A Return to Therapy

So I had my first appointment with a new therapist today.

My therapist’s office is only a short drive from my place. I arrived punctually, and wound up in her office right around the time I was supposed to be there (a miraculous thing in and of itself).

I sat down, gathered a breath, and was suddenly struck with a memory of the last time I’d been to see a therapist. As if realizing this, she asked when that was.

“2014,” I told her, “the year I was diagnosed with type 1.”

She proceeded to ask me random questions, not really guiding the conversation so much as clinging onto dear life while I proceeded to talk her ear off, driving the conversation down the treacherous path of these last seven years.

Sometimes I forget what I’m like to talk to. I forget how excited I get when I talk to people. I forget the way I speak, and the way the things I say can come off.

We began with the base of things (why I was there, what I was hoping to work on, why now, etc.) and, naturally, that started with my chronic condition—a condition which I’ve realized lies at the root of a lot of what I’ve been struggling with; a condition which I so rarely talk about with my own friends, let alone a complete stranger.

Type 1 has a tendency to be linked with type 2, which makes sense given their similar names; however, this is virtually the only thing they share in common. Type 1 is far more severe, far more dangerous, and in my experience, far more traumatic.

Something I appreciate about this therapist is the way she interrupts me for clarification; it’s something I hope my students will do freely. I was answering one of her questions today when I randomly looked up from the floor and could see she had something she wanted to say.

“I just want to clarify something you just said,” she said calmly, her face a mixture of skepticism and humor. “You said you’re grateful for type 1?” 

“Yeah,” I replied casually. “I am.” 

Her face looked at me quizzically. “Explain that.” 

I realized then how completely nonsensical that must seem: to appreciate something that makes your life a living hell, something that has quite literally nearly killed you multiple times, something that has traumatized you and affected the way you perceive the world; but the last of these afforded my seemingly nonsensical outlook a rationalization. 

“It’s about perspective.”

I told her the story of my first time drinking after diagnosis. I was still seventeen, and just a few months out of getting diagnosed. I had been invited to a house party by a friend somewhere random in Roseville. We arrived late, after having gone to the liquor store to buy corona light (my thought process being that something with less carbs would stop my blood sugar from rising). We pulled up to the house. From inside, the thrumming of booming bass rattled and shook the car from afar. We made our way in, parting through nearly 200 people jam packed into a small, two-story house soon to be up for sale (hence the complete disregard for its care/condition by the owners that night). It should be mentioned that while I possess an inherent dislike and distrust for large social events, the friend I was attending with has the opposite of personality, and in fact thrives in such settings, such that that night he was soon to be swarmed by his friends, myself being out of the loop, save for knowing a few of them through passing acquaintances.

I’ll skip the minutia (the girls doing lines of coke in the garage, the hot bodies intermeshing under the spell of darkness and bass, my own inexperience with navigating such an environment). Needless to say, after drinking several Coronas, whose taste was wretched and only succeeded in making me nauseous, I found myself in the upstairs bathroom, my blood sugar having spiked to well over 270, such that I needed rush to correct for the amount lest my symptoms of nausea grow more severe. I remember vividly being in that bathroom—a horrid, untidy place—injecting myself with the needle I was shown how to use only a few months prior; my tester soaked in blood, alerting me of my rising blood sugar; myself patiently sitting through the sickness while I waited for the insulin to kick in. I remember hearing people outside the bathroom door, somewhere just beyond it, talking about who they were going to sleep with that night; who, indeed, might their friends be sleeping with already. I can remember sweating through my clothes, this in part due to the crammed, claustrophobic nature of the house party, exacerbated by my exorbitant blood sugar and growing anxiety. This was the moment I recounted to my therapist, the reason I gave for being grateful for type 1.

“It’s about perspective,” I said again, allowing a grin to spread over my face. “I get to see the world from another perspective that most don’t.” 

What I explained to her was the duality to it. For the people outside the door, their biggest concern that night was who they might sleep with—these trivial concerns based only in the present; meanwhile, I find myself inside the bathroom, struggling to stay alive, feeling myself growing more and more sick, constantly trying to manage something untamable, and they don’t see me, they have no knowledge of this or any other reality apart from their own. But I see them. I see both. There is a bitterness that can develop through this perspective; a sense of resentment at the lack of understanding, or blatant misunderstanding of those blessed with bodies that function normally. But there is also an appreciation. There is an understanding that this naivety is one beautiful in its own right, as it is based in ignorance—the very same I had previous to my diagnosis.

I appreciate the disease because it affords me this perspective, this better understanding of humanity. I appreciate the struggle. I appreciate the madness of it all.

The morning after the party, after passing out when we got home, I randomly woke myself up—my friend completely out cold—and tested to find my blood sugar at 50. For those unacquainted, the healthy range for a normal person is roughly 70-99, and for those with type one, 80-130. Needless to say, I could have died. I remember my hands shaking violently, my breath shallow and rushed. I realized in that moment that I could have suffered a seizure in my sleep, slipped into a coma, and never woken up again—and no one would have been able to save me. I remember chugging down nearly a gallon of juice that morning, terrified of the reality I faced.

I went on to explain the seizure factor of type 1 to my therapist, which is an experience that seems limited, as I have met few other type 1’s who have them like I do, and thus it provides its own unique perspective. I told her of the moments leading up to a seizure.

“I know when I’m going to have one,” I explained. “I am consciously aware that it’s going to happen, that I’ve lost all control, and now there’s nothing that can be done. There is no more juice to drink, nothing I can eat to prevent it. It’s going to happen whether I want it to or not. I am powerless to it.”

The grand mal seizures I’ve had are violent. Over the course of seven years, I’ve bitten through my tongue, knocked my shoulder out of its socket, and even suffered bursting blood vessels, leaving my face a leopard printed purple. Needless to say, they are scary. But I explained what for me is the worst part of them, what for me is scariest.

“I know when I’m going to have them,” I reiterated. “I used to panic. I would get scared. So scared that I would send myself into a panic attack before having one. Then I learned to give into it, to give myself up to it because there’s nothing that can be done.”

What I had to explain to her though, was that I am still awake to see the reaction it evokes in the person or persons witnessing it. I am awake through the tears, through the panicked breaths, through the stammering “It’s okay, it’s going to be okay” while I watch someone I care about try and fail to save me. I am there to witness them recognizing their own powerlessness. I am awake to see the pain and fear I cause. I am awake to see the burden it puts on others. 

“You’ve had a lot of run-ins with death,” she said at this point, sort of wide-eyed and distant. 

“Yeah, I have,” I chuckled. 

Her face changed back to that of concern. “You know, you are very nonchalant about what are really traumatic experiences.” 

To this, I had only one thing to say. The other perspective, the one that I’ve had to adopt since having type 1, is to see the humor in the terrifying, in the tragic. I explained that sometimes you have to laugh at the absurdity of it all, because therein lies your only power. Sometimes you have to just give yourself up to it and recognize that you are for the most part powerless in those moments. This doesn’t mean that you still don’t experience the trauma, but it does mean you understand it in a way that isn’t immediately crippling. 

Our conversation ended around there; fifty minutes gone as if it had only been fifteen.

She’s tasked me with write a letter to type 1 in which I talk about what it is I love about it—this will likely become a blog post of its own soon enough.  

One last thing I really appreciate about this therapist, and something that stood out, is her willingness to admit her lack of understanding, her ignorance to the disease and its myriad complications.

“It might take me awhile to really grasp it,” I remember her saying.

It is its own perspective—one I can certainly appreciate.

In summary, I’m really happy to be back in therapy (a sentence I never thought I’d be saying). I’m happy to know I’m actively trying to sort these things out, rather than trying fix them myself like I have been for years. I’m grateful to be alive.

And today, strange as it may seem, I’m grateful to have type 1.

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