In August of 2010, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. I was 18 years old, and it completely flipped my world upside down. The way that I carry myself, the way my brain processes information and the way I structure my day and life have been forever changed because of it. It is a difficult and often painful illness to live with, many can attest to that. The daily frustrations of eating meals and balancing your blood sugar levels can be a headache, particularly when modern medicine fails you. There is no need for me to divulge into the hullabaloo that is being diabetic, but let me just assure you that it is a full-time job with no breaks ever. It is always on my mind and I am always calculating my bodies intake of food and output of energy and emotion.
Months after my diagnosis, my parents and I teamed up to battle our insurance company for them to cover me switching from syringes to an insulin pump. What an insulin pump is, for those of you who don’t know, is a small pager-sized device that holds a vessel of insulin that gets pushed through a tube into a small reservoir that sits just beneath your skin. The reason why this is such an awesome thing is because it is constantly giving you small amounts of insulin, and makes it very easy to give yourself a bolus (the insulin you take before meals to break down food into energy) without the use of painful needles. It eliminates a lot of the accouterments that I normally would’ve carried around as well as the inconvenience and pain associated with needles. All together, it was a much more convenient self-management system for diabetics, but it’s very expensive.
But we did win. And years on now, I have my own qualms with insulin pumps and how they do or do not function sometimes. But this was a huge step for me, and alleviated so much struggle in my day-to-day life. It was weird for me at first, having this long tube attached to me. I was—and have continued to be— very self-conscious of my body image since then. I have always been very active and very spontaneous and boisterous, so having this sort of fragile spot on my torso was weird for me, I felt a little vulnerable and a little less eager to climb that tree, that bookshelf, tackle that girl, or whatever. I couldn’t leap around in my underwear like I normally would because it would fall out or get caught on something or rip out of my stomach (less painful than it sounds, I swear.)
Christmas that year was very special. That year in particular, was a great year of transformation in my family, it seemed that every face around the tree was one that I knew, but had never seen before. My brother had just graduated college. I was just beginning college. My mother was finally sitting comfortably in a new teaching job and an iPad sat on the kitchen table with my oldest brothers face smiling over all of us. Brief moments like this, among all of the chaos and bickering, are where I can comfortably call these people my family.
We all took turns unwrapping gifts from one another. A beard trimmer here, a blender there. This was the year of gift-giving where we were excited to get kitchen appliances instead of toys, everything was suddenly very adult. My mom handed me a large rectangular box. I gave it a shake and heard the soft sound of cloth against cardboard. “Clothes.” I knew the sound. I tore apart the paper and lifted the lid off of the recycled Macy’s box. It took a moment for me to realize what I was looking at.
Underwear. Loads of it. Each one adorned with a small pocket on the right or left side made of spare fabric. What my mother had done was pure brilliance. Love and compassion. Empathy taken flight to the nights sky spattered with understanding and acceptance. She had hand stitched all of the pairs with a pocket for my insulin pump.
This may have been a lengthy way to tell a short story, but that was the nicest thing that anyone has ever done for me. I’ve had a very blessed life, filled with good fortune, passionate love and great friends that all give me so many things to be thankful for. But this small act that went on without question, without a mention or a worry has continued to blow my mind every time I get dressed in the morning. The ability to walk around in my underpants is something I will always enjoy. That may sound silly, but it’s the ability to be free and to not feel oppressed by the way our bodies sometimes fail us. It allows me—in the coffee-making, breakfast bliss that are my mornings— to forget that I have this illness, or at least fade it to the background behind my priorities and my memories. It allows me to feel free to wander and wonder, maybe even numbs the pain for a little while. And that’s the best gift you can give anyone.