Devon Haemer was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 11 years old. She is a recent winner of the Diabetes Hand Foundation “No Sugar Added” poetry contest with her poem, “She is Twenty-Six.”
She is Twenty-Six
She is twenty-six –
A vibrant woman, so self-assured.
Until she goes low –
That dreaded moment when
Her confidence plunges,
A waterfall of panicky tears.
Suddenly she is two again –
Begging juice and peanut butter crackers
Off complete strangers at the beach.
These moments are the sludgy bogs
That slurp down her hopes.
She slumps, anchored fast to the beach towel,
While her foggy brain gets pummeled by vicious waves of doubt.
“Can I endure these lows and highs,
These needles and numbers forever?!”
“I can’t possibly travel abroad like this!”
“How will I ever handle motherhood as a diabetic?!”
Then the juice and crackers manage to saturate
Her body’s yearning cells.
And her thoughts allow her space to breathe.
She has energy, enough energy to unbury her hopes.
And she is twenty-six, again –
A vibrant woman, self-assured.
Q: Tell me about your diagnosis, and how did your family react to the news?
“I had all the typical symptoms: extreme thirst, frequent urination, leg cramps, fatigue, loss of appetite etc. I no longer wanted to play outside. I just sat inside and read books all afternoon. My parents became very concerned with my lack of energy and extreme thirst. My mom brought me to the doctor’s office, and the doctor himself called our house that evening. I stood in the kitchen listening to my mom talk with him. I knew the doctor had never called our house before, so this news must be bad. After learning of my diagnosis, I hid in the bathroom, cried, and thought about how my life would never be the same. At that age, I was already working through significant vision loss resulting from a car accident. I asked God why he had to give me a second problem. I didn’t know much about diabetes at that time, but I was pretty sure that it never went away. I was frightened by its permanence.”
My family was shocked by my diagnosis, but their shock and sadness quickly turned into action and support. My two sisters and my parents helped me learn how to give myself injections and how to measure out my food. They were all very involved and reassuring. Soon after starting on insulin, my energy returned. I felt so much better! I went back to playing outside, this time with a juice box in hand. I spent a couple years using shots to deliver my insulin, but my blood sugars were constantly running high. I switched to the pump at age 13, and my HBA1Cs improved a great deal.
Q: Can you tell me about the inspiration for your poem, She is Twenty-Six?
This poem was inspired by my personal hopes and my struggles with working through fear. I have been truly blessed in this life, and I believe that diabetes has not prevented me from doing the things I have wanted to try or accomplish. However, I often have to work through an initial hesitancy and fear in order to make my hopes a reality. Facing my fears has been a daily challenge for me, but I believe I’m getting better with age and practice. I have noticed that my fears haunt me the most when my blood sugar is low. I get tired and disoriented; it’s difficult to resist the doubts in this state.
I wrote this poem as a reminder that those low blood sugars and times of doubt will pass. Confidence is a wonderful thing, but there is nothing wrong with accepting help from time to time. We all need the support of others in our lives. Also, our dreams cannot be dropped just because we have doubts now and then. We are not meant to be owned by diabetes. People are people, and those of us with diabetes are very capable of living very rich and fulfilling lives.
Q: As a young woman with diabetes, does writing poetry help you relieve stress and express your feelings about living with diabetes? Do you see creativity as a healing process to manage the stressors of diabetes?
I’ve always been an internal processor; I wait to verbalize my thoughts until I have had adequate time to formulate my ideas. I enjoy writing poetry because it gives me a chance to capture a piece of life and document my feelings. Writing has always been my default stress reliever. Seeing my thoughts laid out on paper gives me a good idea of what I’m working through, and how to proceed to the next step. Creativity, in any form, is a great way for people to understand life and manage its stresses, including diabetes.
Q: How has the diabetes community (tudiabetes and other sites) helped you live well with diabetes?
The diabetes community has been a huge support to me over the past few years. I wish I had found resources, such as tudiabetes, earlier on in my life. It’s comforting to have other diabetics to consult with on the day to day challenges. I’ve gotten some great advice over the past few years. The people I have met and the knowledge they have shared with me has inspired me to work harder at managing my diabetes.
Q: Finally, what’s the best advice you’ve received about living with diabetes?
The best advice I have received about living with diabetes is to focus on what is before me today – don’t dwell on the past and don’t get too caught up in the uncertain future. What’s important is to do our very best today. I believe this is how we can manage diabetes to the best of our abilities, to see each day as a new opportunity to get our blood sugars in range, to exercise, and to eat right.
Times of Change
My malnourished perspective was ruptured
By an expansive and ancient city.
The pin-hole proximity of one dweller to the next
Squeezed my hidden thoughts from their crevices.
I found myself crammed into rumbly buses, where
Easy breathing was a luxury.
Waves of Roman cologne awakened me there;
Even my worries smelled sweet.
From smeary windows and fractured streets
We were always gazing, contemplating –
So many masterpieces, fashioned a millennium ago.
But I couldn’t escape myself.
Then, Siena – it smelled of a slower pace –
More like carbohydrates than cologne.
We delighted in those slanting streets, but
I was stifled inside my musty convent room.
One day in front of my little sink
My face was splashed by a decade of fears.
I saw all the wasted days, the dropped decisions, forgeries –
Just to feel safe.
A prayer of confession and a longing for renewal
Dragged bits of worry down the sink with my tears.
A day later was Venice; it smelled murky and alive –
Just as I was beginning to feel.
That first afternoon on the vaporetto,
The rains doused my flimsy white jacket.
Their drops carried bits of my worry away –
Through the city’s canals and the flood waters of St. Mark’s Square.
Until finally, they came to rest in the Adriatic Sea.