Not A Weakness

Growing up, I thought it was a weakness to have to worry about one’s weight; I thought it was the person’s own fault for not being trim.  Everyone should have been able to overcome that “weakness” in one way or another.  At least that’s what I thought until something very unexpected happened.  Two months before I left for my freshman year at Furman University, I was forced to welcome this “weakness” with open arms, whether I liked it or not.  I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.  On Wednesday 18 June 2008, I went to the doctor for a check up so that she could sign papers saying that I was healthy and could live in on-campus housing.  After getting blood drawn and getting a couple of shots, I left the appointment to get my usual reward for putting up with needles: ice cream.  But this time, I didn’t go for a small ice cream cone or frozen yogurt; I wanted to try out something my friends had been talking about recently, a Chick-Fil-A milkshake.  I think I got strawberry.  I came home and started practicing my violin (my plan was to major in music) and got a call from the doctor at about 5 or 6pm saying my blood sugar was so high that the meter couldn’t read it (which meant it was over 500), my A1c was 16.5%, and there were way too many ketones in my urine.  All the numbers she threw at me over the phone made absolutely no sense whatsoever.  Was 500 a bad number?  I guessed so, since she was suggesting I go to the Emergency Room immediately.  How on earth was the random number 16.5 related to all of this?  And what were ketones?  (Actually, to tell you the truth, even now I can’t tell you what they are.  Time to look it up myself.)  And what did urine have to do with blood and the sugar that was in my blood?

Anyway, my mother and I drove to the ER and, without my spunky nurse-aunt, we would have waited in the waiting room for hours.  She showed up and used all the authority she had and more to get me out of the waiting room and into the ER.  If you haven’t met her, she’s pretty amazing.  The triage nurse checked my blood sugar again.  Now, if it was over 500 at the doctor’s office before the milkshake, what was it gonna be now?  Yup.  709.  Yeesh.  And… the rest of the story is pretty boring.  I spent two days in the hospital, got my blood drawn about ten times in those two days, came out with a nasty yellowish purple bruise on one arm from a nurse who tried to draw blood from the same spot twice in a row, and I left the hospital with my blood sugar in the 300s.  The doctors didn’t want it to come down too quickly.  Slower was safer.

For all of you who, like me six years ago, didn’t understand all the numbers I just threw out, let me explain a bit.  A non-diabetic’s blood sugar ranges from 80-105 (gosh, that must feel amazing to always be in that range!).  So, yes, 709 was really high.  They said I should have been in a coma, but I was talking and walking and feeling fine, or so I thought.  An A1c is related to your average blood sugar for the past three months (although your blood sugar from the previous two weeks affects that A1c a little more than the the previous ten weeks).  The A1c number is the percentage of the hemoglobin in your blood that is coated with sugar.  Basically, a good A1c is 7% or lower.  An A1c of 16.5% put me at an average of 427 for the three months before diagnosis.  Who knows what my A1c was before March 18.  And the ketones?  Again, no idea.  All I know is that they’re bad.  I’m sorry to be so vague; I just remember the important things… I can’t remember every detail, nor can I remember every body part connected to diabetes and the endocrine system and how they all work.  Memorization of anything without the help of music has never been my strong suit.

It is amazing how, when something comes on slowly, you hardly notice it, but when it’s lifted quickly, you can feel the affects so easily.  I believe my pancreas started slowing on its insulin production around Christmas of 2007.  I remember getting much more thirsty around Christmas and continually drinking more and more of everything the following semester.  I drank tons of tea, orange juice, milk, lemonade, water, more milk, more lemonade, more tea.  I never quite stopped the constant tea drinking.  I have several mugs of tea every day, even during the hottest months of the year.  I also lost a lot of weight that spring.  During high school, I normally weighed between 114 and 120 pounds, but when I was diagnosed, I weighed 111.  I looked frighteningly skinny, as if my bones would fall in because there wasn’t enough skin or muscle to stretch around them all.  Observe the photo below and judge for yourself.  Another side-effect of my constant high blood sugars was that I peed all the time.  This may be more information than you asked for, but that’s medicine for you.  I had a 32-ounce Nalgene bottle that I brought to school every day.  I probably drank all the way through it five times each day between 8am and 2:40pm.  And then I would barely make it through a 50-minute class without going to the bathroom.  And finally, because of these terribly bad blood sugars, I was constantly tired.  I took a nap every single day after school, had to drag myself out of bed in the morning, and barely had the energy to practice violin.  During the first semester of my senior year in high school, I practiced several hours every single day to prepare for my auditions.  I thankfully got into my first-choice school in December.  But when the second semester rolled around, I barely ever wanted to practice.  It may have been because I was already accepted into Furman and therefore didn’t feel the need to practice as much, or it may have been because it was my senior year and I wanted to make the most of it hanging out with friends.  Those are the reasons I told myself all semester.  I felt awful coming into my lesson every week unprepared.  But I think a major reason why I was so unmotivated and lazy about my violin practicing was my blood sugar.  Consistently high blood sugars make you sluggish.  The more sugar that is in your blood, the thicker your blood gets.  So, higher blood sugars means your heart has to work extra hard to pump molasses-like blood through your body.

Scary Skinny

So now it is 2014.  I have had Type 1 Diabetes for six years, but not until this year have I wanted to really talk about it.  I was never ashamed to tell people that I have diabetes, but for some reason the idea of joining a support group or going to a diabetes camp never appealed to me.  I wanted to be normal and not hang around other diabetics all the time and talk about diabetes with them all the time.  I wanted diabetes to be a disease I had and dealt with on the side, on my own, while I did all the normal things normal people do.  But this year I realized how wonderful it can be to know other diabetics and talk about diabetes.  I want to get involved and make a difference in this world as a diabetic.  There are a lot of amazing things happening in the science world to improve life for diabetics and I want to support that research.  I get so excited every time I meet another Type 1 Diabetic and I want to help the diabetics around me by being there for them to talk about frustrations or joys, and to work out problems and find solutions.  I have my own ideas of how to improve the world of diabetes through a website and mobile app that I hope will take flight sooner rather than later.

That’s the happy, motivational stuff.  Here’s the not-so-happy truth.

(Excuse me while I take a few deep breaths.)

Oh, Good Lord ‘a’ mercy!  I don’t want to put this on the internet.  But I told myself that I must.  And so I will.

I began this post by talking about weight and how I considered it a weakness.  Well, six years later, I still consider it a weakness in the back of my head.  I know very well that it is NOT a weakness, but still it feels like one to me.  On 18 June 2008, I weighed 111 pounds.  Since then, I have gained 45 pounds.  You do the math.  Now, the first twenty I gained within the first twelve to eighteen months.  Part of that was good weight – getting back to where I should be and always was until diabetes happened – and part of it I like to think was Freshman Fifteen.  But since freshman year, I have gained almost five pounds a year.  Gained, lost some, then gained back more.  As I said before, I want to learn to open up.  This might be the hardest thing I have ever opened up about.  I feel as though I should and will be judged based upon my weight, but I must remind myself daily that no one should be judged based on that fact.  It does not change who they are inside and still beauty can shine through on the outside, whether they weigh 120 pounds or 320 pounds.  I don’t want to be judged.  I don’t think I will be judged.  In any case, I refuse to accept judgement on this account.

What I have learned in the past six years is that there are many, many factors to weight-gain.  Some of them may be related to the subject’s habits: over-indulgence or under-exercise.  Some may be from outside sources that really need to be controlled: misinformation or lack of good foods.  And some may be from uncontrollable outside sources, like disease or injury.

And so I hope that this truth here encourages some of you.  Struggling with your weight is not a weakness and should not be hidden.  And, therefore, since I have un-hidden it myself, I challenge you all to unmask the subject too.  Talk about it and keep each other accountable.  Yes, I am asking you to keep me accountable.  If I ever want to stop gaining five pounds a year and if I ever want to lose those pounds to get back to a better weight (not just to look more trim – although that will be very nice – but also because it will be better for my health and for my diabetes in the long-run), I cannot do it alone.  I need you.

Bridesmaid Buddies at a recent wedding


Read from the beginning:


16 thoughts on “Not A Weakness

  1. Bravo, Betsy.
    In our “Reality TV” driven society – has begun both the subtle -and overt -frantic quest for PERFECTION, especially when it ones to appearance…every stage and every age has fallen prey to this.
    It’s exhausting, depressing, and..Unattainable – of course.
    Thank you for your courage, and for the compass of oerspective your blog gifted us with!
    Write on 😉
    Mrs. McCain


  2. It has been an honor to begin this journey with you and watch you blossom into the beautiful woman God has created you to be. I feel the joy of the Lord around you, and I also feel your desire to make a difference in this world. Both of those things are like a magnet and draw me to you.
    I completely understand not wanting to be judged by your body size. I think I’m the same size as everyone else, until I see a photo of me in a group. Whoa! I had no idea I was that much smaller. Strangers in an elevator stare at me, giggle, then boldly ask me “How tall are you?”. Really? Would you like to know my name first?!
    You have a beautiful spirit that only shines brighter in the light of truth! Nothing grows well in the dark. I love you. Keep writing.


  3. I learnt so much more about diabetes reading that Betsy, and it meant so much more because it was your story than if I’d been trying to read a science paper! Thank you for opening up and expressing yourself so honestly.


  4. Pingback: Pretty Ring, Pretty Finger, Pretty Single | Soar with Laughter

    • No, I like to be an easy-to-feed guest too much to be vegan or only eat raw foods. Even with the diabetes, if I am visiting someone or eating another person’s food they’ve prepared for me, I don’t like to impose a low-carb diet on them. But when I’m eating at home, I already eat pretty low-carb meals, so taking out meats, dairy, or cooked food would majorly limit my available foods and I’d probably have to take vitamin and iron supplements. I’d much rather get all my necessary vitamins, etc. from actual food than from pills. But it mainly boils down to the fact that I like food too much to limit other things on top of the limited carbs. Thanks for the suggestion, though.


      • But you SHOULDN’T limit carbs! Carbs are life, that’s what our cells run on, and limiting them will only make your body crave them and then store the fat once you finally give it what it needs… I did not believe it until it happened to me too. But I did not try to limit carbs once I had gained weight, and now it’s slowly going away! I would suggest you make your own research. I said low fat in my first comment but now I have changed my mind, whole fat sources like avocados, coconut, olives, nuts and seeds are so important especially for women (and better than the refined, pure-fat oil form). It’s all about listening to what you actually WANT to eat and eating it and being patient and confident but vegan is usually much healthier. Hopefully there isn’t a thing that you can’t find veganized! Now that I’m kind of vegan I can’t believe I used to think it was restrictive… But I completely understand that you don’t want to be annoying when you go out or when you are invited, and I think you are right not to be stressed over food, that’s cool! I’m just suggesting you check some delicious vegan recipes and play more and more with it, I’m sure you won’t regret it 🙂
        Please do some research though cause you seem quite misinformed regarding the nutritional aspects of veganism (no offence really!!) as vitamins are contained mostly in fruits and vegetables, for example… And for iron, look up blackstrap molasses! If that’s not “actual food”… 🙂


      • Hi Lea, Thanks for your comments. If you like being vegan, bravo; that’s great. I simply have no desire to be vegan myself; I like meat and dairy too much to give them up. As for carbohydrates, I am saying we should limit the amount of carbohydrates we eat, not take them out of our diet all together. If we ate no carbs at all, we would be stuck with eating only meat, cheese, and eggs (without the majority of sauces and flavorings), and that is definitely not a balanced diet! But limiting the amount of carbs (and fat) we eat – and eating more “good” carbs (like those that come from produce or whole grains) than “bad” (like the carbs that come from straight up sugar or white bread) – is an excellent way of managing one’s weight. Everyone will probably have a different number that works for them, but for me, I consider a meal where I eat more than 30 grams of carbs to be a high-carb meal. As a maximum amount of carbs, I like to stick to one or one-and-a-half servings of carbs per meal, so 15-25-ish grams at each meal. But if I can possibly eat less carbs than that while also keeping the meal healthy (including produce (especially non-starchy vegetables) and low-fat protein), then I consider that to be a victory. This is simply what has worked for me, but to each his (or her) own. As you said, completely refusing yourself the foods that you crave is not a good idea either. If I do that, when I finally get the chance to eat what I have been denying myself, then I go crazy and eat way too much of it… So, like Ellen Degeneres often says, “Everything in moderation.” Hope this is helpful. Thanks again for your comments!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s