Back in July, when I was at the Children With Diabetes Friends for Life event in Orlando, I had an opportunity to meet a few people working with Eli Lilly & Company in Indianapolis. Eli Lilly, as you probably know, is one of the largest producers of insulin in America. They also have this nice program that awards medals to People living With Diabetes for 10, 25, and even 50 years.
When one of the Lilly execs asked me how long I had been living with diabetes, I mentioned that I had hit the 25 year mark earlier in the year, which prompted the question “Did you send in for your medal?”. I had not by then, but I had thought about it. A few weeks after that gathering, I went to the Lilly website and applied for my 25 year Journey medal. And that’s where I get to the point, the personal point, of this story.
On the one hand, it’s incredibly selfish to fill out an online form and say “Please recognize me!”. Even now, a couple of months after receiving my medal, it feels selfish. Living with Type 1 diabetes for 25 years does not make me special, and more importantly, it doesn’t make me any more special than anyone who has lived with diabetes for 24 years or 26 years, or any other number of years. Like my A1c result, it’s just a number. A benchmark.
On the other hand, I spent a lot of the past 25 years enduring crappy A1c results. Various doctors and family members, some with the best of intentions, made me feel like it was entirely my fault. Seventeen or eighteen years after diagnosis, I was being told to manage my diabetes exactly the same way I had been told to manage it in the months after diagnosis. I had heard of insulin pumps, mostly that it meant that my diabetes was way out of control. I had no freaking idea what a continuous glucose monitor was. No one bothered to tell me anything about them, and if they had, I probably would have resisted because I wouldn’t have understood their usefulness.
Things in those days were either good or bad; there was extremely little middle ground, and my fear was that the more people knew about my diabetes, the worse I would look. Once I began to look beyond just good and bad, once I started to examine the gray areas and really consider possibilities rather than punishment, my life and my life with diabetes began to change.
So I get it… I’m not special. But I have certainly earned this medal. And I’m not going to feel bad about that. Part of not feeling bad about that meant actually wearing my 25 year medal at the Diabetes UnConference in Atlantic City in September. You can’t see it, but I’m wearing it in our group photo from the event. Most people probably didn’t know I had it on, but I wanted to wear it while with a group of people living with diabetes.
These were people who completely understand the uphill climb that diabetes can be. How diabetes can take your best efforts and kick them to the curb. The emotions of highs and lows and middle-of-the-night set changes and visits to endocrinologists and ophthalmologists. The concerns about how today’s diabetes may affect our lives years down the road, and how much of it is not good or bad, but simply a game of chance.
I’ll probably pull this medal out from its case and put it on now and then. Because you know what? I really did earn this. Having a medal doesn’t make me special. But it’s a terrific marker of time, and a way to focus on the fact that I have survived for 25 years. And it’s more than okay to be happy about that.