If you scroll down in this post, you’re going to see a topless/nearly naked picture of me, as well as a few others that show quite a bit of skin. They are meant to challenge you to think about what I’m about to write. Please read first, then scroll if you want (but do not scroll if you think mostly nude photos of me will offend you).
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 10. It meant that, at the age of 10, my body was no longer my own. It became the property of diabetes, of medicine, of science, of the devices it takes to keep me alive.
When I was first diagnosed and still in the intensive care unit, every part of my body was poked and prodded. I ended up with an IV in one of my jugular veins because none of the rest of my veins were stable enough to support a line. My clothes had been ripped off my body to make it more accessible to save. My necklace had been cut from throat so it didn’t get in the way. My body was just that – a body to save. Not a person. Not my own.
From that moment forward, I saw my body as separate from myself. It is something I must take care of, the only vessel I have to navigate around this planet, but it’s not been ME since my diagnosis.
From the age of 11, my endocrinologists started lifting up my shirt and unbuttoning my pants to check that my body appeared to be developing as it should. The endocrine system, which diabetes affects, also affects human development, but I didn’t really understand that at the time. I just knew it made me uncomfortable, so I detached. If my body wasn’t my own, there was nothing to be uncomfortable about. It was medicine. It was science. It wasn’t me.
Any time I’ve had to switch back over to shots from my insulin pump, or add in a new medicine taken via syringes, my detachment must move to a higher level. The needles always leave little bruises in their wake – along my thighs, arms, and stomach. When I change out my insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor sites, they leave bumps and scars. If I internalized it, all I would see is a battlefield.
The hardest thing, though – oddly – is the feeling that I never get to be fully naked.
On a date when I was in my early 20s, we ended up in a park at night, in the rain. It was late spring – warm, slightly humid, and late enough that we were the only ones there. My date dared me to take my clothes off and run in the rain. It’s not shyness that held me back, or fear that anything would happen to me. It was the fact that I knew my insulin pump would still be attached, so naked wouldn’t equal free. I was still tethered.
I hated that I couldn’t be that free spirit. I hate that, when I get out of bed in the morning, my insulin pump comes swinging after me unless I remember to grab it first. I hate that I am always at least in shorts because I need a pocket to put my pump in. I hate that when I run, my insulin pump pulls my pants down (no matter how tight of a pair I’ve shimmied into). I hate that people stare at the continuous glucose monitor on my arm instead of just asking me about it. I hate that I can’t wear a dress without thinking about where my pump would go.
These are things that should seem small. I am lucky to have these devices, and I am lucky that they are no longer the backpacks of 30 years ago. But they are still always there and despite their small profiles, they manage to pack on such a weight.
I get asked a lot what a cure would mean for me. It would be nice to be able to eat what and when I want, but I’m honestly glad that diabetes has taught me how to nourish my body properly. It would be nice to not have to calculate carbs and insulin doses, but I’ve been doing that in my head for two decades – it’s not exactly a burden anymore. It would be nice to not have to deal with needles, which I hate, but they don’t usually hurt. They’re just reminders. More than anything, I think not having type 1 diabetes would mean finally being able to reclaim my body as my own.
In the pictures below, you may see a naked body. You may see tattoos or curves or whatever else your eyes are drawn to, but I see the devices that keep me alive. My insulin pump, that I’ve rarely been without since I was 11. My continuous glucose monitor, that will wake me up in the middle of the night if my blood sugar is trending in a way that could end in a seizure. I’ve not been without some sort of device on my body 24/7 since December 10, 1998. That’s what I see when I look at these. Lack of freedom.
I can share these pictures with ease because, to me, my body is not my own. There is a certain level of grief that comes with acknowledging that. But these pictures are, in a way, helping me reclaim it. Thank you for coming along on that journey.