Type-1 diabetes: the early years

If you looked through your school photos, one by one, could you tell the story of your type-1 diabetes?

I can.

And it’s not a pretty story.

The other day my mom packed me a bag of “treasures” she thought I’d want.

In it, was a framed photo of my grade 12 school picture.

The frame was ’90s awful.

And frankly, what was I going to do with an 8×10 picture of me from more than 2 decades ago?

It didn’t exactly fit with the loft decor we have.

My plan was to turf the frame and stuff the picture in a drawer, with full intention of forgetting about it.

But when I pulled the picture out, I discovered several others underneath it – did your parents do this too?

We had representation from grades 4 through 12.

Looking at those pictures, it was my diabetes story – the early years – that I saw more than anything else.

RD Katie Bartel shares the story of her type-1 diabetes early years through the progression of school photos

Photo 1: T1D diagnosis year

A couple weeks before grade 4 started, on Aug. 23, I was diagnosed with type-1 diabetes.

This picture was taken a couple months after that diagnosis, and you can see, in my chubby cheeks, the health regained from the insulin secreting through my blood, allowing for adequate energy uptake.

Photo 2 and 3: The diabulimia years

Folks, I had diabulimia long before diabulimia was even a term.

It didn’t take long after my diagnosis to realize my life wasn’t like that of my friends or siblings.

The novelty of having something new wore of pretty quick for this little chickie.

I did not like that I couldn’t eat what I wanted, when I wanted, or that I had to take needles and no else did.

I did not like that I had no control of what my body was doing.

My way of regaining control was choosing to inject my insulin into my parent’s couches and plants.

Can you see the frailty of me in these pictures?

I spent quite a bit of time in and out of the hospital at 10 and 11 years old as a result of those years.

Photo 4 and 5: The binge years

By the time I was 12, I was no longer restricting my insulin, but I was having significant issues with confidence, and I still struggled in that battle for control.

I turned to binge eating for solace.

I hid under my bed covers eating all the sweets I could find. It didn’t matter what it was: halloween candy, ice cream, cookies, my sibling’s sugared cereal, raw cookie dough, etc., etc.

Anything considered “off limits” I was over indulging.

Heck, I even ate a chunk of Baker’s chocolate in the hopes of satisfying my needs.

Let me tell you, I never did that one more than once!

I remember skulking in the kitchen, eyes roaming everywhere making sure no one was around to see what I was doing, and stuffing foods into the pockets of my oversized jeans, or down my shirt.

I remember feeling incredible amounts of shame every time I did this, and yet, I continued.

Photo 6: Diabetes distress

My confidence in this disease was shattered by the time I was 14.

My HbA1c was above the targets my healthcare team had set for me.

I thought for sure I was going to die a premature death.

And let me tell you, I gave up for periods of a time.

I wanted nothing to do with this disease anymore, and I wanted no one to know that I had type-1 diabetes.

I wanted to be “normal.”

Photo 7, 8, 9: Attempting normal

But everywhere I turned, I felt like my diabetes was constantly on display.

My grades 10, 11, and 12 years were the binge years continued.

These were the years of lying about my daily blood sugars and trying to be “normal” like my peers.

These were the years of tears filled with sadness, anger, and frustration.

They were the unhappy years.

Choosing support

My diabetes story, like so many others in this community, is complicated.

This is not an easy disease.

There are so many ups and downs.

I was lucky, in that when I was ready to leave those years behind, I had an incredible support team in place.

And I still do – both in my personal life and with my chosen healthcare team.

I have spent a great amount of time in my adult years cultivating this team that works so perfectly for me.

And I hope, now that I too am a healthcare professional, to be a support for others in this community.

If you’re struggling, please do reach out at info@katiebartel.ca 🙂

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