Thank you, diabetes

I’ve watched enough cheesy Youtube videos put up by people with chronic illnesses to be suspicious of demonstrations of gratitude towards one’s disease. Maybe I’m just an old grump/fart, but your saccharine list of the 10 Things You Love About Your Disease has always struck me as a bit strained. It’s tempting to want to message the vlogger to be like, “OK, but just between us, you’d give it up instantly if you could, right?”

Ultimately though, I think I’m missing the point. It’s not about a (likely false) declaration that diabetes is the best thing that’s ever happened to you and you wouldn’t trade it for the world. Instead, it’s about appreciating the things it has brought out in you: resilience, perhaps, or maybe patience. Most likely: perspective.

For me, more than anything else, diabetes has brought out bravery. It’s not bravery as I would have liked to receive it: it doesn’t come from anything innately good and noble inside of me. Instead, it comes from the desperate realization of how absurdly short life is. I have to take risks because I am living on borrowed time. I was very close to death in February 2014, and in a way, I’ve been very close to death ever since: take away a teensy vial of the world’s 6th most expensive liquid, and I’d probably only last a few days. (I mean, OK, within a few days I’d get really really sick and then eventually fall into a coma and it might take a few weeks to finish me off, but like… you get the idea.)

literally the thing standing between me and death

I wish that this knowledge had given me patience and freed me from “sweating the small stuff,” but alas, it has not. Little things piss me off just as much as they always have, and I’m as shallow and petty as the rest of them. Still occasionally/regularly crippled by anxiety. But it has made it easier for me to take risks.

Well, no, not easier. Risk-taking is as hard as ever. But I do it, and with much more frequency than in my past life.

And as a person who was, prior to getting this disease, fairly risk-averse, that’s actually, (sigh) something to be grateful for. In the four years since I’ve gotten diabetes, I’ve morphed, little by little, into a braver, more impulsive version of myself, one who stages deeply, ridiculously personal plays for strangers, gets married, commits to getting a service dog, and flies across the country to meet said doggo on little more than a wing and a prayer. When I want things, I’ve started going for them. Just doing it.

I like this person better than other versions of myself, and I’ll say this much: thanks to these new behaviors, I’m able to squeeze so much more joy out of life than before.

Last month, without much fanfare, I quit my job. As a person with a chronic illness who relies on employer-sponsored healthcare to stay alive in our very, very broken system, this is a relatively insane thing to do. For many months, I’d been struggling with the not-at-all-dramatic realization that I was unhappy at work. It got to the point where I began wishing for something horrible to happen—someone would discriminate against me at work because of medical disability, I’d get fired, the ceiling of my office would cave in on top of me. Something—anything—that would allow me to self-righteously declare, “I QUIT!” and storm out to the applause of my fellow colleagues. Something that, when I recounted it to family and friends, would trigger widened eyes and knowing nods; of course I quit, how could I possibly have done anything else??

But life rarely works that way. Sometimes we get very lucky and the path illuminates itself in front of us so obviously that there’s no question what our next move is. Most often, we just make choices. Our lives are the product of thousands of macro- and micro-decisions that we make for thousands of subjective reasons. Our decisions are personal and biased, and thus invite the judgments and opinions of those around us, who inevitably would have acted differently.

There was nothing wrong with my job. I liked it for several years. I worked with many wonderful people. At times the work was challenging and rewarding. Like many whose heart lies in the performing arts, I knew never to expect that it would light me up and fill me with a sense of purpose the way I felt the moment of “lights up” during each performance of Type What Now. That moment, and many that happened during the Type What Now run, clarified why I exist, why life exists, all the best and most important things it has to offer. I know not to expect that clarity and satisfaction every day. Until our society invents Playwriting Factories and I can be hired to write whatever I want all day, every day, that’s not going to happen for me, and that’s OK.

But over the past few months, I began to realize that the enemy of happiness—complacency—had been smothering a small voice inside of me that was deeply, deeply unsatisfied. One that persistently argued that there had to be a better Thing out there for me: maybe not the Playwriting Factory thing, but a thing between this Thing and that Thing that would allow me to chase—maybe even experience, from time to time?—that “Clarity High” I felt before.

And that the only way for me find it was to quit.

Ironically, diabetes was both the thing that prompted this insane act of bravery/stupidity and prevented it. The health insurance provided by my job was a shackle that bound me to it, making the thought of leaving impossible to consider. (Sure, I could blindly apply for another job in the same field, but if the problem is the work, what was the point of trading one workplace for another?)

And then I got married. And, for a few reasons that aren’t worth going into here, I got myself onto Stefan’s insurance. And suddenly, instantly, the shackles were gone. And diabetes, which had so persistently kept me chained here, instead began suggesting that I needed to move. Because Jessie, it whispered, think of That Night. Life is So. So. So. Short. And I’m allowed to be not be willing to settle. I’m allowed that. 

(And so are you.)

I have no idea what’s next for me. I’ve left something that was extremely safe and comfortable and utterly, utterly, wrong for me in search of that elusive Clarity High. Because the truth is, I’d sacrifice almost anything to feel it again.

Let’s be real: I’m also, thanks to Stefan, incredibly lucky and incredibly privileged to have this opportunity. I don’t deny that this isn’t a possibility for many. And I vow not to take that for granted.

In the past, I’ve wished that you, reader, could enjoy the self-love that diabetes helped cultivate in me, without suffering the pain of the actual disease. Today, I wish you the bravery: the desperate, panicked, oh no, oh crap, oh god, why am I doing this oh right it’s because life’s just too too too short Call to Action that I’m choosing to rename “bravery.”

And so, just like my skyrocketing anxiety blood sugar might declare: onwards and upwards!

OK, maybe not “upwards” that much…

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