I was diagnosed at the age of 12, only one month before entering my first year of middle school. It was a transitional time in my life; one that became twice as complicated with the addition of a life long disease. Not only did I have to enter a new school, with new teachers and new classmates, but I also had to learn a new way of life. It was complicated and confusing but, as a child, I adapted quickly. I learned how to manage my diabetes, with a lot of help from my parents, who supported me the entire way. They helped me by taking on some of the countless responsibilities of a diabetic, in an attempt to help ease the burden. It worked, I survived the transition and thrived.
But life is full of transitions.
As people, we constantly grow and change, and we’re required to take on new roles. The next phase on the way to adulthood is the teen years which is known for raging hormones, angst, and tears. As a 17 year old, I can say no one has an easy time during high school. Its the time when you are most confused. You are not a child but you are not an adult either. You want your independence, but you’re not ready for all the responsibilities of an adult. The truth is being a teen is hard and everyone experiences that struggle for independence, but for some that struggle is harder than it is for others.
As a type 1 diabetic, being a teen can be the most difficult period of your life. I can honestly say the last 4 years have been the most difficult time I have experienced. Physically they are taxing. You feel as if you have zero control over your body. Hormones are at constant war with your blood sugar levels putting you through a roller coaster ride of unpredictable blood sugar swings and emotions. Emotionally, these years are the worst. The frustration of being unable to control your body is unbelievably hard. You feel trapped by your own body, and are at the mercy of unpredictable forces. It is a lonely disease, one that forces you to be dependent on a variety of things. It was during this time I learned just how difficult type 1 diabetes can be.
When I entered my sophomore year of high school, I began battling with hypothyroidism on top of my diabetes. This combination, with the addition of the typical teen hormones and stress, made my life miserable. The result: my numbers were out of control, I took more insulin than ever, and I felt completely alone. Everything that came so easily to my friends felt much harder for me. They didn’t have to worry about their bodies failing them. They could do things like go out to eat, spend the night at a friends, and make spur of the moment decisions while I had to plan out everything in advance. To me they seemed free, while I was trapped by a malfunctioning body. It was a hard time and I again relied heavily on the support of my parents. I began to resent my friends, as I watched them seemingly grow up and leave me behind.
The difficulty of the situation was heightened by the fact that I wanted to be more independent, however, my body forced me, more than ever, to rely on the help of others . It was frustrating, I was confused, and I often found myself questioning, “Why me? Why was it so easy for my friends? Was I always going to be dependent on others?” I felt so limited by this disease I had. It made me feel self-conscious and ashamed, as if I was less capable than my peers. I was frustrated, so I acted out by eating things that only made my numbers worse. I started to give up, I didn’t care for myself properly and, as a result, I lost what little independence I had. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was my own roadblock. As soon as I was able to take on a more positive attitude and see that I was creating these limits for myself, my situation began to improve. I needed to take back control of my body first, in order to gain the independence I desperately craved.
Despite the fact I have begun to regain control of my body, one of the biggest challenges I continue to face is the battle for independence from my parents. I want to be able to take care of myself but my diabetes often forces me to rely on them for help. Don’t get me wrong, my parents offer me as much freedom as they can but with a disease like diabetes, parents often have to be more cautious than they would be with a healthy child. When it comes to things like prom or driving, my parents have never stopped me from participating, but there is always a discussion before and many extra precautions are taken. Before I went to prom, my parents wanted to talk to my date about what to do if I had an emergency. They were concerned because I was spending the night at another persons house after prom. They gave him the speech about what to do if I went low and how he could reach them. At the time it was embarrassing but I realize they were only doing it for my safety. They could have prevented me from going but they didn’t want me to miss out. Talking to my date was their compromise.
Sometimes its hard because I feel I am probably more responsible than most of my peers. The unfortunate truth is diabetes makes it harder to gain your independence, but its not impossible. In my opinion, your parents aren’t trying to keep you from growing up and making your own decisions; their priorities are just different. They want to know you are safe, first and foremost. Then they’ll talk about letting you take the car or attending a party. So my best advice (again this is just one girl’s opinion) is to talk. Honesty is the best way to show your parents you can handle more freedom. If you lie about where you are or who you are with, your parents won’t trust that they can find you in the case of an emergency. It also makes them question what other things you might lie about. My parents and I established an honesty policy. If I am upfront about my plans and they feel more comfortable letting me go because they know where to find me. It make them feel like I’ll be safe.
As a teen diabetic, the battle for independence becomes more than fighting with your parents for the car keys. It is an internal battle between yourself and the disease. I will be dependent on insulin until the day a cure is found but dependency does not have to equate limits. I am now learning that I can be just as free, self-reliant, and capable as the rest of my peers, even as a diabetic. It just requires honesty with yourself and your parents. I now believe that, although I will have more challenges to overcome, with the right attitude I can overcome these obstacles and be the independent woman I am meant to be.
By Lauren Nohelty