My diagnosis would not hold me back. The question quickly shifted from “Why me?” to “What next?”
The date is drilled into my head. February 13, 2007. The day my world turned upside down.
For the better part of two months my body had been slowly slipping into a meditative state. Headaches, blurred vision, different eating habits, constant sleepiness, thirst, and urination were just some of the symptoms.
Even with all these things going wrong, when I went home from school sick on February 13 I wasn’t expecting a diagnosis that would change my daily life forever.
That afternoon my mom walked into the living room, pulled me off the couch, and said we were going to the hospital because I have diabetes.
Had I been in a more coherent state of mind it would have registered sooner just how serious this diagnosis was and everything that stood in my path. But with a blood sugar in the 900s (over nine times the desired level), all I really wanted to do was sleep.
By the time I woke up I was already in full hospital gown—tubes and cords attached everywhere you can imagine—and crying infants surrounded me in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Things escalated pretty quickly.
After talking to a couple of the nurses about everything that was going on, a wave of anxiety rushed over me. How did this happen? I’m active, I play three sports, I eat well. Nobody in my family has diabetes. Why me?
As a thirteen year-old, “Why me?” didn’t seem quite as selfish at the time. It didn’t take long for that selfishness to subside, however.
My dad, who still to this day is my hero and the man I aspire to be, decided that if his son had to sleep in the hospital, so would he. So sitting in a chair in the PICU all night long, my dad was there for me. And as I listened to babies crying up and down the hall and even overheard the final moments of one child’s life, suddenly that selfishness dissipated.
I knew exactly what the answer to “Why me?” was. Unlike many of the children in that hospital wing, I was going to leave the hospital in a matter of days. Alongside me would be the man who slept in a chair for two nights with me, my family who were equally supportive, friends who had come to visit me, members of my church who had been praying for me, and all of the people I hadn’t met yet who would inspire me.
I had a support group that would help me get through whatever life with diabetes would throw at me. I was a tough kid, and I wasn’t going to let a faulty pancreas stop me from pursuing my dreams. That was the answer to “Why me?”
Diabetes didn’t challenge my masculinity. It defined it. I became a man the day that I was diagnosed with Type-1 Diabetes.
Suddenly, I had more to think about than I ever had before. I was redefining myself in the face of this illness, and a lot of my future would depend on it.
Most thirteen year-olds aren’t worried about what their lives are going to look like when they’re forty, but I was. How well I managed my diabetes now would directly relate to my quality of life as I aged. It would affect my future wife and kids as my dad liked to remind me.
How I chose to manage my diabetes dictated how I would live my life. I chose not to let it stop me from reaching my goals and to balance my dreams with my health.
Fast-forward five years. I’m an all-league outside linebacker for the Andover Trojans. I’m undersized, asthmatic, and diabetic. Yet I lead the team in tackles and sacks.
People told me that they could tell I played with more heart than anybody else on the field. What they didn’t know was that the hindrance most people saw in my diabetes was actually the motivation behind that passion. I refused to let a medical condition get in the way of the dream I had to play on Friday nights since I was a first grader.
If there was one challenge I faced in playing football, it wasn’t on the field but in the locker room. Other guys didn’t understand what playing football meant to me or how hard I had worked to even make it a possibility. Worse, they ridiculed me in a way for being so serious about the sport and so many of the other things in my life.
Having diabetes taught me that nothing was out of reach and that I could work hard enough to get anything I could ever want. Telling stupid jokes, making fun of other kids, partying, getting girls—things that were priorities for other high schoolers—just weren’t of major importance to me.
My focus was always on my goals and dreams. It gave me an escape from my diabetes to have something I was working toward, especially if it was something that nobody else expected out of me.
That’s why I chose to go to college at TCU. It was different from all of the Kansas state schools and community colleges all my friends were going to. It was more challenging, and it gave me more independence so that I could handle my life and my diabetes the way I wanted to.
For the first time since diagnosis, I was going to leave my support group behind and prove to myself that I could handle being diabetic on my own, and better yet, thrive with it.
College though is a completely different world. Suddenly I wasn’t just worried about how my diet and exercise affected my diabetes. Now I had external factors like stress, schedule, alcohol, peer-pressure, and sex just to name a few. The pre-college me didn’t have to worry about any of that.
Maybe I got lucky. Maybe I just chose the right group of people to hang out with. But never felt like my manhood was challenged or that I was pressured because of my diabetes.
When people see the insulin pump on my hip they ask about it, and when I explain, they accept and sometimes admire me for it. When I choose not to drink as much as all my fraternity brothers they understand, but when I have too much fun they’re the first ones to take care of me and make sure my blood sugars are okay.
Every girl that I’ve taken interest in has been supportive of me, but don’t push the issue because they understand how independent I am when it comes to my diabetes care.
Sure, there are jokes but all in good nature. Yes, I’ve had to constantly keep diabetes in the back of my mind while I’ve been away from home. I wouldn’t change that.
I can’t imagine how my life would be different if I didn’t have diabetes. Maybe I’d be more care free and fun, but I might not appreciate the little things or have the drive that I do today. So when I wonder, “Why me?” the answer is pretty clear. My manhood doesn’t depend on my diabetes, but it was improved by it. That’s enough to justify everything in my book.
Image credit: aldenchadwick/flickr