Last summer I was diagnosed with situational depression and anxiety. After years of struggling to juggle my family, my job, and my health, the diagnosis came as a relief. I was relieved because the diagnosis meant I wasn’t crazy. It also meant there was a solution. I’d been trying so hard to keep my head above the water that when the doctor handed me the prescription for antidepressants, it felt like a life jacket. I knew that the medication was only part of the solution. I was going to have to talk to a therapist, and I was going to have to make changes in my life that were going to cause people I loved pain.
The hardest conversation was with my husband. The idea of quitting my job terrified him, but the idea of staying at my job terrified me. So we agreed that I would take a leave of absence. I’d been working as the marketing manager for an art museum; a job that allowed me to engage with creative people. I loved my colleagues and was grateful for the benefits, but I was tired all the time. I depended on babysitters to manage my kid’s schedules and I felt guilty that I wasn’t the one picking them up from school and helping them with their homework. I felt like I wasn’t doing a good job at work or at home, but I didn’t think I had another choice. The diagnosis forced me to say that I couldn’t do the supermom thing anymore. I was scared that I would be letting my husband, my boss, and my colleagues down. I knew that we were going to have to make sacrifices because of this decision and that thought terrified me. I felt like a failure.
I remember a conversation I had with my mother during this time. I told her that I just couldn’t understand why I’d hit the wall, why I couldn’t manage all of my responsibilities when it seemed like everyone else could.
“All of my colleagues are working moms,” I said. “They all have to work just as hard as me so if they can do it, why can’t I?”
“Amy, none of your colleagues are living with a chronic illness,” she said. I was stunned into silence. She was right.
When I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at 14 years old my parents and my doctor promised that I would be able to do everything my friends could do. Diabetes was not going to keep me from living the life that I wanted to live. Looking back now I realize that defining diabetes in that way set me on a path of fitting in, not standing out. Diabetes was no big deal. I refused to ask for help. I refused to be treated differently. I wanted to prove that I could do anything I set my mind to, and while I’m proud of the things I accomplished, I was wrong to deny the significance of diabetes. Diabetes is a big deal. I’m not like everyone else, and while that concept was too devastating for me as a teenager to accept, I need to be able to accept that now. I need to be able to acknowledge diabetes in my day-to-day activities. I need to be able to acknowledge my personal limitations in a way that is not laden with words like failure, guilt, and not good enough.
One afternoon, several weeks after I started medication, I walked our neighborhood trail to pick up my first grader from school, and I felt happy. It was a beautiful fall day, unusually crisp and dry for the south, and the sun sparkled behind the wispy clouds. I’d forgotten how good it was to be happy. I stood at the entrance of the elementary school and waited for my youngest to come running out with his big smile. I started to cry behind my sunglasses, but not for sadness. This was exactly where I wanted to be. I held hands with my son as we walked toward home. He told me about his day. We got in the car and drove to pick up his older brothers at school, and then we sat at the kitchen table together while they did their homework. I was present and in the moment with my children. I was not rushing, I was not thinking about what tasks needed to be accomplished, and I was not exhausted. I felt good.
Author’s note. My struggle to balance family, work, and diabetes is my struggle. I know there are many people who are able to manage similar responsibilities without getting depressed. I still believe that people with diabetes can do anything they set their minds to and I don’t want this blog to be discouraging. My hope is always that sharing my story will speak to someone and help others feel less alone.
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