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Why the Secrecy?

The word “secrets” makes you think of something dark, something that shouldn’t be talked about. It makes people wonder what awful thing you’re trying to keep under wraps.

But most of the time, it’s nothing.

My name is Chanala Porges, I’m 17, I live in Monsey, attend Bais Rochel High School, and I have Type 1 diabetes.

Here’s my story: I was diagnosed when I was 7. My mother had just given birth to my baby brother, so I was staying at my grandmother’s house. I was incredibly thirsty; no matter how much I drank, it wasn’t enough.

Three days after my brother’s bris, I woke up in the middle of the night vomiting, I couldn’t hold anything down. My grandmother figured it was a 24-hour virus and didn’t tell my mother, not wanting to worry her. I slept all that day. I was terribly weak when my father came to pick me up. When I saw my mother, I collapsed onto her, breathing hard. My parents guessed that I was dehydrated, so they gave me Pedialyte, but when my breathing got worse, they got really worried and called Hatzalah. They took one look at me, called for backup and I was rushed to the hospital. Tests showed my blood sugar was 396. To put that into perspective, normal is 70–120. It was dangerously high.

It turned out that I was in a state called ketoacidosis, which means my body wasn’t absorbing food anymore and was burning other things for energy. That’s when the doctors discovered I had diabetes.

We really had no idea what that meant. My father even said, “Great, so they’ll fix it and she’ll come home.” But diabetes is not something you can fix. It doesn’t go away.

I was in the ICU for two days until my blood sugar normalized, then I went to a regular ward. During that time, the doctors taught my parents everything they needed to know to take care of me at home. I didn’t really know what was flying, but still, I remember sitting in the hospital bed and feeling that something was changing, and I felt this sadness I barely understood.

It was a crazy time. We had a new baby at home, and it was also just a few weeks before my aunt’s wedding.

This was almost ten years ago, and the treatment of diabetes has advanced a lot since then. But back then, I had to take two shots of insulin every day. I also had to eat at certain times during the day and check my blood sugar a few times a day.

I wanted to go back to school right away, so my parents went to school to tell the principal and my teachers about my diabetes. They’d never had a student with it before… and it’s a big school! At first, they were overwhelmed with all the information, but baruch Hashem the school nurse was amazing and taught them everything they needed to know.

When I went back to school, it was kind of obvious something was going on. I’d missed school, my classmates knew I hadn’t been feeling well, I kept leaving class to go see the nurse and get shots, I had all my food set up on my desk at specific times… My classmates kept asking me questions, but I didn’t really know how to answer them. I was only seven. Finally, my mother discussed it with the nurse, and we planned a whole show and tell. We had a teddy bear from the hospital with a medical ID bracelet and explained all there is to know about diabetes, including how my pancreas doesn’t work properly and the purpose of the insulin shots.

Once my classmates understood what was going on, they were totally cool with it. Why wouldn’t they be? Then I could say, “Who wants to come with me to the nurse?” and it became an honor!

My diabetes is not a big deal. It’s just part of my life. It never even entered my mind to keep it a secret. I felt like if Hashem gave this to me, that means it’s good for me. It’s just part of who I am; I never have to miss out on anything because of it. Even things that involve food. When we have a siyum or something, my friends just make sure to bring food I can eat. And I can eat basically anything. The only thing I pass on because of my diabetes is soda because it contains an insane amount of sugar and I mean, after all, it’s just a drink! Not worth it!

When I was in third grade, we had to write a speech about someone we admired. I wrote about Rabbi Hirsch Meisels; he has diabetes himself and started an organization called Friends with Diabetes, which hosts Shabbatons and parties and produces a magazine all in support of people with diabetes. I won the contest and read my speech in front of the whole school!

I never understood why anyone would keep their diabetes a secret. Why not accept yourself for who you are, the challenges that Hashem handpicked just for you, be comfortable in your own skin, be proud of who you are… and tell the people around you about what you’re going through? I don’t make a big deal out of it. I am who I am and diabetes is part of that. I wouldn’t be who I am without it. But it’s also a chilled situation, my diabetes is a total non-issue.

I know someone who had diabetes and kept it a secret throughout her school years. Now she’s married and she told me by the time she got to sem, she finally realized it had been so silly and needlessly stressful to do so! All those times she’d been so worried someone would discover her secret, because what if she needed to eat and it was class time? What if she went to the bathroom and someone overheard her insulin pump beep? What would have happened? Absolutely nothing!

If I need to eat, I just pull out my food and eat it in class, my teachers know, there are no questions.

When this same girl came back from sem, she made sure to mention it to some of her old friends in an oh-by-the-way tone. Of course, they didn’t make a big deal out of it — because she didn’t!

Recently my pump wasn’t working properly, and it was really stressful — I wouldn’t have managed without my friends’ support. They made a point to show they cared for me and are here for me, even though they can’t really understand exactly what I’m going through. I really appreciated that! Of course, I have my “diabetes friends” too, who know exactly what I’m going through, because they also have diabetes.

I even celebrate my diabetes anniversary every year. It’s another reason to celebrate, so why not? I go out to eat with my friends, we have a party. This year, one of my friends wrote me a beautiful poem saying how much she admires me. She sees I face different struggles and seeing my strength has inspired her to deal with her own struggles. Everyone has something challenging in their life!

I was touched. There’s nothing like knowing that you’re helping people. Knowing that I’m helping her just by being myself and dealing with my occasional pump frustration even made me feel like if that’s the reason I have diabetes, then it’s all worth it.

Baruch Hashem, I am also able to help others when they’re newly diagnosed by show them that I’m fine with diabetes. I’m always saying my diabetes helped make me who I am, that I wouldn’t be the same person without it.

This is what I want people to know: Change is never easy, but it becomes easier if you let go and accept your new situation. If I had held on to the past and gotten stuck on how my life would have been without diabetes, I’d never have been able to grow from it. I can’t honestly say I’m delighted to have diabetes. Sometimes I wish Hashem would just get rid of it! It can be frustrating and annoying, sometimes I’m just not in the mood for it, but I also know it’s not going anywhere. So I just deal with it. I’ve accepted it. It’s here to help build me, to make me a better person.

When people keep things like this a secret, there’s a general feeling that there’s something wrong with them. Why else would they keep it a secret?

I’ve heard people say they keep it secret because they don’t want it to ruin their chances in shidduchim. You think Hashem doesn’t have someone in mind for you? Your diabetes won’t prevent you from getting married. You’re a better person because of your diabetes. Be proud of who you are!

Without any secrets.

(Originally featured in Teen Pages, Issue 62)

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Tagged: Teen DMC