Pain is Inevitable, Suffering is Optional


In October of 2012, my senior year of high school, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Type 1 Diabetes is a disease in which the body can no longer make insulin, a hormone that allows the body to get the energy it needs from carbohydrates. That December I wrote briefly about how being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes influenced my outlook on life for a college application essay. My view on life and diabetes continues to change. This essay is valuable not because it is vivid or articulate but because it is representative of my thoughts at that moment in time. 

“Pain is inevitable, Suffering is optional. After sifting through hundreds of running slogans my fellow Cross Country Captains and I fixed on this one for our team shirts this fall. It seemed representative of a core value for any successful distance runner: mental endurance.

Inexplicable weight loss, exhaustion, muscle cramps, and slow times left me suffering this season. Three days before our section meet I went to the doctor, found out I had developed Type 1 Diabetes and spent the next two days in the hospital. While sitting in the hospital bed I decided to put on my “big girl pants” and realize our shirts slogan.

I started off this mental marathon of accepting that my beta cells no longer work with a bang: within twenty four hours of being released from the hospital I ran a 4k for our section meet and sang in a choir concert. No one was going to see my pain therefore making me impervious to suffering.

Before my diagnosis I lost twenty pounds and within two weeks of beginning insulin injections I gained forty. Such swings in weight are visible manifestations of pain, and I experienced some mental suffering from it. What teenage girl does not care about drastic changes in body image? But by wearing looser shirts and avoiding dresses, who could tell?

My vision blurred. High blood sugar levels for an extended period of time can cause permanent damage to eyes. As my body readjusted from the extremely high levels prior to my insulin injections to a more typical level, my vision continuously shifted from standard to blurred, sometimes I was unable to read the classroom white board or my paper in front of me.

Low blood sugar levels are known to obscure thought and make concentration difficult. But after testing my blood sugar and finding it low, instead of asking my calculus teacher if I could take the test later I drank a box of juice and went to class.

Crying, sitting on the bathroom floor, swallowing fruit snacks and juice boxes at a Math League meet I realized even if other people could not see my pain I was still suffering.

It wasn’t a decision to put on my “big girl pants” it was a choice to take them off and ask for help. Though I’d competed in our section race and regional race after my diagnosis, once the season was over I’d stopped running. Exercise makes blood sugar levels drop and at first this frightened me from running on my own. I started exercising again and my weight is now at an optimal place. I asked teachers if I could sit closer to the board, wore my mom’s reading glasses, and listened to a recording of Frankenstein instead of reading it. It wasn’t ideal, but it got me through the weeks it took for my vision to stabilize. Though it felt as if my pride had been torn apart, I explained to my calculus teacher I had taken the integral test with low blood sugar and asked him if I could retake it. In retrospect, I’m not sure what I was nervous for. He was very understanding, allowed me to retake the test, and my score improved by seven percent.

I thought accepting my diabetes would be a 4k race or at worst a marathon, I now know it’ll be more than a triathlon or even the Tour‘d France. Hiding pain does not make it go away or stop suffering; shin splints still hurt even if they’re not wrapped. Suffering is a state of mind created by the lack of mental endurance to work through pain and adapt to challenges. Mental endurance is not being able to appear as if I have it all together, but rather to continue trying to get there. Aside from what glucagon, ketones, and H1AC levels are, this experience taught me ‘Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.'”

Thanks for reading this!