Diabetes and the Apple Juice Coup

When I was a teenager, about 16 years old, I went away to a summer camp for kids with diabetes. Before I went, I had a picture in my head right out of a Charles Dickens novel: a bleak, depressing camp full of children with grey circles under their eyes, crutches, and persistent coughs from “the diabetes.” Basically, I pictured a whole camp full of Tiny Tims, and a whole team of doctors and nurses taking 24-hour care of us wretchedly sick “diabetics.” What I discovered when I got there was a camp full of normal kids, who looked, acted, and felt just like me. It was, in two words, life-changing. Far from making me feel MORE different because of my condition, it made me realize that we were, in fact, all just normal kids with a serious condition we had to live with. We still hiked, did the ropes courses, canoed, snuck away from our counselors, had our teenage-angst filled summer romances; in other words, we still had a regular camp experience. The only difference was that on each hike, we’d ALL stop to test our blood sugar. Every night, the counselors in our cabins would wake us up briefly for our “overnight” blood sugar check. That was it. Beyond that, we were just a group of teenagers enjoying a week in the woods.

Except we weren’t just like everyone else — not completely. On one afternoon, I broke away with a group of fellow campers who I had become friends with — this was actually during my SECOND year of attending this camp, and we were all returning campers. In any event, I followed them through the woods to a spot where they had stashed something illicit. I wondered what it could be — was it alcohol? Did someone swipe the keys to a counselors golf cart? Maybe someone had a dirty magazine! It was none of the above. It was juice. Apple juice. It wasn’t even GOOD apple juice. It was the canned juice from concentrate that the camp gave us when we were low.


Now, I was always a very careful caretaker of my diabetes, and I politely turned down the juice. The other guys all downed a few cans each, and then we walked back to camp. At the time, I remember wondering WHY they did what they did (I mean, what’s so great about a can of apple juice?), but in later years I have come to understand much more clearly what had happened. They were testing the limits of what they could do; they were pushing against the boundaries of what they had been “allowed” to do their whole lives; they were being very, very typical adolescents. And the biggest reason I was NOT doing the same thing was simply the timing of my diagnosis. I was diagnosed at the age of 15, and so from the beginning of my life with diabetes, management was something I was responsible for, not something my parents had to impose on me. And so it wasn’t a vehicle for pushback in my life. But they had all been diagnosed as younger children, and so drinking that juice was a way to test the limits of their own choices. It was a way for them to push against the boundaries of their parents, of their past, of their upbringing, of the rules that had governed their lives. Drinking that oh-so-innocent-to-the-non-diabetic-world apple juice was an act of rebellion and a way to claim autonomy. It was our version of a cigarette.

We’re all older now. I’ve lost touch with everyone I went to camp with. I’m sure some are doing well and outgrew their rebellious phase without too much harm. I’m sure some are paying the price for a reckless adolescence and not faring too well. But that desire to push against diabetes is something that doesn’t go away. Adolescence is when that desire to test limits and push back against the rules reigns strongest, but diabetes is something that we ALL want to push back against every now and then. How often have ALL of us wanted to just go drink a damn juice like everyone in the world does? I certainly have had my moments. You have, too, I’m sure. We have all had those days when we’re just sick of “taking care” of our diabetes and want to shove some sugary drink right down its throat.

Of course, diabetes doesn’t have its own throat. It’s OUR throat. And we can’t hurt diabetes — we only hurt ourselves. That’s the advantage of having our adult perspective. When we want to rebel, we find better avenues (hopefully). We work out, we use a journal, we use a punching bag, we talk things out with our loved ones, or we find other ways to release that energy. And it works well enough. But all these years later, I think I finally understand what it was I saw that day. I get it now. They had all lived a lifetime with this disease by then, while I was still newly diagnosed. They were just tired of living a life governed by the rules of their own blood sugar. And for a few minutes they just wanted some %^*& juice without the monitoring, worrying, and calculating we Diabetians always do.

A new Type 2 diabetes medication has been approved by the FDA. Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to learn more.