Type 1 Diabetes and the Impossibility of Independence

The following is an excerpt from Susan Baumgartner’s upcoming book, Diabetes Warriors, a guided journal for people with Type 1 diabetes. This excerpt has been slightly modified for clarity.

My parents were strong, hard-working people from the American Midwest. They were born in 1925, right into the effects of the Great Depression, and reached maturity through and beyond World War II. They lived and breathed the ideal of American Independence.

Despite their exposure in later years to other thoughts and ways cultivated in the 1960s and beyond, I learned a very important “fact” from them as I grew up: it’s important to take care of yourself. “God helps those who help themselves.” could be their ideal slogan. Show weakness in body, mind or religion and you’re clearly failing. They always put their donations in to the church and Salvation Army to help others who were “in need,” but when it came to their own concerns, “needing” was a mark they didn’t want to carry. The less other people knew, the better.

I knew no better as a child. I would do almost anything to avoid attention. In 2nd grade, I tried to escape the classroom early one Friday without telling my teacher. With a mouth filling with blood, I’d rather attempt to hide than tell her that I had ripped out a tooth and was not doing so well.

I fight that urge to hide to this day.

Eventually, the person who became an expert on remaining quietly in the background became a Diabetic Warrior.

At first, I tried to keep up the facade when I was first diagnosed. I read tons of information. I attempted to assemble the perfect plan for myself. I looked at healthcare professionals as resource material and not as partners. I was their patient and would be the most attentive and responsive patient they ever had.

Share struggles with family and friends? Look for a support system? Ask for help? No. Never. Nada.

I was independent.

In truth, I was ignorant. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was exhibiting a fixed mindset. Don’t get me wrong – being determined that life is one way, can get you through a ton of stuff. However, many things have happened to me over the years, and countless lessons have been presented to me to learn that there’s another way.

It’s been the hardest schooling I’ve ever had, and I am still enrolled. Not listening to my fears. Looking outward. Risking everything by speaking. By asking. I still squirm from the anxiety, but I go on. It wasn’t until I was a parent that the evolution I am experiencing was given an official name: I am developing a growth mindset.

Life is both variable and firmly united. Once I started embracing that, my inner strength grew. The more I lean on others, the more my own abilities expand. I’m physically, mentally, and spiritually in places I never thought possible for me.

We’re far richer depending on each other.

Right now, what are your fears? What builds that anxious wall inside? Who can you count on? Who makes you feel the most hopeful? Understanding the answers to those last two questions can make the first two much lighter burdens to bear if we let them.

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Susan Baumgartner was diagnosed with T1D in 1994 and moved to Wisconsin 4 years later with her husband and 3 cats. She is the author of a guided journal for teachers called Dear Teachers. She is currently working on a similar book for those with diabetes.

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