I read an article in the Washington Post today. It was about a boy who was diagnosed with Type I diabetes when he was 8, and how that changed his childhood from carefree to one of limitations and responsibility, which sucked.*
He’s right, of course, but for me, it went far beyond that.
The thing about diabetes is, it’s not fatal. It can be if you don’t accept all those limitations and responsibilities. But it doesn’t have to be. Perhaps the boy (now man) in the article had limits on Halloween and pigging out at pizza parties, and he had to carry the equipment and juice everywhere, which would be a pain, but I suspect he still had the luxury of a child’s perspective. He wasn’t old enough then to be told that he was going to die if he didn’t follow the rules. Things changed for him, but he didn’t have that particular monkey on his back for a while. I hope.
I missed that less burdened stage. That is to say, my own mortality was shoved down my throat before my sixth birthday. When I left the hospital to begin my recovery from fallout of my battle with meningitis, I knew what the work “vegetable” meant when applied to people (now sidelined as an insensitive term, which it is), and I knew that two other nameless, faceless kids in my city had died from it. I was the lucky one, the girl who lived (with all due respect to Harry Potter fans). It was a reputation, and a perspective, I will carry through the rest of my life.
Any idea how that messes with a kid’s head?
I never went through that stage where people think they’re invincible. I never drank before I was 21. In fact I have never been drunk. No illegal drugs. No jumping out of planes, or any other risky behavior. None of those risky/fun things that often define late teens and early twenties. I already knew what was at stake. One or two brushes with death were enough for me, thank you very much. I had no taste for the adrenaline rush, or more ways to lose control of a body that didn’t operate normally without help.
I did push my boundaries, hard, but not in ways I could share with friends and have it be a fun story to tell at parties. If I had to guess, I would say it set me back socially about 10 years, or at least that how it feels.
But instead of fun stories to tell, I was left with a perspective that I think would have taken a long time without a little help from my monster. First, I am strong. Nothing is ever a crisis. After all, it’s not like a hair-on-fire deadline at work is actually going to kill me. Even my recent breast cancer scare, while terrifying at first, eventually got the “is this really worse than [fill in the blank]” treatment. Second, I am a caretaker. Just by virtue of having to learn everything I have to take care of my own conditions, I can help friends and family through whatever it is they are dealing with. Third, I am pretty decent with money. I have been scared of being able to afford retirement since I was 20. I asked for money to invest for my 21st birthday – says it all, doesn’t it? So, while I like nice things, I only buy what I need, and I put every penny I have left into savings.
Sometimes I feel wistful for the things I missed on feeling like a grownup before my time, but you know what? I wouldn’t change it. For all the pain and heartache of dealing with my conditions, I kinda like how I turned out.
*The article on how being diagnosed before puberty is a blessing that sets the diabetes routine as a habit before the rebellious stage is for another time.