Erin Tudryn: Dia-Athlete, My Invisible Illness

When someone is diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes it is a lifelong contract. The moment that your body becomes insulin-dependent is the moment that your life changes forever. I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when I was 9 years old. I was in 3rd grade, losing weight, eating for about two people and had to pee every 20 minutes. To be diagnosed with something that is forever when your life is just beginning is a hard thing to wrap your mind around.

My mom and I were immediately worried that my life would be different –that this diagnosis would make me stand out or disallow me from participating in the activities that everyone else could do. Doctors had to constantly reassure my mom and I that I would still live a normal life. It’s human nature to want to fit in. But now, I was very obviously different. I felt lonely. I felt like no one really understood what I was going through. Even today, that feeling emerges and makes itself known. I didn’t know at the time that this was a life sentence full of sleepless nights, anxiety, loneliness, and extra stress that “normal” people don’t have.

In my short time of being diagnosed, I have been able to see the developments of diabetes medicines and the advancement in technology to try and make the life of every diabetic as “normal” as possible. These developments have led me to have a continuous glucose monitor, CGM (which means I don’t have to prick my finger over five times a day anymore to monitor my blood sugar), and an insulin pump (which constantly gives me insulin in order to maintain a specific blood glucose level).

But, my life still isn’t really normal. While all the gadgets and gizmos make life a lot easier, there are still many days that are hard. Even though I have come to know and understand my diabetes, there are still days that I can’t explain why my blood sugar is fluctuating. The most confusing part of diabetes is that even if you do the same thing every single day, your diabetes will not. Adjusting to the intensity of a collegiate sport was more difficult this year than in years past.

After a long COVID-19 pause, coming back to athletics felt different in so many different ways. Maintaining my diabetes and blood sugar caused more stress and frustration this year than in years past. I was physically and mentally tired. I would go through practices and come off the field feeling defeated and sick. Whether my blood sugar was high or low, I would convince myself that it was my fault, and that I had done something wrong. I ate too much. I ate too little. I took too much insulin. Thoughts of trying to figure out how to regulate my blood sugar overwhelmed me more.

I demanded perfection from myself and when I was taken off the field and couldn’t compete because of my diabetes, I would turn on myself. There were days where I would cry to my (very patient and understanding) athletic trainer. Other days, I would just be angry. Anxiety is one of the symptoms of low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia. But I find my body feeling anxious even after my blood sugar is normalized. Internally, I would question why my body hated itself, and why it couldn’t just be “normal” and cooperate. Even with outside reassurance that I was doing great and that it wasn’t my fault, my internal dialogue was telling me differently. I was telling myself I was out of control, that I had never been this bad. I convinced myself that my teammates hated me because I was sitting out, that they thought I was faking it. Everything that I told myself was a lie.

When faced with a challenge like this, it is often hard to accept that it is out of my control.

I finally began to get into a better flow and my body began to adjust to physical demands that I needed to meet in order to succeed on the field hockey pitch. Having had diabetes for 13 years, there have been so many days where I wish I could just take a break. Sometimes invisible diseases make us feel like outsiders, but I wouldn’t want to be any other way.

All of the mountains that I’ve had to climb throughout my life have made me the person that I am today. Life is not always “normal” and it has taken me a long time to try to stop striving for that. During preseason, I hit a mountain, but the only way to overcome it was to climb up it.

I am so blessed to be where I am today and I owe a lot of who I am to my diabetes. Diabetes has made me stronger, more resilient, independent, and unstoppable. I’ve learned that it’s okay to have setbacks and it is more than okay to take time to figure yourself out. Life is about meeting problems head-on and conquering them. Diabetes has been one of my biggest blessings in this life and I truly would not change it for the world.

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