When I was a senior in high school, two things happened nobody really noticed: I started losing weight and my face broke out like crazy. I started senior year at a cushy 145 pounds and by January, I was a bony 115. My face looked terrible and my hair started to fall out. I started drinking an entire liter of water in every class period. It’s so embarrassing to admit now, but I never really noticed. Even worse: my mom is a type 2 diabetic and HER mom was a type 1 diabetic and still nobody noticed! The only person who noticed I was obviously sick was a good friend’s mom; I hadn’t seen her since junior prom when she came into the Starbucks I was working at in January. She went home and immediately asked her son what was wrong with me, if I was sick. He didn’t tell me until after I came back to school after being diagnosed.
On February 1, 2008, I woke up for school and was thrilled to discover we had a two hour delay! I went straight back to bed- I was always soooo tired and my legs had started cramping up the last few days. My mom came in to get me up for school two hours later and caught me moaning and massaging my legs. She called me in sick to school and we headed to the pediatrician, the same office I’d been to my whole life. They did the usual little tests and had me pee in a cup. Then a nurse came back with a blood sugar monitor and tested me- HI. They sent us to the ER at our local children’s hospital and I was there for three days, learning to count carbs and take injections and deal with my new body. I was so unhappy. I was in orchestra and preparing solos for college auditions so I could major in music education. I was scheduled to perform those solos at a contest that Saturday and I didn’t get to go, the hospital wouldn’t release me. The first time I had to give myself an insulin injection I cried and shook- but I did it.
I got to go home (finally!) and had my first blood sugar low- 72 and I felt like I was dying. I remember sitting at the dining room table and just dropping my head onto the table and wishing I could just go to sleep. I went back to school a few days later and we had a big meeting with all my teachers and some admin. They tried to tell me I couldn’t carry my monitor, insulin, or syringes with me, but I was 18 and ready to graduate and not about to accept that. My language arts class had made me cards after one of the girls in my class had told everyone I was just skipping school and then realized how wrong she was.
Being diagnosed at the end of my senior year of high school left me and my family shaken. They sent me off to college in August and it was clear we were all scared. But I made it! I graduated in four years with a Bachelor’s of Music in Education (after getting a pump my sophomore year!) and moved to Indiana to begin teaching. That was an adventure. Learning to be alone with a class while dealing with a low is something I still don’t have a solution to, and I’m going into my fourth year of teaching now. Teaching with diabetes is definitely never a dull moment, and there have been so many teachable moments about my illness. I may be a music teacher but my students are receiving health and science lessons in my class too! My second year, I got the whole school to recognized World Diabetes Day and gave a presentation about diabetes to grades 3-5. I had a student who had just been diagnosed and she came to me afterwards and thanked me for helping her class to understand what she’s going through.
I think my major issue with diabetes is that I never get a break. In class, asleep, driving, playing with my dog, it doesn’t matter, sometimes I have to put everything on hold and deal with my diabetes. I also am really exhausted by the way my body keeps dropping the ball for me. I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroid not long after I was diagnosed with diabetes, and in 2014 I was diagnosed with celiac disease after my endocrinologist tested me on a whim. It’s getting pretty old!
What is the weirdest question you’ve been asked about your diabetes, and how did you respond?
I got four new piercings the December before I was diagnosed- four microdermals in my stomach/hips, which are kind of a weird/rare piercing. I was so skinny and they looked great! I was diagnosed in February and people STILL think the two things are related! Either they think the piercings caused the diabetes or they think the piercings are markers for me to inject into. Its very silly.
My parents didn’t know I’d gotten the piercings until I got sick- I kept them a secret. My mom found out at the pediatrician’s office when he examined me and she made me show dad after a day at the hospital. They were both too worried to really be upset which is the one thing I have to be grateful about my diagnosis!
Has anyone told you that you couldn’t do something due to your diabetes, and you proved them wrong?
I kind of have the opposite problem. I am very fortunate to have a supportive family and group of friends that never put limits on me. Unfortunately, I can’t ever get a bit of wiggle room when I need it. I have a reputation for being strong and dealing well with my diabetes, and so when I have moments when I’m not dealing well or I need a little extra support, I can’t get it, because no one thinks I need it. Sometimes I can’t do something, and I’m okay with that, and I need everyone else to be okay with it too.
How do you inspire others?
I work for a company called Rhythm and Moves. R&M hires PE and music teachers and sends us out to schools that can’t afford a full-time teacher. I have gotten so many positive comments from the PE teachers I work with! It’s really built me up over the last year. I made a point of educating the whole company in November for World Diabetes Month after a co-worker told me his mother had type 1 and then asked me if I regretted the life choices that I’d made to give me diabetes. These PE teachers are health educators and work with diabetic students and I just could not let that slide. I’ve made it known to the whole company that they can always come to me with questions and I advocate so enthusiastically for support that I think I’ve changed many opinions at work.
How has diabetes contributed to forming you into the person you are today? Mentally, physically, or emotionally?
Sometimes I wonder if I’d still be a music teacher if I had been diagnosed earlier. By the time I was diagnosed I was already pretty far down the path towards music education, and while I love my job and do feel passionate about what I do, I sometimes think I would have become a nutritionist or a diabetes educator if I’d grown up with diabetes or been diagnosed a little earlier. I feel so passionate about education about type 1 and support for other type 1’s and I feel I could have made a difference that way.
Would you rather fight one horse sized duck or 100 regular sized ducks?
I think usually people say the 100 regular sized ducks but I would prefer the horse sized duck!