back all the time. You are always in a state of fear because you never know what could happen. You don’t know if your blood sugar will manage through the night. You feel like a burden to others because they have to look out for you. You feel like people are judging you. You go through crazy mood swings based on your blood sugar. It’s a huge emotional rollercoaster. It’s life where you have to depend on a bottle of insulin to survive. It’s a restraint. You can’t always do what your friends do. You feel like no one understands you. It’s a major responsibility, you have to grow up faster and learn to take care of yourself. People don’t always realize that it’s a disease and it could kill you. But hopefully it’s not a lifelong battle.”

I can’t explain to someone how a low blood sugar feels because I’m frantically looking for fruit snacks or pop to raise my blood sugar back to where it needs to be. I can’t explain what it is about a high blood sugar that causes me to be lethargic.

I grew up in a house where I saw my father constantly giving himself insulin injections, drinking Diet Coke and eating Starburst to raise blood sugars. It was ‘normal’ for my household, but it wasn’t until I was diagnosed at age 10 that I caught my first glimpse of the world of diabetes my father has lived in for 25 years.

At 10, type 1 diabetes became a piece of who I am but it does not define me as a human being.

Sure, it changed the way I live. I count the carbohydrates in my meals now. I don’t drink Dr. Pepper anymore. I worry about my A1C level. But I’m still the blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl I’ve always been.

My disease does not have a cure I can look forward to. However, advances towards a cure are made daily and this gives me hope for a day when I won’t have to check the box on a medical form saying I’m a diabetic.

Until then, I’m Kristyn Hale, a junior studying public relations and advertising from Yukon, OK, who just so happens to have type 1 diabetes.

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