There are few things that can degrade a young woman’s self confidence more than not looking like everyone else. I went through a brief period my freshman year of college where I felt desperately inferior to all the other 18 year olds with their waifish bodies and sexy “going out” clothes. I grew out of that with the time and perspective that goes with adjusting to a new life. And interestingly enough, my diabetic paraphanlia never played into my insecurities. Nobody noticed my insulin pump. Or, if they did they never said anything. I was dating a guy who had known me (and my pump) before we were romantically involved and besides a few awkward logistical issues in the very beginning, just never made a big deal about it. Basically, I was pretty good at camouflaging it and also at not surrounding myself with mean people.
There are elements that come with wearing an insulin pump, however, that can’t be hidden or erased. I’ve worn a pump infusion site every day for 17 years. My lower abdomen is a solid sheet of scar tissue from the older, less sophisticated sets. I have small scars all over my stomach, lower back and butt that will never fade out. It’s the price of modern technology and managing diabetes. You may say, you don’t have to wear a pump. That’s true. But I believe my brother does something like 5 or more shots a day so that’s not really going to change the impact.
A few weeks ago I received a new piece of wearable tech called a continuous glucose monitor. It’s a little pod you wear taped to your skin that inserts a sensor to constantly take your blood sugar. It’s some space age, cutting edge shit that quite frankly I’ve been woefully slow to adopt. At first, I did try it. I had a horrible, painful, bloody experience that soured me on the whole thing about 6 years ago. I was uninterested in putting myself through the stress of one more ugly thing to maintain and fight with in addition to all the other diabetes related things there are to manage. If it didn’t actually make my life easier, I wasn’t interested. And also, why did I need another thing stabbed into my poor abused body?
I’ve grown up and the technology has advanced. I’m at a time in my life where I need to be realistic about how well I’m taking care of myself and the CGM really offers some distinct advantages. But there’s also one distinct disadvantage. There’s now one more weird plastic thing taped to my body.
I joked to my husband about how I’m now 1/4 robot. Machines pumping into me, machines taking readings out of me. We giggle and make jokes and try and make it fun and positive. But it’s a shitty thing to look in the mirror at everyday. I’m not one to feel to bad about my body image, generally. I try and be fit and active and eat better in an effort to feel better, not to look like anyone else. I figure, Chrissy Tiegen has stretch marks and Hillary duff as cellulite so what the hell do I care. But you know what nobody else seems to have? A bunch of super non-sexy, surgical grade medical tape stuck all over them.
It’s painful in a way that has nothing to do with needles and bad skin reactions, to know that if this is what my body looks like now, what will it look like in another 10 years? This is the price to pay for staying alive and healthy most would say and I agree. I’m not saying I won’t do it, I’m saying this is some ugly, behind closed doors, crying in the bathtub stuff. Being a role model to young girls is important to me. I want to be able to show them that having diabetes doesn’t need to hinder their lives. It is not an obstacle in the path of achieving dreams. But honestly, it is a fucking hard life to live. It is hard to feel pretty and carefree and young and sexy and also medically hooked up to life saving technology. But it’s not impossible.
Someday, I hope, there will be a cure for the constant weight on the shoulders of everyone living with T1D. For the ugliness it brings and the wide burden it casts on our support systems. But for now, we learn to embrace our 1/4 robot self. We make cyborg jokes and buy dresses with pockets and we embrace being different so that we may be successful. Being a sexy robot isn’t an easy life but it is better than being a dead robot.