Living With Diabetes: Identity Crisis

The other day I got a big package in the mail. I found it waiting at my front door when I came home: a 10x10x10 brown box, promising mysteries and surprises aplenty. Addressed to me! I should have noticed, of course, the return address label which read “Animas”, but in the thrill of the chase… I didn’t.

What magical Christmas surprises did this box hold? A gift from an exotic place? Books or sparkly things? (Probably my two favorite categories of presents). I practically ripped it open.

Right, no. Infusion sets and syringes. Insulin pump supplies.

You know, that stuff I’ll need to get delivered for the rest of my life in order to stay alive.

It is fair to say that I am currently experiencing one of the most acute identity crises of my entire life. I am not a person who does well with change — I’ll get there eventually, but it takes me a while. Usually by the last day of sleepaway camp I was starting to feel at home. When we moved to Paris when I was 9, my 4th grade teacher had to call home a few months into the school year. She was worried that I wasn’t “adjusting” fast enough. I actually grew to love the American School of Paris — just not within Ms. Tracanelli’s time frame. College, new jobs, moves… these are all things that, for me, will perpetually take beyond the mean length of adjustment time.

So it was never reasonable of me to assume that I was going to adjust to being a Type 1 diabetic quickly or even in a normal time frame, but goddamn it if I haven’t expected to.

Which is why the particular identity crisis I’m in right now is so incredibly difficult, so bafflingly, surprisingly, simply difficult.

Most people with Type 1 diabetes have lived with it a long time. Since childhood, in many cases. I have yet to meet anyone as recently diagnosed as me, and although I know they’re out there, I feel like we’re the minority. Most people I’ve met with the disease have had it at least since their early twenties, and usually, as I said, for much longer. Which is not a good thing, by no means is it a good thing. I am deeply grateful, in retrospect, for the 26 years I got to spend diabetes-free.

But it does mean this: if you’ve had diabetes since you were 5, you’ve had an awful long time to build your identity around it. Being a diabetic is something that these “lifers” have simply adapted to in a way that I haven’t. Not that it’s easy for anyone – I can’t imagine it is… what I imagine is that it feels more… natural seems like a grotesque word, but it’s the best I can think of. It’s a part of them in a way it’s not a part of me. Yet. It’s been in their life for most of their life. Whereas for me, Type 1 diabetes is a small sliver of the life I’ve lived so far.

So, there’s that. But that’s not the only identity crisis I’m currently wading through. It’s not just the fact that I have a chronic illness…it’s also, and here I go bringing it up again… my weight.

In the same way I have spent my whole life not-diabetic, I have also spent my whole life overweight. Both of these things have recently reversed: I am now a diabetic who is not overweight.

I guess?

I think?

People who have seen me recently – am I overweight? I literally don’t know sometimes… there’s SO MANY weights in my head, acceptable ones, unacceptable ones… I feel like a complete moron when it comes to weight these days. Some days I feel as heavy as I’ve ever been, other days I feel impossibly skinnier, and still other days I’d describe myself as “slightly overweight.” I never know whether it’s my healthy brain, my body dysmorphic brain, or my plain old self-hating brain talking. God knows all of them have been fighting for status lately.

Regardless, my doctors seem happy with my weight these days. And for the first time in my adult life, that stupid fucking BMI scale doesn’t classify me as “obese” or “overweight” anymore. So by some metrics at least, I am no longer overweight.

Although I still feel kinda overweight.

Maybe.

Sometimes.

Either way, there’s that. I walk down the street these days and sometimes I have to restrain myself, literally restrain myself from stopping the people I pass and saying “No…OK, so I realize I look like a normal-weight, healthy person but I ACTUALLY have a chronic illness and I ACTUALLY used to be pretty obese!”

The reason I feel the need to do this, like a literal crazy person is that, for the time being at least, I am utterly uncomfortable in my own skin. Most of that discomfort comes, I hope, from unfamiliarity – I don’t know this body, this smaller, dysfunctional body that makes strange demands of me at all hours (“take insulin! now take carbohydrates! psych! take more insulin!”). Demands that my old, fat, reliable body never used to make.

Old Reliable, as I’m calling her, would never wake me up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat angling for juice. She’d never cause me to collapse on subway trains or lose my ability to think cogently unless I take in carbohydrates. She’d never make me nauseous with high blood sugar because I didn’t take enough insulin before eating a bite of cannoli. And yet, I fucking abused her with self-hatred and terrible nutrition. Like an emancipated minor, one day she decided she just couldn’t take it anymore, packed up her things, and left.

And she’s never coming back.

So now I have to figure out what to do with my new, high maintenance body, with all of its strange whims and fickle health. It’s smaller and so much more demanding, and frankly I don’t know how to make it happy. Unlike my old body, which tried so hard to make me happy, functioning so beautifully while I hated it, just hated it, my new body doesn’t give a shit what I think about it – it wants what it wants, and it could care less what I have to say.

When it demands carbohydrates, it doesn’t particularly care if I’m busy or not near anything to eat. If I ignore it long enough it will make me faint. So there, it says.

I feel like the kid in a bad 80s movie who foolishly complains that her square, predictable (fat) parents are such losers, and how badly she wishes she could trade up for thinner, hotter, cooler parents. Then the new parents come and, like, they’re hot and all, but their total lack of responsibility actually sucks and she’s not getting, like, dinner anymore and no one’s there to help her with her homework and HOW BADLY does she just want her reliable, lovable parents back again? If only she’d appreciated them when she had them!!

Of course, in the bad 80s movies she always gets her parents back.

In my case, I’m just going to have to learn to live in my new, hot, mean parents. OK, this metaphor’s getting confusing: “mean parents” = “shittier body”.

Cause god knows my old one’s never coming back.

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