“Mommy! I need more water!” I would holler and my mother would scramble out of bed, feeling her way down the stairway. I went to bed crying for water and woke up begging for more. As a nurse, my mother had noticed some of the early signs, but hoped her suspicions were wrong. Instead, two weeks before my much-awaited first day of kindergarten, I was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes and spent three days in the hospital. I learned how to give myself shots and take blood-sugar tests along with how to tie my shoes.
For a five-year-old, a hospital is frightening, and it didn’t help that I was under the care of a student intern to take my blood tests. “Shaela, do you want a butterfly?” he asked in a sweet voice, winking at me. I was under the impression that I would be receiving a beautiful addition to my gloomy bedside.
“Yes, please!” But I was horrified to discover that “butterfly” was a deceiving name for a type of needle. After his third attempt, my mother demanded I see someone more experienced. Living with diabetes was not off to a great start.
“Your diabetes makes me sick!” a classmate once said. That has been imprinted on my mind since second grade. I went into the bathroom and cried, then I went home and cried in my room. When coming home upset became a ritual, my mother told me, “Punch a pillow and yell all the horrible things about diabetes you can think off.” Although I made that a daily effort, my anger continued to escalate.
Often diabetes provides a challenge. I fainted from low blood sugar in third grade. Because I fell on the stairs when I blacked out, everyone kept a closer eye on me: teachers, nurses and even the janitors. When classmates brought in cupcakes for birthdays, I had to wipe off the icing. If my class went on a field trip, the chaperone would bring juice and crackers in case my blood sugar got too low.
Then one day, I made up my mind: I wasn’t going to do it anymore. I wasn’t going to take needles if no one else had to. I didn’t want to live like this anymore. When I solemnly explained this to my mother, she sighed. She had hoped it wouldn’t come to this. It is one of the hardest things she ever had to do, but she knew I needed and deserved the truth. She placed me on her lap and whispered, “Shaela, you either take your insulin and you live. Or, you don’t take your insulin and you die.”
High school brought more freedom and options for me. The restrictions of diabetes hadn’t changed, but my attitude had. I was fed up. I was worn out so I secretly didn’t take my insulin. I couldn’t make my life easier, so I made it dangerous.
At one of my regular hospital check-ups, my world stopped when all my tests came back incredibly high. They were so horrific that my doctor thought the results were a mistake. They were so horrendous that my mom couldn’t speak. I was left in the hospital room, staring at my test results. Dangerous was the range I had put myself in. I had put myself in line for blindness and leg amputations by the time I was 30.
I had hit an all-time low. The act of rebelling was a huge mistake. In that cold hospital room, I decided I was going to turn my life around and have received lower test results since. Now I am in the stable range.
My parents have always been committed to making diabetes just one part of my life, not something that consumes it. I have always been socially and physically active. It is more important for me to be identified as a teenage girl than as a diabetic. Diabetes is self-control. I prick my finger at least four times a day and give myself an insulin shot every time I eat. There is no cure, but I have hope.
I sometimes resent having diabetes, but I realize that God gives me the strength to overcome obstacles. I have always had my life and health in my own hands. Diabetes has made me more responsible, independent and aware. It is not one of my weaknesses; it is one of my strengths.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.