As type one diabetics- many of us diagnosed as children- we learned from a young age to be tough. Grown adults cried like sissies getting their flu shots at the health clinic while we stood still with stoic faces. One of my strongest memories is of my first endocrinologist’s office. I had just turned three years old and was getting accustomed to insulin injections and finger pricks. This particular office in the Worcester, MA, area performed A1C tests by drawing blood from their subjects’ arms with syringes and then sending the samples off to the lab. Pretty caveman-like if you ask me…
Well, I was three years old and a few nurses were pinning me down to stab me with a long needle. Naturally, I cried. We went back to that office a few more times. I can still visualize the indoor playground they once had in their waiting room, until someone became fearful of liability and it was removed. My mother tried to comfort me, telling me to be strong. “Try not to cry,” she said. What else could she really say? I was going to get shots for the rest of my life, so the sooner I learned not to fight this concept, the better for all of us.
At the next appointment, I bit my bottom lip and braced myself for the impact of the syringe in my tiny arm. I didn’t cry my usual amount, but I whimpered a bit.
“I didn’t cry!” I proclaimed as we walked through the parking lot afterwards.
“You didn’t…?” Mom asked.
She was not trying to come off as cold, but was rather incredulous at how my young mind had just rationalized away all of the tears flooding the examination room a few minutes earlier.
I had the three-year-old version of an “Ah ha” moment, in which I realized that okay, I had cried. But I wasn’t going to cry anymore. I resigned myself to this fact, and at the next appointment I did not cry. I had accepted my fate in some small way; shots were here to stay.
Shortly thereafter my parents took me to the renowned Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, a decision partially prompted by the fact that their A1C tests were performed with simple finger pricks as opposed to modern-day torture tactics. Over two decades later, I am still a Joslin girl. And I still fight back my tears sometimes, but I am slowly learning that it can be healthy to let them out once in a while, too. There is certain strength in vulnerability, in showing that you hurt emotionally and/or physically but that you are going to get through that pain.
I cannot speak for every type one diabetic out there, but I would venture to guess that some of you have difficulties letting your guard down at times, too. How can we complain about a head cold when we have endured thousands and thousands of injections over the years? I can’t believe my boyfriend is upset that he lost his football game! Seriously?!! But the reality is that these are human emotions and normal trials and tribulations of life, even if these situations are not a life or death fight as diabetes sometimes can be. It is more natural to express what you are feeling than to avert your eyes to the ground while feverishly blinking back tears. Trust me, I have been there, done that, and many times at that rate.
I see today that my mentality of always being strong was a survival tactic yet a detriment all at once. Some days I have a quick temper because it is easier to be angry than to acknowledge being scared or defeated. I am my own worst enemy when it comes to epic PMS-y Facebook rants, but this is an excuse. Sure, we were dealt very frustrating hands by being diagnosed with diabetes. The general public misunderstands the constant battles we endure. We rarely get a break from the burdens of this disease.
But at the same time, if I cut the BS and allow myself to say, “Okay, your blood sugar is high and you’re afraid of the long-term damage this could do to your body, and you’re tired from being up all night responding to Dexcom alarms, and you’re stressed with ‘normal people’ factors like work and grad school,” then yeah, I am a human being. It is okay to cry. It is okay to be fearful. It is okay to feel, to admit that sometimes pump site and CGM changes hurt like hell even though you told yourself that the pain was the least of your problems years ago.
And I said that yesterday, too. To which my doctor replied, “But it’s not the least of your problems if you’re shooting a pump site into muscle because you have no ‘real estate’ left that is free of scar tissue.” Fair enough, and directly to the point. She is right. Acknowledge that it is a big deal, Ally.
Sometimes crying makes one braver than not crying. At least crying invokes honest, real emotion from which we can grow. I’m ready to ditch the war paint if it means connecting with others on a more meaningful, understanding level.