November is Diabetes Awareness Month.
My husband is a Type 1 diabetic. He is insulin-dependent, which means his pancreas doesn’t produce insulin to regulate his blood sugar levels, so he has to get it from an external source. He wears an insulin pump; other people with Type 1 diabetes may manually inject insulin after every meal.
My husband manages his diabetes well, and for the most part, we are just like any other Netflix-bingeing, dog-loving, nerdy married couple. I make sure the kitchen is stocked with healthy snacks and that he has a bottle of juice in the fridge at all times in case of urgently low blood sugar levels. But for him, managing his diabetes is a full-time job. His self-care routine involves a rotation of changing his insulin every week, reordering supplies, following up with his health insurance plan about their coverage, picking up prescriptions at the pharmacy, and then some—on top of day-to-day stuff like making good food choices, working out, being prepared at all times should his blood sugar drop.
If it sounds exhausting, it’s because it is. But he’s used to it, having been a Type 1 diabetic since the age of 17. He navigated college in a fraternity, spent a semester abroad in Italy, traveled the world, and worked for 16 long, strenuous years in TV production—all while managing his diabetes.
Sometimes, when we go get coffee, the cashier will see the insulin pump clipped onto his pants pocket and ask him in a teasing tone, “Oh my god, is that a pager?” While I start sharpening the blades on my tongue, he smiles and warmly replies, “No, it’s my insulin pump,”—no matter how may times he may have already been asked that day.
My husband is known for his kind spirit—he’s the guy who strangers ask for directions and the guy who tells our dog aloud that she’s his best friend. In spite of the daily maintenance, monitoring, and stress that comes from his condition, he is kinder than most and isn’t defined by his diabetes. In fact, most of our friends and family have to be reminded that he is a Type 1 diabetic.
I’ve learned a lot about life since we’ve been together, a lot of which I attribute to his condition—like the fact that, sometimes, you can do everything right and still have a bad day.
There are just some days when his blood sugar doesn’t cooperate. It doesn’t matter what he’s eaten or if he just came back from the gym. His blood sugar levels just do what they want and whip him around accordingly. All he can do is push through the tiredness or nausea that come along with the ride. And guess what? A bad day is just a bad day. Just because his sugar levels were shit today doesn’t mean that they will be shit tomorrow. Tomorrow, we try again–try to eat right, try to squeeze in that quick run, try to make the best decisions possible. This is a needed perspective for all of us—sometimes a bad day is just something you have to weather.
I’ve also learned to listen to my body. This one is obvious, but it is always worth repeating. While Type 1 diabetics are forced to listen to their bodies, the rest of us may need more reminders. I constantly have to tell myself it’s okay if I need to stay in when I don’t feel well.
Now, I always remember that it doesn’t hurt to be a little more patient with people. So when I’m stressed—bobbing and weaving in the chaos known as shopping at Whole Foods, or driving home on the freeway during rush hour—I remember that everyone has their struggles; ones that are much bigger than whatever is stressful at that moment. Whether it’s addiction, trauma, or a chronic disease like diabetes, everyone is coping with life in the best way that they know how.