Opinions, Column

Happiness, Sadness, and Sugar in Between

While my sleeves are patched with my heart all over, my skin is tough from needles and bruises. And as hard as I try, I can’t fake a convincing smile, but I can stare down glaring red alerts, warning that my life is in danger. 

I am sensitive. I feel my emotions hard and tend to express them even harder. I’ve sobbed while eating “chicken and two sides” in Mac, and I’ve uncontrollably laughed to myself on the treadmill in the Plex. 

I also happen to be a person living with Type 1 diabetes, a chronic auto-immune condition that I’ll have for the rest of my life. This means that much of my time is spent managing inconsistent blood sugar levels that closely resemble roller coasters and shape my day’s mood—oftentimes making me feel like I’m the nauseous passenger to my diabetes’ recluse driving in a high-speed car chase.

So, on the same days as my Mac breakdowns and inappropriate bursts of laughter on the treadmill, chances are I also nodded off in class from high blood sugar fatigue or wanted to scream at an innocent stranger due to rapidly declining blood sugar that left me feeling more like Godzilla and less like myself with every passing second.

Through all of the fluctuations and vulnerability, it seems like the only thing that has remained constant is a little voice inside my head echoing the thoughts I try to resist every day—maliciously convincing me that my emotions are a weakness, and so is my diabetes. 

Mind-twisting. Disabling? Two conditions, one mental and one physical—both dichotomic poles shaping my self-perception like merciless hands ripping apart a rope in a game of tug-of-war. At the game’s end, the rope always remains intact, but sometimes its strands get a little frayed.  

While the act of spilling out my innermost thoughts to anyone with an ear to listen is far too settled in my comfort zone, my hands tremble with hesitation over my keyboard as I put my struggles with Type 1 diabetes into writing, especially on a platform that means so much to me. 

In the spirit of getting out of my comfort zone, though, I’ve  pushed myself to be able to do things like confidently answer questions about my medical alert bracelet and dose my insulin in front of friends during meals. So, here we are. 

While my diabetes feels inescapable, time has made it feel manageable. Instead of stretching my limbs toward the two poles of good and bad—one tug-of-war team versus another—I’ve become more comfortable spending time in the middle. And after years of mental work, the evil little voice hasn’t gone away, but it has softened, surrendering to my strengths of resilience rather than firing missiles of insecurities over desolate battle grounds.

Yes, my ups and downs are still there. Every single day. I am still an emotional person. But rather than allowing these facts to crash down on me, I’ve been learning how to deal with the changing tides.

So just last Thursday, I laced up my green Hokas, tied back my curls into a tight ponytail, and got ready for a run down Beacon Street. It was a beautiful fall day, the kind that makes someone from Los Angeles hungry to spend some time outdoors.

Amid the late afternoon sunshine and blue skies peaking through auburn trees, I felt on top of the world. My feet were kicking off the ground at a pace perfectly matching the music booming in my AirPods. I felt strong and motivated to hit a mileage I would be proud of. 

Twenty minutes in and I was unexpectedly met with those flashy red alerts on my phone reading “‘urgent low”—code for “Eliza, stop what you’re doing and eat some f—ing sugar!” 

It happens all the time. Any diabetes handbook will tell you that exercise prompts lows. It happens even if I plan ahead and scarf down four glucose tablets to spike my levels (which is exactly what I did before this run). Despite this—and despite the overwhelming regularity of irregularity in my diabetic life—having to stop in my tracks while trying to achieve a goal made me feel absolutely crushed.

It felt like the lack of sugar in my blood was replaced with fury running through my veins. It didn’t matter that this feeling happens all the time. Shaky, physically weak, and frustrated, I desperately wished I could’ve kept running. After all, my mind was telling me that if I didn’t have Type 1 diabetes, I could’ve. As I turned off my Strava and took out those chalky glucose tablets, my mind began to fill up with bubbles of self-hatred and grievances against whatever wretched force that brought upon this roadblock. All I could think was “Why?” but all I did was start walking. 

I took this as a win. 

With that decision alone, I won against the urge to hate my own blood because it prevented me from achieving a goal. I put up a scrappy fight with that pesky little voice telling me I had failed. I was certainly in an emotional disarray, but felt stronger after stopping than I would’ve if I continued running. 

On my way back home, I had tears welling up behind my eyes, as my lingering determination turned into acceptance of what had happened. I walked slowly, giving my body time to recover from the low. I let my mind heal, too. Toward the direction I had come from, I watched the starburst sunset melt over the row of houses I’d soon pass. And like second nature, my mind trailed off, picturing what my run would be like the next day. In that mental image, I foresaw the high chances I’d get low blood sugar again. 

Instead of feeling the familiar rush of annoyance, though, I began to smile. At this moment, I felt content with the possibility that if I was faced with an unexpected low and was forced to stop running, maybe I’d welcome the change of pace. And on that foreseeable walk, I might still feel frustrated, but I would plan a column about the story. In that column, I would prove that if I can find strength while learning to coexist with my emotions and diabetes, anything is possible.

November 6, 2022
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