Monday, August 30, 2010

Part IV...What's most important to a teenager?

Oh, I've been procrastinating on this one.  I'm so not excited to share this memory with you.  This is honestly the one that I'm most ashamed of.  But it's also the memory that I think some of you d-moms will find most useful in the futures you face with your children.

Joanne, to answer your, I wasn't scared into taking care of myself.  I wish I'd had more intelligence during my teen years and that I could have done the smart thing and been turned around by my hypoglycemic experience.  I did learn not to take massive doses of insulin without first testing my blood sugars to see how much insulin was really needed though.  But that's about as far as the lesson went.

So...what's the most important thing to a teenager?  Not the exceptional teenagers, who focus on grades or athletic endeavors.  But the normal, everyday kind of teenager?  Especially in the late-teen years, when dating starts to become a focus?  Looks, pure and simple.  I don't consider myself a vain person and honestly, these days, I don't even bother with my own appearance much.  If my kids are dressed and looking cute, that's good enough for me!  But, in my late teens, my looks came to matter a lot.  Especially as I was starting to feel lonely and lost and still young enough to dream of "happily ever after".  My weight was a huge issue for me at that point.  I was a size 16.  A very unhappy size 16.  It was around that time that it occurred to me that I could manipulate my diabetes in order to lose weight.  Yup, you read that right.  Back then, they didn't have a name for it.  Recently, I've heard it referred to as "diabulimia" (thank you, Dr. Phil).  So here's the story....

I was 19 and had my first full-time job, benefits included.  I moved into an apartment with a friend.  A cute little second-story, two-bedroom apartment on the north end of a building.  Windows everywhere, tons of sunlight.  In spite of moving out, I still saw my mom almost daily.  We worked for the same employer, so we'd cross paths nearly daily as she was leaving work and I was arriving at work.  This is probably the one and only time that my mom knew that I wasn't taking care of myself.  She commented frequently that my breath smelled "fruity".  But that's about as far as it went.  I wasn't taking care of myself.  I was letting my blood sugars run high on purpose, as a way to lose weight.  I took much smaller doses of insulin than I needed.  I didn't feel very good most of the time, didn't have much of an appetite, didn't want to eat anything, thirstier than you could possibly imagine, guzzling water all day long and running to the bathroom minutes later.  I lost weight.  A lot of weight.  I was a size 12.  But I didn't feel good.  I went on like that for about six months.  Until one day, when I knew I had to stop.

I worked second shift at that time and went to work at 2:30 in the afternoon.  I usually woke up around noon to start getting ready for work.  This particular day, I woke up just after noon and I honestly couldn't see a thing.  It was February in northern Minnesota, snow everywhere.  And the sun was shining very brightly.  There's this interesting thing that happens when a diabetic's blood sugars get really high.  You become extremely photosensitive.  I woke up and the sun shining off the snow and glaring in through my windows onto my white walls made me nearly blind.  It was like everything had been white-washed.  My head hurt.  I was so incredibly thirsty.  As soon as I took a drink, I had to pee.  I felt horrible.  It took every ounce of energy I had to call in sick to work, give myself a dose of insulin and crawl back into bed.  I honestly couldn't tell you how high my blood sugars were, but I spent the entire day alternating between sleeping until I could take another dose of insulin and waking up to test and take another injection before sleeping again.  I kept a jug of water by my bed and kept refilling it every time I'd wake up to use the bathroom.  I probably should have been in the hospital for DKA.  But I was alone, trying to correct the major mistake I'd made in not taking care of myself.

Not long after that, I chose to quit my job and return to school.  I moved back in with my mom, much to her displeasure.  I started taking care of myself again.  Not as well as I could have, but enough so that I put back on all the weight I'd lost by not taking care of myself.  And I promised myself I would never become so desperate to be a smaller size again that I'd willingly do that much damage to my body.  It's horrible having your blood sugars run that high.  My A1C around that time ran nearly at 14.  I was sick all the time.  It's amazing how much misery that is for your body.  Not long after that, I heard that a fellow camper from Camp Needlepoint had committed suicide by not taking his insulin.  It horrified me in so many ways, not just because of how terrible suicide is to begin with.  But the thought of what he'd gone through and how incredibly painful that must have been for him.  DKA isn't a pleasant thing.  It causes your body to shut down its systems one at a time.  Anyone who has ever spent any amount of time in DKA can tell you that it's pure misery.  I cried for days, just imagining how alone and helpless and ill my fellow camper must have felt.  I didn't even know him, but it touched me just how close I came to that same end and just how awful he must have felt.

So there you have it.  My lowest point as a diabetic and the one I'm most ashamed of.  I hate sharing it because it's such a shameful, awful thing to do.  And for such a shallow and vain reason.  But I feel like this is the memory that has the most value for others to hear.  Not every diabetic does this.  For some, it won't even be an issue.  But, as a parent of a diabetic daughter, I know this information has a great deal of value to me, as I watch my daughter grow.  When she hits her teen years, this is something that I will be looking out for.  But in the years leading up to her teens, the knowledge of what could happen will help me to shape my daughter's life in such a way to prevent this from happening.  In a family with seven children, extra-curricular activities weren't an expense my mom could have afforded.  For my children, extra-curricular activities, athletic pursuits, physical activity will be a part of life.  Proper nutrition and a balanced diet are just one key to the puzzle that is a diabetic's life.  If I put my daughter's puzzle together in just the right way, I don't believe "diabulimia" will ever be an issue for her.  I hope to God that it isn't!  And I hope that by sharing this, other d-moms and d-dads can make use of it too.


  1. Cindy... I cried as I read this post. It was so brutally honest and open and I appreciate you sharing it. I can't imagine the loneliness you must have felt at that time in your life and I am so glad you "woke up" when you did. Thank you for sharing something so difficult that could very well open another parent's eyes to what their child is going through.

  2. Okay, that above comment was actually from me signed in as my husband... sorry!

  3. I just want to take a moment to thank you for being so transparent. I feel like, as in all walks of life, there's always an area of topic the people tend to touch upon without really diving into.

    You're right....this is something that we, as parents, need to hear about. It's painful, but necessary.

    For what it's worth, I love the motives of your heart here. I know it must be hard to let go of the shameful emotions you describe that are connected to this period of your life. Please know that I do not judge you, and I look forward to sharing this journey.

  4. This is the stuff we need to know. We need to hear this. Please, don't be ashamed. Reading this I wish I could go back in time and hug you, tell you how beautiful you are.

    Thank you for sharing this. You are a warrior. You have overcome, and you should be proud. Your story will help others. There is no shame in that!

  5. Ditto, Ditto, and Ditto on the three comments above...well not the one where Joanne tells you that she was Fred, but you get the gist (smiles).

    My friend, First off thank you. Your raw honesty speaks to my heart. I stand in awe of your strength and courage to share with us and am grateful for you...and your story. There is no room for shame here. You are amongst friends. We do not judge. It is easy to understand how Diabulemia could cross a young woman's mind in a culture where thin, skinny are promoted so heavily in the media.

    Your co-camper's suicide is so tragic - UGH. It must have been a tortuous death. It seems like it haunts you somewhat b/c it hits a little too close to home. I am glad you are here! I am glad you started taking care of yourself. I am glad you are my friend.

  6. Thank you for sharing all of this. Us D-parents need to hear it all. Thank you for being honest and open and telling your journey. I am glad you are here.

  7. I think this is a lot more common that people think and that through experiences like yours others are becoming more aware and CWD will be able to learn from it without having to "test" it out. Thanks for sharing and I am so glad you're healthy and able to share.

  8. How selfish of me to not even think until you mentioned it that you would be ashamed of this. I didn't once think of this as something shameful. Diabetes can be so hard to manage. Add to that the everyday stresses of being a regular person and then the stresses of being that age, I can see quite clearly how easy that situation can get serious.

    So thank you for sharing this. It is so easy to get to that point, but your story and your current perspective will hopefully make it a little less easy for some.