Chronic Illness, mental health, Type 1 Diabetes

A Letter to My Newly Diagnosed Self

Dear Sam,

2016 should have been a great year for us.

It was a year that should have been filled with so much promise and opportunity. That February, you finished a ten year competitive swimming career. You swam your last races ever as a college athlete. All those years of waking up at 5am to jump in a cold pool and pound out a hard workout just to hop back in a few hours later, and do it all over again have finally come to an end. I bet you think that you were in the best shape of your life during those years. You won’t believe me when I tell you to wait three years and then make that comparison. In May, you graduated college. After a few tough years of school, you walked across that stage with two science degrees. School has never been your favorite thing. After all, you contemplating dropping out almost every semester so I’m sure you’re thrilled to be done with classes and tests. I know you don’t really know what you want to do for a career quite yet, but in a few months you’ll know exactly where you should be. I know you didn’t know what to expect after you graduated, but I’m sure it wasn’t this

You were healthy. Sure, maybe you could have drank more water and maybe you shouldn’t have been eating Chinese food once a week, but you were still working out. You were trying to figure out that whole ‘cooking’ thing; trying to cook less boxed mac and cheese, and more real food. In May, during the midst of all the graduation chaos, you also started to notice small things about yourself that seemed a bit off. Like being so thirsty that you’d drink what seemed like gallons of water a day, and that you were exhausted all the time despite getting plenty of sleep. Honestly, who would have thought that having to go to the bathroom frequently was a sign of such trouble? I remember when we almost didn’t tell the doctor all of those little things, and when we almost didn’t tell her that we lost about fifteen pounds without trying. I’m gonna be honest with you, if you didn’t tell the doctor all those things when you were in her office, things might look a lot different now. You probably would have ended up in the emergency room, and it’s possible you might not even be here to read this.

Type 1 Diabetes. Who would have thought? I mean, after all you’re only 23; don’t only little kids get diagnosed with this? I remember how surprised we were when our doctor told us how common it actually was to be diagnosed with this disease so ‘late’ in life. Just wait. It’ll blow your mind when you start meeting people who were diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in their 40s and 50s. I know you’re feeling really sad right now. I know you’re feeling like no one understands what you’re going through, and that you’re already annoyed that you have to explain to people that you didn’t get this disease from eating too much sugar. But I know what you’re going through though and how you’re feeling, and I’m hoping the next few paragraphs will bring you some comfort.

First, I just want to tell you that it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to feel like your life has ended because, in a way, life as you know it has. Eating, working out, sleeping, work; none of these things will be the same for you as they were before you got the news. People are going to tell you that your life really won’t change that much, but it will. Even though these changes seem small to other people, they have big impacts on your day to day life. I wish someone would have told you to go to talk to a professional in the months after your diagnosis, but later is fine too. Just don’t put it off for too long, and make sure you keep going. It’s going to be a tough year, but you’ll get through it.

In the middle of this darkness, there are some bright spots ahead. Soon you’re going to get your first ‘big girl’ job. After applying to what seems like a million jobs, you’re finally going to get one! And let me tell you, it’s not going to seem like it for the first year or so, but this job is going to give you a lot. You’re not only going to learn a lot from it professionally, but it gives you a few people who become really important to you. (Remember that when you apply to that job in Kansas in about a year. No one wants to move Kansas, even people living in North Dakota.) I know you’re thinking right now that you don’t want an insulin pump because you don’t want anything attached to you. You’re going to change your mind about that, but don’t hide your robots parts. They’re amazing and they help keep you alive, and they are a big part of who you become. Wear them proudly.

Remember how much you love running? Yeah, you’re going to run a marathon. In fact, you’re actually going to voluntarily sign up for two marathons. (I wish I could see the look on our face right now.) Don’t worry though, you’ll do just fine. You’ll actually run with one of those people you meet at work who I said become really important to you. You’re also gonna start dating someone soon, and you’re going to learn how dating and diabetes works. It’s not always easy and it isn’t always fair, but don’t worry, that gets better too. I won’t spoil too much for you, but you know how you think it’s cheesy when people say that the best relationships are the ones you don’t see coming? Well, they’re right. You’re going to learn so much about yourself and life with Type 1 Diabetes within the next three years. It’s honestly going to feel like you’ve had it your entire life. In fact, while it may not seem like it now, it’s going to be difficult to remember what life was even like before you were diagnosed.

This letter has rapidly become a lot longer than I was anticipating so I’ll try to end it, but I want your biggest take away from this to be that you’re going to be just fine. I know it doesn’t seem like it, and I know that the only real way you’re going to believe that is with time. You have so much ahead of you, so many exciting milestones and you’re going to accomplish all of those with a faulty pancreas. You are very strong person, and you’ve made a lot of people in your life incredibly proud by how you’ve handled the cards you’ve been dealt. You’re going to be sad for awhile, and that’s okay. You might even find that in a few years from now, you’ll still be sad some days, but it gets easier. Soon it’ll all become habit, it’ll all become routine. Even on the days when it feels like you’re riding a bike that’s on fire and everything around you is on a fire, just know that you’re doing great.

Keep your chin up,

Sam, 2020.

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