Thriving while progressive chronic illness does its thing.

My Fairy Godmother

I’ve been trying to get back to writing for a while now. Each time I ventured near the computer with the notion of writing in mind, the sheer magnitude of emotions blocked my way, creating not so much as a writer’s block but a bottle neck. There was too much for any of it to come out. 

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I try today to write for the first time in a few months – whether I will finish this post or not, it’s the closest I’ve come. Last week I saw a new psychiatrist who was so smart and gentle in his observations about my defenses that I couldn’t help but feel. I told him about the events of the last year while at the same time actually feeling the grief that accompanied them. Grief I only knew about in theory but had yet to express in any whole sense. Yet I sat there for over an hour, with my feelings connecting to the words connecting to the stories of my recent challenges. I’ve been staggering out the door ever since I left five days ago. I’ve felt depressed, relieved, scared, excited, most of all more whole. Shattered but still whole fits well for this experience. 

I think it unclogged the bottle neck a bit. I want to write about my one of my favorite parts of the psych ward after my suicide attempt. 

The psych ward is full of rules. The one that I resisted to the hardest was that I couldn’t control my own diabetes. It took me some time to realize it was probably mainly because of how easily and invisibly I could harm myself with that control. But after months of hospitalizations in which the doctors made special notes in my chart (I’m used to special notes. I got a special note in my pediatric diabetes clinic that I could go to clinic visits without my parents before I turned 18 – against clinic policy – because they were so scared of my mother, and my mother did not “allow” my father to take me because he did not take notes. I had a similar note in high school when my senior year advisor told me he was too scared of my mother to have a parent-teacher conversation. Why none of these special notes were calls to CPS, I can only chalk up to race and class bias and denial.) that I should manage my own diabetes because it was too hard to manage with my gastroparesis and they saw quickly that I knew my body best and could keep the control the tightest – this was not an easy sell for me. I panicked. I could talk cheerfully about my mind state while swallowing a bottle of oxycodone, but when they wouldn’t let me take my correction for my high blood sugar, I broke down and sobbed and yelled. I drove the nursing staff crazy, constantly asking for them to let me check my blood sugar and make more nuanced insulin dosage adjustments. They quickly pathologized my need for control; I think they were partly right to but also did not understand how my gastroparesis impacted my diabetes management.

But like any child throwing a tantrum, eventually I was too tired. I gave in. And besides, I couldn’t stand having the nurses dislike me. My people-pleasing began to override my diabetes anxiety. I even got to the point where the nurses had to come remind me to come to the meds window to get my blood sugar checked. The passive voice! Regarding diabetes management! And this says it all.

I became passive about my diabetes management. They want to control it? Okay, I figured, I’ll be obedient, subservient, and grateful for everything whether I wanted it or not. And soon, I began to want most of it. When I was working to suppress my need to tell the nurses what to do I had to try to get myself to stop thinking about my diabetes. As I did, I found a freedom I’d never experienced. From the day I left the hospital after diagnosis, the responsibility was all mine and no one else’s. I never knew what it was like to leave the constant mental notes and reminders up to someone else’s mind – and it was so much easier! 

But the real magic happened at night. The 2am blood sugar checks. Always advised, yet never done. My parents never woke up to check my sugars at night, though it is standard for parents to do so for diabetic kids. I occasionally would set an alarm to check but stopped a long time ago. Now, I just do it when I wake up anyway to go to the bathroom, and besides my CGM does the job for me.

At the psych ward, a fairy god-mother-esque nurse would come into my room and tenderly test my blood sugar while trying not to wake me. She was chubby and smiley and looked like such a mom. She tried not to wake me and I made sure to wake up – to soak in her warmth and tender love and kindness. We smiled wide smiles at each other. She’d whisper a soft “hi sweetie, I’m sorry to wake you, go back to sleep” and I’d speak out an animated “thank you SO much! have a good rest of your night!” hoping that she’d keep coming back and feeling at some level that if I showed enough gratitude she’d feel good, too, about our nighttime rendez–vous and keep coming.

I loved going to back to sleep feeling that someone cared enough about me to do all of this in the middle of the night, not try to make me feel guilty for her having to do it, and even feeling bad that she awoke me! It was the best kind of snuggle back to sleep. The most exciting night was when I was low in the night – so she had to come back and bring me juice and then retest me. We spent lots more minutes together that night. And oh, how she cooed over me with sympathy that I had a low blood sugar and wasn’t feeling well. Oh, it was exhilarating. 

My last morning on the ward, I was sitting on a couch in the hallway filling out my survey about my experience at the hospital. She walked past me and saw the telltale sign of a discharge and said, “Oh! You’re leaving? Congratulations!” I had never seen nor talked to her by light of day. But I recognized her frame and smile. “Yes, I am! Thank you for everything you’ve done for me.” 

“You know it’s funny, I always tell the other night staff about how sweet you are. I say ‘if someone woke me up every night to prick my finger with a needle I would not be so friendly towards them!'”

Oh, I didn’t know where to begin. “I – I – I’m so grateful you did that. No one’s ever done that for me before. It made me feel so… cared for.”

“That makes a lot of sense. I’d said to myself, ‘she seems almost happy to see me when I wake her up’ but I figured that couldn’t be true.”

It couldn’t have been more true. One of the most poignant moments in my entire life was in the psych ward when the nurse came to wake me up to prick my finger with a needle in the middle of the night.  Alice MIller says that we cannot begin to work on knowing and healing our true selves until we can tap into a part of ourselves that knows what traumas we suffered as a child and feel “sympathy for the neglected, abused, or even battered child they had been once.”


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