The music was blaring as I danced with the new friends I made while studying abroad. Suddenly, I felt light-headed. I stopped dancing and looked at my phone to see what I had expected: double arrows going straight down. I put my phone away and dug around in my bag to find a juice box. So, standing in the middle of a club in London surrounded by people I didn’t know that were giving me quizzical looks; I punched a straw through my Big Bird’s Apple juice box and took a sip.
It has been three years of drinking juice boxes in random places. Three years ago, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. It went undiagnosed for 5 months, and I almost died. I was about to go off to college and start my adult life when I was thrown a curveball.
Without getting too technical, Type 1 is an autoimmune disease that happened because my immune system attacked my pancreases, making it so my pancreas can’t do its job. And that job is: make insulin to break down sugars in my blood. Since my pancreas can’t do that anymore, I inject insulin into my body or consume sugar any time my pancreas should be maintaining my blood sugar but can’t. There was nothing I did to cause this, but no one knows quite why it happens.
Courtesy: T1 International
Out of nowhere, I will feel dizzy and weak, or I will get splitting headaches, blurred vision and feel lethargic. I wear a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) on my body that has alarms that go off from my phone when my sugar is low or high to prevent sugar levels that could kill me. It is constant and relentless and sometimes I get overwhelmed thinking about how I may never get a break from it for the rest of my life.
Courtesy: Mobi Health News
Instead of embracing the fact my life was different, I just pretended everything was fine. I would excuse myself at restaurants to do insulin injections in the bathroom and I made excuses for why I couldn’t do something instead of just telling my friends I was having a bad sugar day. I didn’t wear bikinis or tight clothes that would reveal I was wearing a medical device, and I would pretend people’s ignorant comments about my new diagnosis didn’t hurt my self-confidence. I felt so much shame and embarrassment surrounding my chronic illness that it made it hard for me to talk to people about it.
Going off to college proved to be a tough transition. My first semester my roommate and I were woken up in the middle of the night by cops knocking on our door. My CGM had been giving false, dangerously low readings. When my parents called me and I didn’t respond, they called the police to make sure I wasn’t dead. But college for me has been all about growing and learning, and that includes in my relationship with diabetes. I have worked on changing my attitude when it comes to incidents caused by Type 1, but it hasn’t been easy.
And as with all learning to love every part of yourself, I had to consult the expert, Lizzo. Her hit song “Juice” has become my Type 1 anthem. And although the juice she is referring to in the song is confidence, I like to think it’s about the juice boxes I sometimes have to drink in public. Every time I feel embarrassed about drinking a juice in class or at work, I think to myself,
It ain’t my fault that I’m out here makin’ news
I’m the pudding in the proof
Gotta blame it on my juice
Ya-ya-ee, ya-ya-ee, ya-ya-ee, ya-ya-ee
I’ve come to this place in my journey with chronic illness where I have juice about my juice. I’m not defined by the juice boxes I drink or the medical devices I wear on my skin, or the needles I stick in my body or the diabetes-induced bad days I have.
Being on a campus with so many other students has shown me I am not alone, and I shouldn’t be afraid that people will judge me because of a disability I can’t control. I see people walking around wearing medical devices and it made me realize, I don’t judge them, so then why would someone judge me? It is because of a guy I saw on campus wearing a CGM on his arm that I started wearing mine in more visible places. His confidence inspired me.
And not every day is perfect. I still get insecure. I still have days that are spent in tears when my Type 1 responsibilities feel draining. And it is still hard for me to not feel embarrassed when talking to people about it. But through people like Lizzo and all those out there at FSU with chronic illnesses, I have learned to embrace our differences and celebrate the person our hardships have turned us into. Because that is what makes life beautiful.
So that’s right. It ain’t my fault I’m out here making news on this dance floor or anywhere with a juice box in my hand. Ya-ya-ee.