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How Anxiety Prepared Us for Our Daughter's Diabetes Diagnosis

It was December 10, 2020, when our world would suddenly, shockingly, and completely unexpectedly, change forever.  It already feels like a lifetime ago, and yet the quest for learning and adapting places us atop Bambi legs — unsure, wobbly, and insecure in our ability to move forward.

Our 11-year-old daughter, DJ, who has always struggled with anxiety, had been complaining about a racing heart and inability to concentrate each night as she got into bed. I had been talking with her therapist about it, wondering if her anxiety was befriending panic disorder.  Together with the therapist, we were trying new coping tools and calming strategies with DJ each night, but the symptoms weren’t subsiding.  Because we were starting to feel that these sensations were affecting the quality of her life, we opened the conversation about anxiety medication with DJ’s pediatrician.

Due to DJ’s long history with anxiety, her pediatrician agreed that medication would be worth trying. We wanted to provide DJ a little boost, something to help her mind rest more easily, so that the rest of her body might follow. Rather than just prescribing us an SSRI and sending us on our way, DJ’s pediatrician ordered some standard lab work to be done as a precaution.

We reported to the lab on Dec. 9, the day after my 43rd birthday. The very next day, DJ’s pediatrician called to say, “I hate to do this over the phone, but DJ’s blood glucose levels are really high.”

Now, I have to admit I didn’t know what that meant. I wasn’t comprehending what she was trying to tell me, but it was obvious that she was trying to communicate something very serious.  Naively, I asked, “Does this mean she has cancer?” I was quickly assured that no, it didn’t mean she had cancer, but it did mean that I would need to check into the Emergency Department immediately.  They were expecting us, and I should pack a bag. This was indicative of diabetes, and we were in for a few nights’ stay at the hospital.

When we got off the phone, I was a disaster. I was simultaneously trying to pack a bag despite having a completely blank mind, and communicate to the girls that DJ and I needed to head for the hospital. My husband was on a conference call for work, and I slipped him a note that read: “Emergency. DJ has diabetes. We have to go to the hospital. Now.” He abruptly ended his call to ask questions I couldn’t answer, while at the same time trying to console me and the girls.

The rainy ride to the hospital was the longest of my life, filled with tears, questions we didn’t have the answers to, and fear of what would come next. I suppose our journey started the moment we gave our name at the ER window, and they swept DJ into their care. As each moment passed, reality sunk into our souls a bit deeper.  This wasn’t going to go away. This would be forever, and we had no choice but to buckle up and endure the ride.

There’s so much more that I want to add to this story.  So many more elements, emotions, gifts and struggles woven throughout those six weeks, but what I want to take a moment to do in this particular post is honor the anxiety disorder that has, at times, debilitated both DJ and I with its suffocating grip.

Because of anxiety, we knew how to find perspective in the midst of a storm. We knew how to sift through the truths in a sea of fear-based stories. We knew how to ground ourselves and find our way back into the present when worries blew heavy gusts of lies into our sails. We were ready for the voyage ahead because anxiety had given us plenty of opportunities for excursions into the unknown. And, it had given us plenty of opportunities to demonstrate that we’d always find our way back to the shore.  It’s not that we wouldn’t be tossed about along the way, or that there wouldn’t be storms overhead, it’s just that we’d know how to find our footing despite the turmoil dousing our faces.

Looking back, both DJ and I knew there was something amiss happening in her body.  We both had the intuition that it had crossed the lines of anxiety, which is why we took it to her care team. Between her therapist and her pediatrician, we pressed on to understand if her symptoms were “normal.” We felt uneasy about what she was experiencing, and we sought to find answers and relief.  While we had no idea that an explanation would come in the form of a type 1 diabetes diagnosis, our anxiety had taught us to remain attuned to our bodies — not just our minds. Our anxiety had kept us on high alert, oftentimes without any warrant at all, but we had learned to listen closely to that still, small voice in the back of our minds convincing us to zero in and worry.  Sometimes the worry was irrelevant, and sometimes the worry drove us into the hands of a phlebotomist, who would hand us the torn corner of the map, allowing us a clear path forward. Even if it’s not the one we would’ve chosen for ourselves.

Is this hard? Yep. Witnessing your child navigate an autoimmune disorder is an indescribable heaviness, but that’s a post for another day. In the midst of the heartache, and stress of it all, we remain floating on gratitude. There are a million ways this story could’ve been centered around trauma, but it wasn’t. We were spared, and deep in my heart, I know anxiety is to thank for such early detection. I never thought I’d say something so wild, but here I am. “Thank you, anxiety.  You were the safety preserver we never expected.”

Getty image by DmitryPK.

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