I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was five years old. I grew up with this all-encompassing chronic illness and I barely remember my life before the click of the lancet, the beeps from my glucometer, and the hypoglycemic episodes that still, after 23 years of living with this disease, scare me.
My eating disorder didn’t start overnight. Besides the daily roller-coaster ride of living with a chronic illness, my childhood was wonderful, but something changed drastically after 6th grade. Middle school was a challenge and high school was even harder. No one else had to worry as much as I had to worry. No one else had to eat a snack in the middle of class, and no one else had to stop in the middle of something because they were “low.” I worried that I was perceived as weak and fragile by my peers due to my diabetes and I started to resent my “broken” body.
All of the challenges and complications that living with type 1 diabetes can create, while trying to just be a teenager, ignited a deep resentment and sense of anxiety inside of me. I felt that I was trapped inside a failed body that would not allow me to ever feel truly free. In a fit of rebellion and rage, I stopped taking all of my necessary insulin and started keeping my blood sugars high on purpose. What started out as an attempt to avoid having low blood sugars, mostly while performing on stage, and an honest desire to just not have to “worry” about my diabetes for a few hours, became a dangerous eating disorder that nearly cost me everything including my career as an actress, my marriage and my life.
By the time I went to college my eating disorder had become the single most important thing in my entire life. It dictated who I was, my daily schedule, my relationships and every single choice I made regarding school and in my personal life. No longer living with my family, who were already concerned about my eating habits and poor diabetes management, made it easy to fall into the dangerous and all-consuming rituals associated with diabulimia. None of the new friends I made in college ever questioned my choices or my behaviors because no one had the slightest clue about type 1 diabetes, they just figured I knew what I had to do to take care of myself.
I was miserable. I didn’t want to live like this anymore, but I didn’t know how to ask for help or if there even was help for someone like me. I had never heard of any other type 1 diabetic with an eating disorder and I was sure that I was the weakest person on Earth for not taking better care of myself. From the ages of 13 to 23, I struggled with this heavy and dangerous secret alone.
Almost five years ago I took my first step toward living my life fully again when I accepted inpatient treatment at an eating disorder treatment center that offers a program specifically tailored to type 1 diabetics with eating disorders. It was the scariest, and yet probably bravest, thing I have ever done. Living with my diabetes today is very different after finally coming to terms with my eating disorder. There are still challenges in navigating my diabetes management through my daily life, and there always will be. The difference is that now when an unexpected challenge arises, I am not afraid to do whatever is necessary in order to take care of my type 1 diabetes and protect my strong recovery. I now possess the tools to deal with the anxiety and stress that living with this chronic illness can create, thanks to the positive and encouraging support from my treatment team.
Recovering from diabulimia is not easy. While it is already a challenge to recover from any type of eating disorder, type 1 diabetics suffering from an eating disorder offer even more of a challenge for treatment facilities because the patient must be treated from both the traditional therapies used in eating disorder treatment and from a structured medical standpoint. There must be a well-trained and educated staff that not only have an understanding of someone suffering from an eating disorder, but are also educated on the multitude of factors that a person with type 1 diabetes must consider when eating a meal or taking an insulin injection. Not every treatment facility has the ability to treat a type 1 diabetic who is suffering from an eating disorder, but thankfully there are places like Walden Behavioral Care that do!
My life has changed in so many positive ways since the day I finally had the courage to ask for help, and I now have the incredible opportunity to help others who suffer from this deadly dual diagnosis. I consistently refer those who seek my help and guidance to Walden. This outstanding facility provides all of the integral components needed for a successful recovery for this unique population and I’m thrilled that they are now launching their official Diabetes Program!
About the Author:
Asha Brown is the founder of the organization We Are Diabetes, an organization devoted to providing support for type 1 diabetics who struggle with an eating disorder. She is a member of the American Diabetes Association Women and Diabetes Subcommittee, as well as Diabetes Advocates, and has devoted the last five years of her life spreading awareness of the deadly eating disorder diabulimia that has become prevalent in the type 1 diabetic community. Asha has worked first-hand with families, patients, educators and medical professionals in an effort to educate them about type 1 diabetics with eating disorders and to promote better treatment options for those who are suffering.