Living Well with Diabetes: Meagan Esler's Tour of Acceptance
Hiding My Diabetes
I never thought I'd celebrate diabetes. I hid my type 1 diabetes from coworkers, friends, and even relatives for 16 years. My denial spanned extreme measures: racing to the bathroom when I needed a shot, hiding in the foyer while checking my blood sugar, eating in private so I wouldn't have to explain my snacks. I treated diabetes like a dirty little secret, as if others would label me weak if they stumbled on such classified information.
During prep tests for shoulder surgery (unrelated to diabetes), the nurse struggled to find a vein for the IV. She blamed my elevated blood sugar. While we waited for the anesthesiologist, I cried and stressed about the fact that I'd be asleep and unable to have any control over my diabetes.
Feeling completely helpless, I asked myself, What if I go low? What if I stay high? What if I can't eat afterward? How well will I heal? The people who hadn't been able to start my IV were the ones who would tend to my diabetes while I was under anesthesia!
My husband, Rick, front-row spectator to my panic, desperately tried to comfort me. Noticing my descent down the path of panic, he tried another approach: "Soldier up!" he said with his best drill sergeant impression.
Finding My Inner Rock Star
I was insulted at first by my husband's callousness. Then something began to dawn on me. I had been to more doctors and specialist appointments over the past year than he had during his entire adulthood. I had endured six daily insulin injections and tested my blood sugar six to eight times a day for years.
I thought about rock star Bret Michaels, PWD type 1, whose T-shirt has "52,560 injections ... 105,120 blood tests ... and counting ... fear nothing!" emblazoned on the back. If Michaels, 47, a famous performer and person with diabetes since age 6, can do it, then I, too, could be brave!
Taking a Stand
I made it through the surgery. I made it through the physical therapy that stretched for several months. Life got better, and my body healed. I finally began to seek out physical activity again. I decided to go for walks and bike rides and to do step aerobics. I took an interest in the food I was giving my body and added more healthful choices and vitamins. My body responded with better blood sugars and more energy.
I noticed an ad for an American Diabetes Association Tour de Cure bike ride to benefit diabetes, scheduled for my 34th birthday. It seemed impossible that 16 years had passed since I was diagnosed as a rebellious 18-year-old. Two marriages, stepchildren, new jobs, friendships, college, and plain old life in general had happened, and diabetes had been there every step of the way. It wasn't going away. It was a part of me that I had to accept. I would find a way to embrace it and live the best life possible. I signed up for the ride and prayed that I'd made the right decision.
I began training to endure the 25K ride. I didn't want to be the last across the finish line or end up diabetic road kill, so I checked my blood sugars before and during each ride and brought plenty of snacks. I bought a snazzy pink helmet and learned to love it.
Winning in Every Way
Race day arrived. I would have my day of fighting diabetes publicly for the first time.
I relished every moment, every drop of sweat, and every high five witnessed on the trail. I was a part of something: a society of people with diabetes and their loved ones riding together to have our voices heard. We took care of each other, pulling over to share our juice boxes and glucose.
I felt proud to be a diabetic taking control. At the finish line, strangers cheered for our hard work, both in the race and in life. They may not be there every day when I take my shots and struggle with diabetes, but I still hear them cheering me on.
Turns out I have a lot to celebrate, including harnessing the strength that I had possessed all along.