What You Should Know About Type I Diabetes
Diabetes. A word that seems to ignite a vast amount of different reactions, ranging from pity to disgust. Many people approach those who are diagnosed with diabetes as if it is something that is solely their fault and that it’s the result of the “lack of care” they give their bodies; they then try to give their opinions and advice for how they can eradicate their “disease”. I’m here to say fuck that. What happens to you is not always a choice or simply a matter of “eating healthy” or “drinking water”; this is the case with Type 1 Diabetes.
If you don’t know much about diabetes, here’s a quick lesson:
There are two main types of diabetes, denoted as Type 1 and Type 2. According to an article by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, type 1 diabetes, also known as “juvenile-onset diabetes”, is when someone’s body can’t properly produce insulin because their body’s immune system recognizes the cells that produce insulin as invasive, which leads to the destruction of these cells. You may ask yourself why is this a problem? The reason is because insulin cells are the primary decomposers of glucose (as most people learned in Biology in high school, sugars are the primary source for energy, ergo life.), and the lack of insulin in the body prohibits this necessary bodily function to occur. Type 2 Diabetes, on the other hand, is when the body begins to have “limited use” of the insulin produced by their body to decompose sugars, which is created by an insulin resistance that develops. Here’s the facts about the two and how to differentiate. Although many people may have a hereditary propensity to being afflicted by either of these types of diabetes, type 2 diabetes is preventable “by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, weight, and exercise”, while type 1 diabetes is not.
Furthermore, type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune condition and, as aforementioned, this is “caused by the body attacking its own pancreas with antibodies, resulting in damage to the pancreas that can no longer produce insulin”. Unfortunately for those who have it, there is no known cure.
The reason I want to make such a careful distinction between the two types is because this has affected me my entire life. My mom, who is the most important person in my life, has had type 1 diabetes since her early twenties. This is a pretty late stage in life to be diagnosed with type 1 since most people are diagnosed early on in life after a particular “health episode”. For my mom, she had the common cold and just could not get better. Her blood sugar was constantly at high numbers and after weeks and weeks of no progression in her health, her doctors decided to screen her for anything else that may have been affecting her health. And then she found out, and her life changed forever.
Syringes, needles, and vials of clear liquid have been ever present in my life since the day I was born. As the pancreas can no longer produce insulin, people with type 1 have to resort to injecting it into themselves in order to survive. As a child, I didn’t quite understand why other girls’ mommies didn’t have to put a needle into their stomachs before every meal. And I didn’t even truly understand until high school because it had been such a normal thing in my life that I hadn’t even begun to question it. It wasn’t until my freshman year of high school when I took Biology I, that I truly understood the severity of the condition, and how scary it really is.
My mom always, always orders Diet Coke when we go out to eat. And the scariest thing about this is she can be drinking a normal Coke while eating a meal that is chock full of carbs (which she rarely ever does, but it is a possibility) and go into hyperglycemic shock, as her blood sugar rises way above normal levels. This causes a whole slew of things that are hard to explain in just one article, but whenever your blood sugar fluctuates quickly you are susceptible to anything from fainting to stroke and even kidney failure. This thought plagues me every day, because I am always worried for my mom. Additionally, my mom has to take specific precautions concerning her health because if she gets sick, her blood sugar could reach dangerous high/low levels, and if it doesn’t stabilize she has to go to the emergency room. If she gets a deep cut, like she did a couple of years ago while cooking, she has to go to the ER because her blood doesn’t clot normally, and if not treated, she could bleed out. With all these things considered, I hope that I am fully describing the consistent worry and care that my mom and our family has to take concerning her health.
Here’s another fact about type 1 Diabetes. It is fucking expensive. According to an article by On Track Diabetes, “insulin prices rose 585% between 2001 and 2015, from $35 to $234”. And it is even more expensive now! My mom pays hundreds of dollars for a single 20ml bottle of insulin and trust me, a single vial goes by quickly. It’s like liquid gold, except it’s not a luxury or a choice—it’s her lifeline. This is true for all of the people affected by type 1 diabetes. My mom goes through so much shit to get the insulin she needs and the devices she needs to keep tabs on her blood sugar. I can’t even begin to explain the hardships that people like my mom face on a daily basis.
And to top it all off, my mom is a triathlete—an Ironwoman. She is constantly on the move and needs to keep herself healthy and safe, because if she doesn’t there could be drastic consequences.
This all goes to say that:
NO: you can’t just live “a healthy life” to prevent type 1 diabetes.
NO: you can’t just pray for type 1 diabetes to go away.
NO: my mom is not wearing a nicotine patch, it’s a blood sugar monitor and an insulin pump.
NO: she shouldn’t have to and doesn’t need to explain herself
Type 1 diabetes is just one of the many hidden illnesses that affect others, and there is so much to learn about each one of these autoimmune disorders. It is important that we as a society begin to recognize the need to help those who are affected. For those with type 1, that means campaigning for the search of a cure and for the lowering of insulin prices. For those with dysautonomia, it involves research to better understand it. For those with lupus, this involves a bigger understanding of its effects.
We have a long way to go but all that I ask is to stop telling people what they should do with their lives and with themselves. Many people who have illnesses and disorders, like my mom, have no control over it. And frankly, it is none of their business to tell her or anyone else with diabetes how they should go about treating it. That’s why we have doctors.