In March of 2007, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. I was 33 years old. At the time, I thought my life would be so upended by having to live with and manage a chronic illness that the Eric Lagergren I’d come to know (for better or worse) would soon be unrecognizable from my pre-diabetes self. I just assumed that I’d spend my daily existence coping with my health care, paying attention to blood glucose readings, food intake, insulin doses, and medicines, not to mention learning everything I could about Type 1 diabetes. To not know would only facilitate poorer care, and poorer care would only lead more quickly to diabetic complications.
I was overwhelmed. And in spite of what my health-care professionals told me, in spite of what I’d read in books, and in spite of my observations of and conversations with others who had the same chronic illness, during those first few weeks I coped by assuming the only way to manage the condition effectively would be to radically alter who I was.
In college, I had more than my share of attempts at self-transformation (ahh, the noble humanities student’s cross to bear). I read Thoreau and tried — oh how I tried — to live deliberately, to remove the clutter from my world. I read Emerson and wondered what I might do to be self-reliant in such a way that would have made the Transcendentalist proud. And I read biographies of other writers — of poets and novelists and philosophers — whose works I admired and whom I wanted to be like; who, though most were long-dead and had often suffered through miserable lives, had something I thought I wanted. Literary immortality? Canonization? Something…something there that was attractive to a 21-year-old literature major’s lonely existence, that’s for sure.
So I’d attempt to emulate those writer’s lifestyles, or at least what I read about how it was they’d lived when they were my age. Their study habits, writing routines, etc. Because that’s what I’d have to do. Right? One only has to emulate aspects of the great ones in order to be great himself, yes? Cafeteria-style self-making?
Ha. No. I don’t necessarily think that’s a healthy prescription for how to be.
And yet it was enjoyable, at that age, to muck about and try out new ways of seeing the world, of being in the world. I was young, naïve, and able to recover if a certain lens through which I tried looking at the world didn’t quite focus.
These were, after all, choices. Well-informed or not, I decided to live whatever way it was I lived.
Jump ahead a dozen or so years, and I discover that fate saddles me with a chronic illness — and, though there’s no relevance in this, an illness which any of my literary heroes probably would have died from within a few years’ time.
Here (I’m in 2007 now), after the struggle for identity that was the decade of my 20’s; here (still in 2007), after meeting the love of my life and settling into a career and community and routine that made all the struggling worth it…here, in March of 2007, such a dark, dark month, I found myself with one of those unforeseen circumstances that we often rationalize away with platitudes as part of being human. Yeah, whatever. It doesn’t make it any better. But still, we try. John Lennon said “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” Well, Type 1 diabetes happened to me when I was enjoying the benefits of, not planning — no…when I was living the life I wanted.
As someone who does reflect on where he is, who he is, how he got there, and where he might be going, the diagnosis of Type 1 two years ago portended an awful upheaval to all that I knew.
But I’m here to tell you that it wasn’t true. I overreacted. Life’s just as good as it was prior to learning about my pancreas’s short circuit.
In spite of my Type 1 diabetes, my life is great and continues to get better.
(And no, I’m not going to give any credit to the disease, which, in some instances people do and which is completely understandable, because it can open a person’s eyes to the need to make a lifestyle change.)
Last week, a close friend e-mailed me a birthday wish in which he wrote, “May today be the worst day of the rest of your life.” I liked that.