I found some photos of you today. Your mother showed them to me after she rediscovered the scrapbooks she lovingly created of family life as you and your brothers were growing up. As I flicked through the cataloged memories I came across a few of you. You don't know me, but one day - in say, 27 years or so - our paths will cross. Our journeys are intertwined my friend, and I have some things I wanted to say to you.
You are three-and-a-half in this photo and what you lack in arms you more than make up for in undeniable sweetness. You are cute as a button and starting to learn it. You are knee-high to a grass-hopper and so very 'new' in comparison to the world you live in. Your wisps of golden brown hair are still delicate enough to be highlighted under the glow of the Summer sun. You are learning to pose for the camera and are sporting your own version of the Baywatch bikini. You are working it, kiddo.
You are healthy, happy and care-free - as every little girl should be.
It is Christmas Eve 1986 in Germany now, and you are four years old. You have inexplicable taste in clothing colour-schemes and your parents have clearly favoured the beginnings of a mullet as your hairstyle of the moment. I'm sorry, I'm not here to help you with this but to deliver the message that it will make a fantastic conversation piece in a place called 'the Pub', a few years down the line. You're friends will love it.
It is a special night because tomorrow is Christmas morning; the morning every child lives for. But you are also tired. It is an alien tiredness - one that doesn't come from playing too long or running too far. It consumes you.
For you, this night will change the course of your life forever. Because tonight, in just a few hours time, you will be taken to hospital, somewhat aptly named 'the ill house' in German, where you will be diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
I am sorry. A million times, I am sorry. Your parents had already been told this was a possibility at the start of the week but were sent home to play the waiting game. They don't yet know what this truly means but they won't have to wait any longer. Tonight, on Wednedsay, December 24th, 1986, diabetes arrived.
I wish I could make you understand that it's not your fault - you didn't do anything wrong. And I am not here to take it away - I wish I could. But that too would change the course of your life. It would take you away from what you will become, which - red bikini, mullet and all - is something you can be proud of. What I can do is give you a 'heads up' from somewhere down the line. I can make a you a promise; that everything will be OK.
The man helping you light that candle is your father. He and your mother will do battle with diabetes, armed only with insulin, syringes and urine testing strips to keep you safe, with a conviction only they and other parents can possibly understand. They rule your diabetes with an iron fist and walk the perilously narrow tightrope between 'too low' and 'freaking high!' on an hourly basis, because have been warned of what can happen to you if they don't. The threats they have been given are too much for you to bear so for now, they carry that burden alone. They will make it a big enough part of your life that you take it seriously, and a small enough part that it doesn't become something that defines you. Quite rightly, you have no idea how hard they work to keep you care-free. Your mother will continue to embrace you, console you, encourage you and challenge you to do the best that you can in your diabetes care, forever. Even when you have moved away and turned your back on the home she once made for you, she will offer you her warmth to help cradle you from the hurt diabetes can cause. Never stop saying 'Thank you', even though she doesn't ask.
You are eight, and you have now lived as many years with diabetes as you did without it. You no longer live in Germany, having moved 'home' to England at age 7. You have started school and now holiday with your father in Germany in the Summers, choosing to spend most of your time with your friend, Davina. You have known her since you were both six months old, your birthdays only a matter of days apart. You have also developed a nasty habit of faking hypos in front of Davina, because the attention she gives you makes you feel special. Davina is courageous, bright and ever-devoted to you. When she sees you go hypo she wraps her arms around you, flags down strangers for help and runs to get your brothers. You can still recall her being at the end of the table in Kindergarten when the medic had to treat you. That hypo was very real, very frightening and she was there - I can remember her hand on your foot. Be warned that your hypos - the real ones - also frighten her. You will grow to be ashamed of this and the first time you have the courage to admit it to anyone, will be in a blog post on the anniversary of your diagnosis. But I forgive you, Anna. I know that you are confused, immature and in many ways, still hurting. I also know that this friendship will endure. To this day she remains your friend. You still write her letters (although they are called 'emails' these days) and every time you see her she welcomes you with her kind, warm arms. Be grateful for her.
You are 11 now and making your way up to secondary school. Over the next few years you will begin to take control of your diabetes yourself; administering insulin, doing blood tests and taking hypo treatments. You have stopped faking hypos. But in this part of your journey you will begin your troubled relationship with food - one which will stay with you until a time I have not yet seen. The tight ship that your parents sailed when you were a child means that you have escaped all complications and appear to be carrying that on. But you now have a focus on food that secretly hides compulsion and anger. You will feel the darkness of depression. You will hate yourself at times because you use others as your yardstick.
This. Will. Not. Do.
Your weight will swing, as will your focus on health. You will lose weight in your teens by over-exercising and under-eating, and you will dabble briefly with slimming pills. But in your late 20s you will turn a corner. You will learn how to exercise safely with diabetes and you will begin to understand just how and why your battle with weight is so much more complex than someone without your condition. Eventually, you will stand in front of 70 people and tell them about your journey. In this moment, you will feel only pride.
You will also meet a girl at school. A girl named Lauren. Your friendship with Lauren, as with Davina, will be one that endures. You will see highs and lows, share heartache and joy and eventually when you are 31, she will ask you to be in the room as she welcomes her son, your Godson and nephew, into this world. This will be the most emotional and beautiful moment of your life. Your journey with diabetes will be softened immeasurably by the patience, understanding and empathy that this girl will show you. She makes it seem as though she knows exactly how you feel even though that can't be true. Remember to reciprocate.
|Only real men wear tutus
You are now in your 20s. More than two decades with diabetes have passed and you have met someone - someone who will become your husband. Playful and kind, he will learn the mechanics of diabetes faster than you ever did. Within weeks he will understand hypos, carb counting and daily must-do routines that most young couples don't need to concern themselves with. You will praise him for this, but not enough. No praise for the burden he also now bears will be enough. He will see you in hypos that both frighten and enrage him. "Why does this have to happen to her?"
When you tell him that you are going to start wearing a piece of medical equipment on the body he so loves, piercing it with cannulas and monitors, he takes it in his stride. He has plans for when you're 80 and he needs you around for them, so he embraces this change with open arms. He will joke with you that it's his 'girlfriend remote'. This makes you laugh. To this day, he makes you laugh.
You will have to talk to him about pregnancy and how hard that journey might be. He goes with you to your pre-pregnancy appointment and holds your hand, because he understands how scared you are. You will watch the pregnancies of others play out, wondering if you too will share the same wonderful journey of becoming a parent. That, I can't answer for you yet, but there is no man in the world you would rather try with. Just so you know, the man in the tutu is not your husband. It just felt like a good time to tell you that only real men wear tutus; remember that.
You also start a blog. The day before you start using that bizarre medical device that you probably can't even comprehend yet. This project becomes your greatest achievement yet (other than actually getting to adulthood. Well done, by the way). You start it for God-knows-what reason, but it becomes something that connects you with a million voices around the world. It will become the saving of you.
As for me? Well, you and I will never meet, yet already we know one another. We have shared a journey, yet the person in the photo has yet to walk my path. We move in the same direction, but will never be in the same place at the same time. Just know this:
It will be OK.