“I just want a break.”
That’s what I told my new therapist last night. It’s what I’ve told my heartbroken mother more times than I can count. It’s what I silently tell the universe in my weakest moments. I just want a damn break.
But there’s no such thing as a break when you’re chronically ill.
Twelve years ago this month, I was given the shock of my life when I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. For those that don’t know—and, in my experience, most don’t—Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the pancreas is unable to produce insulin. So, what’s the big deal? Well, humans can’t survive without insulin, no matter what they eat (or don’t).
Without injecting insulin into my body, I could die within a week.
The thing is, T1D is also allll about trial and error. I could inject the same amount of insulin every day, eat the same thing every day, do the same activities every day and my blood sugar would still be different every time. There are countless factors that affect it. Exercise, mood, my period, sleep, heat…everything. I have to monitor my blood sugar constantly throughout the day and attempt to keep it in range. An attempt that often feels fruitless.
In the last couple of years, I’ve been lucky enough to gain access to two devices that help me immensely: Omnipod, which is my insulin pump, and Dexcom, which is my continuous glucose monitor. Both are injected under my skin and last for days at a time, which has changed my rate of injections from 6-8 times per day to more like once every three days. That being said, these devices are all controlled by me. They don’t communicate with each other, they don’t make decisions, they don’t calculate the carbs that enter my body, they don’t account for changes in my schedule. I do all of that.
It’s exhausting. It’s a full time job on top of my, you know, actual full time job.
It’s frustrating. I could do everything right and still fail over and over.
It’s isolating. People don’t understand what it entails, and there are tons of misconceptions.
It’s expensive. Like, thousands-of-dollars-a-month expensive.
It’s terrifying. I have tons of complications to worry about, like limb amputation, kidney failure, blindness…death.
By this point, you’re probably thinking, “Wow, Haley. This is depressing.” (And this is the Cliff’s Notes version!)
But guess what?
It’s also made me who I am.
I’m resilient. If I can handle a life-threatening disease 24/7, I can handle anything.
I’m kind. Thanks to my invisible illness, I practice so much empathy for those around me.
I’m independent. I’m basically my own pancreas. I do the job of an organ as well as a doctor, scientist, and psychologist.
I’m successful. My struggles have pushed me to work harder and prove that I am so much more than my illness.
I’m an advocate. I share my story with the world to educate, inspire and ultimately, to help find a cure.
You may be thinking, “None of this really applies to me, though.”
Ohhhh, but it does.
We all struggle sometimes. Your battles may not be life or death like mine, but that doesn’t invalidate them. And you, too, can learn to wear them like a badge of honor.
Don’t hide. Talk about your issues. Educate people. It may start with simply educating yourself. Learn, learn, learn. Share your story.
Rock it. Whether you’re rocking medical devices on your body or something less visible, own it. Make it yours.
Don’t hold back. The “life is short” cliché exists for a reason. Book that trip. Buy that outfit you don’t need. Go out with that cute guy. Because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.
Love yourself. My body may be defective, but it’s also pretty damn amazing. I get to move, breathe, laugh, and cry in it. Thank yours.
Remove the negative. While we can’t get rid of issues like chronic disease, we can tell people, jobs or environments that are weighing us down to take a hike.
Rest. For real. As a twenty-something, it’s hard to say no to things that my peers are doing. But I need more downtime than others, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Accept help. I’m honestly the worst with this. I keep a lot inside and pretend everything is fine even when it’s not. But family and friends are there for a reason. Let them in.
While every fiber of my being yearns for a cure for Type 1 diabetes, I’m still oddly thankful for this unrelenting disease.
Because in the face of adversity, I’ve become one epic woman.
You would never know Haley Brennan spends her days battling Type 1 diabetes. She is a full-time copywriter in New York City. She also runs a lifestyle blog, Haley’s Life in Color, where she writes about fashion, books, food and her life.