Being a Type 1 Diabetic for almost eight years now, it’s second nature. Nothing phases me anymore, not even ignorant comments or grueling routine blood draws. As anyone reading this post who either has T1D, or is close to a T1D, knows, there becomes a point where it just becomes a part of you.
I no longer have diabetes; I am a diabetic.
This feeling of figuring I know the way the disease will manifest itself in my day to day life, can quickly shatter as soon as diabetes makes me feel weak.
Being low is never a great feeling, not before or after you down two juice boxes and half a tub of peanut butter without realizing it. Lows as a collegiate athlete are much worse. Learning to combat the shame I feel when I have a 40 mg/dl blood sugar reading half way through a two hour tennis practice, and have to sit out for twenty minutes is an uphill battle. This shame is not induced by anyone but myself, though. The feeling of sitting out when the rest of my team is out practicing, is one of the few times I feel disabled.
I often sit there, repeating thoughts in my head, such as, “You are an idiot for taking insulin before practice”, or “You are pathetic; buck up and get out there”.
However, I am not pathetic. I am not an idiot. In fact, I am someone without a full-functioning pancreas.
I am a someone who has to alter their daily life significantly because of an illness that I did not cause. On top of all of that, I do all of the other things my teammates do, and succeed as a collegiate student athlete.
So where does this shame stem? As a seasoned T1D, I put unnecessary pressure on myself to be perfect, and to get angry with myself for the lows and highs. Having many other T1D friends, I know I am not the only one who does this. These feelings of shame creep up often during a low on an important test, or during a tennis match, where I am representing my team and university.
While I cannot say the “shameful lows” are completely gone, as I head into my final year of school and as an athlete, I can say, they have substantially lessened in my four years in college. Instead of getting angry at myself for the low blood sugar, I shifted the internal conversations to question why I’d gone low and how I could better prepare for next time I was in a similar situation.
In shifting this focus, I now see lows and highs as a learning and growth opportunity. For highs (which are usually due to adrenaline) during matches, I think of diabetes as a mental game with myself, and laugh off mistakes instead of letting the anger get to me or my blood sugar. For lows, I have tailored my diet and eating times substantially to set me up for success in the classroom and on the court.
Shifting my focus from negatively viewing the disease’s impact on my physical and mental health, to seeing T1D as a way to better understand my body, has helped my mind and my a1c.