Tegan McEntire, University of Georgia CDN Chapter (Dawgs 4 Diabetes)
What. A. Week.
25+ unique individuals together because of one common link...type 1 diabetes.
When I received an email containing the link to apply for the CDN Retreat, I originally ignored it.
It wasn’t until I received an email from Dawgs For Diabetes, UGA’s CDN Chapter, stating that the deadline had been extended, that I actually decided to apply.
To be honest, I didn’t think I would be chosen to go. I’m not in Chapter leadership and my involvement thus far in CDN hasn’t been anything more than mediocre. I’ve always struggled with accepting my T1D. If it were up to me, 90% of the time I would go about my day as if I didn’t even have it until it was a life or death situation. It’s hard...SO hard to be constantly surrounded by people who get to eat every meal not thinking twice about how it’s going to make them feel, or people that can be spontaneous, or even just go to sleep at night peacefully knowing they are going to wake up tomorrow morning and not be sick from forgetting to inject before bed.
I love my friends. I love my support system. But, truthfully, it’s not always enough. The only T1Ds before this week that I could even ever talk with about how much it absolutely sucked was my dad and my grandmother. Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful to have them...however, I have always been missing that, “I get EXACTLY what you are going through” feeling that I can only get from other kids my age.
When I first arrived in Boston and got on the van to head to Maine, the shy, elementary school version of myself was panicking. Why did I think the guy picking me up (who I had been emailing ever since the beginning) would be some 65 year old man? Why was no one talking? Why was no one mentioning how MISERABLY hot the van was? Who even were these people?! This feeling only got worse after the 3 hour car ride into Maine. In fact, I spent the first 2 hours at the house trying to come up with reasons to have my parents fly me home early. But, something changed after dinner. After some very painful icebreakers, I felt like this was going to be a good thing for me. No one asked me my sugar at dinner, then asked 1 million questions about what it meant. No one called me out for taking a shot in front of them, or acted queasy because they hate needles...in other words, no one judged me for any part of what allowed me to eat dinner. THEY WERE ALL DOING THE SAME THING. Woah.
I never realized how influential being surrounded by people who truly get it would be. On a good day last semester, I checked my blood sugar once, maybe twice. During the retreat, I probably checked 10 times a day. I was on top of it because every single person around me was also on top of it. My sugars were running high on the 3rd day and despite by best efforts, I couldn’t get them to come down. So, on break, I took a 2 hour nap. No one asked me why I needed a nap or why I wasn’t hanging out outside with them. No one thought I was just “blaming everything on my diabetes”. When I said I took a nap because I had been high, I was met with many accepting nods and understanding faces.
Every staff member, every guest speaker, every CDN partner, every fellow student, made this week one of the best weeks of my life to date. I learned that I am not alone, that we all share the same fears, worries, and emotions, that it’s okay to not be a “perfect diabetic” all the time, and that I will always have a family in CDN. By Thursday afternoon I found myself sobbing on the phone with my mom because I couldn’t stomach the idea of leaving this fairytale-like world I had been living in for the last week. I wasn’t ready to go back to uncomfortable stares, people who physically can’t understand what I am going through, group dinners where everyone doesn’t have to check their sugar and take insulin, or people that can’t grasp what high or low blood sugars ACTUALLY do to my emotions/feelings. I wanted to stay forever, which is surprising for me...I always want to come home, no matter where I am.
Despite my emotional breakdown over leaving, I’m at peace. I know that no matter where I am or what I do, I now have an amazing additional support system that accepts me for who I am, what my a1c is, and all my highs and lows (figuratively and literally). The relationships that I formed this week will always and forever hold a special place in my heart. I feel empowered. I feel recharged. I feel passionate about advocating for diabetes. I feel whole.
So, thank you CDN for this amazing opportunity. Thank you for embracing me and all my quirks. Thank you for believing in me. Thank you for educating me and reigniting my passion for the future of healthcare. Thank you for giving me the refresher I needed to feel motivated again to take care of myself. Thank you for loving me and giving me 25+ new friends.
Thank you for everything from the bottom of my heart. I love you all infinitely.
Editor's note: This blog was crossposted from Tegan's blog, Not Everyone's Type. Check it out here!