by Amelia Lee
As I prepare for my sixth conference, I reflect on the first Students with Diabetes (SWD) conference I attended. I had just finished my senior year of high school and was preparing to leave home to attend The University of Alabama. I was a few months shy of my 8th diaversary. At the time, I dealt with diabetes as part of my life and didn’t give it much thought. I never really cared about what my blood sugar was or if I was covering for the right amount of carbs; I cared more about not being a burden to those around me. Diabetes was just an annoyance I put up with since it was never going away. I was not good at taking care of my diabetes, but I was not bad enough for it to raise concern with my doctor.
At the beginning of my senior year of high school, I was placed in the hospital for DKA. This was the first time I had been back to the hospital for my diabetes since my diagnosis seven years prior. It was a huge wake-up call. I switched doctors and finally found someone who helps me truly understand diabetes and helped explain the consequences of poor control. She helped me find the best way to manage my diabetes. While I was still not the best at monitoring, I was getting better. It was this doctor who suggested the Students with Diabetes National Conference. I was told I would be the youngest there but it would be helpful to go. I would be lying if I said it was my choice to go, it was my parents who forced me to go.
The first conference did not take place in the nice hotels it does now; we were placed into the University of South Florida (USF) dorms. I cried to my mom the entire twenty-minute drive out to USF about not wanting to go and not wanting to be in a new situation. I was never really involved with the diabetes community and at that time, I had no interest in joining. I showed up an hour late to the conference, which was noticeable since there were only 25 people attending the conference. Most of these people seemed to be the “seemingly perfect diabetics” who had everything in control.
My mom told me I had to make it one night and I could leave on Saturday if I wanted; I stayed the entire weekend. It was my suitemates that made me want to stay. After going back to our rooms after dinner and the sessions, my suitemates and I started openly talking about our disease. We talked about how high our A1cs were, how we hide our diabetes from others and how we hated the disease. I needed this honesty and to know I wasn’t alone in struggling with my disease. We spent most of the night talking about how we could not relate to the people who were in control and how none of us wanted to be at the conference. The weekend was spent bonding together over the disease and how we personally dealt with the disease.
I was finally beginning to feel normal. I wasn’t the only one who hated this disease so much that I just didn’t care for it. I wasn’t the only one who was high most of the time. I wasn’t the only one who hid my disease. This is what I needed. Most of the people with diabetes who openly talk about the disease are often in control and do not understand all of the struggles people not in control face. Luckily, I was able to find the people who struggled just like I did. These were the people I was able to connect with and share.
All of us still talk with each other about the struggles we face and how to overcome it. These are the people I can turn to when I’m having a bad day and no one else can understand. They are the ones who understand the joys of finally having your numbers in range. We have all come a long way since that first conference and are now better in control of our diabetes.
While most of the outspoken people at the SWD conference do seem to manage their diabetes almost perfectly, there are many who are struggling with the disease. The conference is a chance to meet others just like you, whether you are in control of diabetes or you still struggle with diabetes. I did not want to go to the conference at all six years ago, but now I refuse to miss it. It is a weekend to feel normal and feel like you are not alone in dealing with your disease. It is the opportunity to meet others just like you, who can relate to you when you complain about how an injection hurts or how many times you have to check your blood sugar.
Don’t miss this chance to make new friends who will always be there!