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Guest column: I am strong. I am alive. I am happy.
A year with Type 1 diabetes teaches lessons on body image, health and appreciating life
RachelWeb
A year after being diagnosed with diabetes, University of North Georgia sophomore Rachel Glazer is handling the good and bad of dealing with the disease.

This week marks the one-year anniversary of my diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes.

I won’t sugarcoat it (pun intended); it has not been easy. But as I continue to grow into a stronger and more self-assured young woman, I have taken note of the good and the bad of living with Type 1.

For those who don’t know, Type 1 diabetes is an unpreventable chronic auto-immune disease in which the immune system destroys the beta cells of the pancreas, effectively putting a halt to the production of insulin, without which the body cannot convert sugars from food into usable energy. Sounds exhausting, no?

Here’s the good: I am fighting for my life every day, and that’s OK. I am more conscious of what I put into my body.

Blood doesn’t bother me anymore. It’s full of helpful information, and information is not to be feared. Needles I’m still working on. However, I know I have it a lot easier today than diabetics even a decade ago. Technology is amazing, and I am learning a lot about cutting-edge medical research and development. I’m practically bionic!

I listen to my body. Honestly, that is one of the biggest things I didn’t know I was missing before. Cells may not speak in words, but biology has an active language of its own. Check out this group to learn the warning signs of Type 1 at www.awarenesssaveslives.com.

I am amid so much love. Some people never get the chance to express the extent of their kindness, but in a way, the blessing in my diagnosis was seeing so much good emerge from the community around me.

I got 18 wonderful years to live free of my current restrictions, without worry of hyper- or hypoglycemia. That’s a pretty good deal, if you ask me. I am grateful for my life. I think often about those without access to the medical care, education and loving community I have, and it is my personal mission to reach them and share what I can.

I am strong. I am alive. I am happy.

I heard it and denied it a thousand times last January, but I finally agree: It really does get easier.

And since I promised I wouldn’t smooth over the bad: There is now a part of my identity which I never asked for, but the “D” word isn’t so scary anymore. It has altered the course of my life in a small but significant way. I will make it a strength.

Being carefree is a thing of the past. I know that the load of worries my parents must bear is insurmountable, but as long as I call home daily and ask my Pops for batteries and try Mama’s low-carb everything, hopefully it will ease over time.

Body image, more so than beta cells, has hung in the forefront of my mind. This time last year I was 15 pounds underweight. As soon as I started on insulin and was able to store fat again, my uncontrollable eating habits from the previous six months helped me to pack on close to 40 pounds by April.

I was shocked by the stark difference in how every part of me looked and moved, and of course none of my clothes fit. Every self-criticism and complaint of a big butt now seemed laughable. I was ashamed of something I could not control.

I now understand what average really looks like. I see how little anyone else’s opinion matters when it comes to my body. Health first, style second. Actually, style is somewhere between disposable forks and collectable thimbles on a list of things I care about.

There are lots of aspects of my body that I’ve come to like, and if some guy in the Dining Hall can’t stomach it while he chokes down his cardboard pizza, that’s too bad for him.

I aged at least five years in the span of eight months. I’ve met the frightening reality of my own mortality, for sure, but on top of that, I now bear stretch marks, pinhole bruises, the beginnings of cataracts and frequent colds and scars thanks to a weakened immune system.

But beauty fades anyway. I value a different form of loveliness. I am radiant.

Another lesson I’ve put great value on is that illness or disability in a loved one should not make you uncomfortable. Go off of their signals. More often than not, I want to discuss my experiences, share what I’ve learned about the science of it all and bring you along with me into this new life.

This is my normal now. It shouldn’t dominate my existence, of course, but there are a lot of little things that I forget you don’t worry about, like counting carbs. I feel confident speaking for many other people with diseases or disabilities when I say: There is no such thing as normal. Even you are not normal. So let’s share in our abnormalities together! I count sugars — so what? I bet you count sheep. We’re both trying to make life easier.

This will sound strange, because I would never wish this on anyone, but I hope you find your “diabetes” — that is, I hope there is something in your life that causes you to re-evaluate and help you become a better you.

Direct some love inward; recognize what is wonderful about you. Be strong. You are radiant. Shine on.

Rachel Glazer is a North Hall High School graduate and a sophomore at the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega.

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