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Before we found out I was diabetic, my loved ones were suspicious. Suspicious of my rapid and dramatic weight loss, my constant fatigue, my forgetfulness and small mistakes. They’d been here with me before. It hadn’t been long since my eating disorder had ripped through my mind, body, and relationships, wreaking havoc in the lives of those who somehow loved me through it. The cracks began to spread and grow, small ones here and there — a canceled dinner or a newly-apparent knob of the spine. It looked awfully familiar to them.
I felt defensive. I had worked so hard in treatment, in therapy, in recovery. I had thought and talked and read and written through so many of my surface issues (body image, the external and poisonous forces of diet culture) and my underlying issues (trauma, a deeply-felt need to leave and destroy the body that had been visited by it). And most infuriating of all to me: I was eating! I ate constantly. I ate dessert. I hardly exercised.
How could anyone accuse me of slipping back into my old disordered behaviors?
My boyfriend, Will, held out his hand in endless patience and support. He didn’t argue as I cycled through possible explanations for my change in size and strength: altitude sickness on our vacation in the mountains of New Mexico or an inexplicably rapid metabolism as a hold-over from my (very mediocre) jogging regimen, of which I was suddenly too tired even to run a mile. Mono? Maybe I had Mono! For six months! My theories grew increasingly ridiculous.
Finally, in November, I went to get some blood work done. I sheepishly admitted, to myself and the world, that there was something wrong. Sure, I was eating normally. I knew I had left my orthorexic and anorexic demons behind. But the facts were undeniable. I hadn’t had a period since July. I could barely walk up the single flight of stairs to our apartment. The endocrinologist called me in the middle of a workday, telling me to drop everything I was doing.
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I found myself in a hospital bed, my blood sugar at a staggering 578, mg/dl and somehow — miraculously — not in diabetic ketoacidosis but feeling like it straight-up. “Oh honey,” said a nurse casually as she hooked up my IV to a saline drip that would dilute the blood that ran through my body, “I don’t know how you’re conscious right now.”
My pancreas had betrayed me.
Will never left my side. He asked questions. He listened intently to the onslaught of overwhelming information: what it means to be Type 1 Diabetic, how to eat, how to get enough blood from my finger to test its sweetness, how to inject myself with insulin, what to do if I pass out, what to do if I wake up confused, or can’t be woken up at all. I cried and cried, letting him absorb the shock of it for me.
Almost three months later, he probably still knows more about this disease than I do. The numbers now loom large above us, casting shadows over our life together: thirteen fewer years in my lifespan, two or three times the risk of various types of organ failure, the multiples in which auto-immune diseases like T1D often travel, the debated one-in-twenty statistic of “Dead in Bed” syndrome, the $1300 prescription deductible my insurance plan demanded I meet before they would even begin to cover the insulin I need to stay alive.
Will has run to the store to buy emergency juice boxes for my lows, has pulled over to the side of the road so I could prick my finger and measure my highs, has scanned menus with the thoroughness and intensity of a bible scholar to make sure that there is something I can safely eat, and helped me do the insulin math before I eat it. He reads all of the frightening articles and medical advice, listens to my endless confessions of grief over the loss of my former life of recovered freedom and joy around food, and anxieties about my new restrictions and limitations.
When I want to hide from these realities or wallow in them, Will is a rock of calm strength and certainty. Two months after my diagnosis, we got engaged. The Diabetic Future doesn’t bother him, as he is armed with both knowledge and confidence in our ability to work together and do whatever we can to manage my disease.
He has always nailed the “in health” portion of our future marriage vows, and so far his “in sickness” is 100%.
He has stepped up in ways I never knew would be necessary for our life and relationship, and my life-changing (and possibly life-shortening) diagnosis has thrown into light what matters for us. My handsome, healthy partner doesn’t sweat the small stuff when it comes to my illness, as we face down the deadly (and often deeply un-sexy) risks and daily drudgery of Type 1 Diabetes.
And I’m so happy I’m alive for it.