By: Keegan Coleman
I’ve been struggling to find a way to write a blog post aimed at sharing some of my experiences as a Type 1 Diabetic. Most people are aware, to some degree, what diabetes is, but due to the nature of the disease being “invisible,” few can actually grasp what it means to live with the disability. I can’t speak for everyone living with an “invisible” disability, nor can I speak for all the Type 1 Diabetics out there; if there is anything to take from this, it’s that so many people struggle, on a daily basis with one thing or another and oftentimes, you wouldn’t know the difference by looking at them. 1 in 4 Americans live with a disability, some visible, but others you might never know about.
I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes on New Years Eve, at age 5, providing me with almost 19 years of colorful experiences to pull from. My perspective on living with Type 1 has changed often over the years, although I’m actually grateful to have been diagnosed at such a young age. I don’t really remember a time when my life wasn’t linked to this disease, which has made growing up with it seem natural. To me, it’s just part of my life; the same way no one has to consciously remember to brush their teeth in the morning, nor do I have to remind myself to check my blood sugar throughout the day, dose myself with insulin before meals, carry sugar with me everywhere I go, or any of the other things Type 1 Diabetics do every day of their life. I think it’s similar for many Type 1 Diabetics, or some other invisible disabilities; it’s not that there is something different about us, it's more that there’s just a little extra to our lives.
Growing up, and even still, to many of my friends and peers, Type 1 Diabetes is something that defines me to them. I’m the “diabetic friend.” That in itself never bothered me, living with a chronic illness and still being able to do everything I’ve ever set out to do is actually something that brings me pride and self value. What bothered me, and still does, is that the majority of people do not actually understand what that means, to live with this disease.
Even some of my best friends, who I share nearly everything with, can’t truly understand what it is like to go to bed every single night knowing that if I miscalculated insulin, based on countless factors, I could fall into a hypoglycemic low, a condition that the body has when it doesn’t have enough fuel(glucose/sugar) to sustain itself. Waking up in the middle of the night, sweating, shaking, and starving for any food I can get my hands on, is terrifying. Knowing that if I forgot to set an alarm that night, I might not have woken up, and might never have. But that’s not something I necessarily want to explain to everyone I come into contact with the next day, nor should I have to, when I’m moving slow in the morning, or in a bad mood, because I slept for three hours the night before.
My sister, who is also a Type 1 Diabetic, and I often remind ourselves of this fun fact: people living with Type 1 Diabetes make an additional 300 additional health-related decisions every day compared to people without diabetes, which is equivalent to around one decision every five waking minutes. Nearly every facet of my life is impacted by Type 1 in one way or another.
I would need more than a single blog post to describe everything Type 1 Diabetics go through every day. I could write about hundreds of other things that this blog post doesn't have the room for. But all of these things have impacted me, have disabled me from the freedom to live away from Type 1 Diabetes. Most of these experiences are not outward, clear, or visible; at least not until the negative effects have been made clear.
Type 1 Diabetes is an invisible illness. My point is not to show performative sympathy towards Type 1 Diabetics, but to shed light on the fact that it is just ONE of the disabilities that affect so many people. Almost everyone has something that impacts them on a day to day basis; however minute it may seem to you, it could be the worst day of their life. If you want to learn more about someone’s condition, then do research, ask genuine questions, or donate to impactful organizations. You do not need to know everything about someone’s experience to be compassionate. A little patience can go a long way.
PSA: Don’t ask Type 1 Diabetics for their low-blood sugar snacks. It’s not funny, and it's our medicine. We quite literally need it to survive.