Real Friends and the Real Me
Making friends is something every child must learn how to do, and for kids with diabetes, it can be one of the hardest and scariest things. I know because I'm 20 years old and have lived with type 1 diabetes for more than 19 of those years.
Certain childhood memories are burned into my mind. One is set on a day in second grade, at recess. I had triumphantly climbed the steps to the slide and was preparing to fly down its slope, when a boy from my class yelled sarcastically up to me, "Go, diabetic girl!" I was astounded. I thought I had hidden my disease so well from other kids. This proved I was wrong.
As I grew older, I tried to hide my disease even better. I didn't want to appear weak, so I faked who I was and tried too hard to fit in. Yet, as it turns out, it was the people I didn't fake it with who became my best friends.
Michelle is one of them. In fifth grade, she invited me to a sleepover at her house; all of our friends were going to be there. My first sleep-over—I was so excited! After spending much of the night wide awake and gossiping, I awoke the next morning not feeling right. It was the same disoriented, weak, grumpy feeling that I had often had, only worse. Stumbling into Michelle's kitchen and ripping open the refrigerator in search of sugar, I must have looked like a horror-movie monster. Michelle found me and got her mother, who gave me a Popsicle and called my mom. Five minutes later, the Popsicle came back up on Michelle's living-room floor.
I didn't really know what was going on at the time, but my mom scolded me later for not taking care of myself. Despite her concern, as a teenager I completely stopped checking my blood sugars, thinking I could just forget about diabetes and move on. I lost weight, got headaches every day, and vomited often. When I made time to check, my blood glucose was always in the 500s. I didn't want to acknowledge my problem or my diabetes.
Finally, at 16, I went to see an endocrinologist, who put me on an insulin pump. It transformed my life. Control became so much easier, and I was able to do the things I wanted and feel healthy. It helped inspire me to be completely honest about my diabetes when I started a new chapter in life: college.
Today, my diabetes is in control. When I first e-mailed my college roommate Andrea, I didn't hide from her who I was. I told her all about myself, with diabetes near the top of the list. Now we are best friends.
I've learned that being honest leads me to real friends who want to help me. I take care of my diabetes, no matter who sees me. It's brought me better health—and stronger friendships.
Haylea Parks is a junior at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Ark., where she is majoring in journalism.