During my first trip to Rome, I spent one evening walking around the bridges by The Vatican. At midnight, as I wandered back to my hostel, I stopped to look at the ruins. It was eerie, an echo of what was once the world’s greatest empires (of the 18 countries I visited during my year studying abroad in London, there were Roman ruins in 16 of them!) but now reduced to ruins. It felt like there was still an echo of their civilizations, some hidden story tucked around the corners.
Pompeii was even stranger. I visited their pool and exercise area, complete with a surprisingly recognizable locker rooms. As our tour guide said, “There is nothing new under the sun!” Separated only by time. Despite the 2000 year difference, there were so many similar cultural aspects. Ironic, isn't it, that the destruction of their city, led to it being one of the best preserved ancient cities? Maybe my type 1 diabetes diagnosis would do the same for me. I hoped that maybe the damage to my body would be worth it, because I could touch other lives. Throughout the millennia, there have been so many lost stories, entire civilizations summed up in a single paragraph in a high school history textbook. But some works of literature have survived the test of time, read in English classes across the centuries and civilizations. I always wanted to contribute to this. When I was diagnosed and I felt like I would die within days, the first thing I thought of was that I hadn't left my literary mark on the world yet.
Upon my diagnosis, I was hyperaware of the fact that had I been born a century prior, this would have been a death sentence by now, exactly one year out of my diagnosis. All because my body suddenly started to attack itself. A phrase from the TS Eliot poem “The Hollow Men” echoed around my mind these first few days, “This is how the world will end, not with a bang but with a whimper.” I reminded myself that I lived in prior centuries, I probably would not have survived childhood anyway due to frequent bouts of strep throat that were incurable before modern medicine. But that’s different, you can recover from strep throat and forget you ever had it. Type 1 diabetes, 95 years on the right side of history, means you have it for life. The words, “Health is the best wealth” also bounced around my mind. I had been the epitome of healthy, but it was taken from me. I saw an inspirational quotes calendar recently that said, “Wellness is the natural state of my body.” At one point that was true for me, but is no longer accurate. I might be functioning as any healthy human would, but when my body is destroying a hormone necessary to life, I cannot consider that well.
A type 1 diabetes diagnosis and still likely a death sentence, just over a longer frame of time. The statistics for type 1 diabetics are devastating. Life expectancy drops an average of eleven-thirteen years. Two of out of every three diabetics die of heart disease. 1/20 diabetics will die in their sleep from a low blood sugar. DKA, long periods of extremely high blood sugar causes our blood to turn to poison and kill us. With a strict insulin regime, the risk of this lowers, but we are never safe from it. Flu, having to go without insulin, or other illnesses can cause this. Other complications range from other autoimmune diseases, kidney failure, amputations, blindness, a higher risk of cancer, a harder time fighting off infections, and the list goes on and on. Luckily, with good control, the risk of all of these goes way down. But still, I beat the odds to get this disease in the first place...I find no comfort in statistics.
At one point, I got tired of caring around a massive needle deposit box and got the clever idea to put my used needles in an old test strip container. At the end of the day, I emptied my test strip containers into the needle deposit boxes. It was during this routine, that I thought of Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of Alfred Prufrock” and the line “I have numbered my days with coffee spoons” and remarked to my mother (after explaining the literary reference), “I have numbered my days with needles.”
I would hear people complain about arguments at work or issues with their dating life and I had a hard time relating to their struggles. I wished that all I had to worry about were disagreements like those, that suddenly seemed so juvenile and irrelevant. I just wanted to stay alive, there was still so much of the world to see and I hadn’t published a book yet. In the following months, I learned that there was a positive side to feeling like you’re living on borrowed time. I am now more productive. No more “someday.” The time is now. I no longer waste my energy worrying about little dramas that don’t really matter on the grand scale of my life. I find myself finding more enjoyment in little areas that I’ve always enjoyed, from reading more, constantly listening to my favorite music, and even walking into a coffee shop and just being grateful that I can still do something as trivial as ordering a latte. There is still so much of the world to see, so you can bet I will do all I can to go out and see as much of it as I can. It's kind of liberating to have a carpe diem mentality. This is true for all of us, even the 99.7% of the population that isn't type 1 diabetic. Anything can happen, even if you're young and healthy. Don't put anything off. If you are young and healthy, appreciate it. Your health could be taken from you, just as easily and unexpectedly as it was taken from me. I spent so much of my life striving for success and always wanted to be someone extremely successful (like someone who made it the elite level of skating, made it to Miss America, or was a best-selling author) and now I just long to once again be "normal," without one of the world's oldest, deadliest, and most misunderstood diseases.
If you'd like to celebrate my one-year diaversary, I've launched an apparel campaign featuring the amazing Gliding on Insulin illustrations by Gretchen Pfabe. All proceeds will go toward my team's fundraising goal for the Colorado Springs One Walk, by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, trying to make type one, type none. Shop Gliding on Insulin merchandise here:
Gliding on Insulin is available here : https://www.createspace.com/6902198
Hi, I’m Crystal! I love to travel and am currently a graduate student in Scotland. You’ll get all the best tips and insights from my experiences as a former ice-skating coach in Iceland and former study abroad student. Of the 27 countries I have visited, a type 1 diabetes diagnosis has been the strangest land yet. Type 1 has not slowed down my travels and you'll learn how to take type 1 with you on the road! You can connect with me further on Instagram @CrystalChilcott, or send me ideas of where I should travel next via email: firstname.lastname@example.orgHappy Travels, Crystal
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