How Far I’ve Come
Twenty years ago today, I was in Israel in seminary for about twelve days when right before Rosh Hashana, my life changed forever.
I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. I developed an autoimmune disease in which my pancreas said, ‘Peace out. Making insulin is on you now.’
The day was a blur but I remember being admitted to Shaare Tzedek Medical Center and being told it was a shock I was alive with a blood glucose level of 800. The doctors and nurses were giving me instructions in Hebrew and I was frustrated because I didn’t understand what they were saying and what I was supposed to do.
I thought maybe it wouldn’t be a big deal. Maybe I’d take a pill and go back to Michlalah. I was in the hospital for two days while my mom came to get me to help me fly home to NY. Those days were awful. But the boyfriend whom I had broken up with twelve days before to focus on our year of growth, came and just sat by my bedside and didn’t leave. My high school friends came to visit and see if I was OK.
That Rosh Hashana back in NY, I hadn’t yet realized that I wouldn’t be going back for the year- and I had spent so much time looking forward to my Israel seminary experience. Nor did I realize that spending every night talking to that (ex) boyfriend would solidify our relationship and one day he would become my husband. Or that all the learning and experiences I thought I’d get in Israel, I would have to cultivate on my own, by myself, during that lonely miserable year.
I didn’t yet know that every single time I ate something for the rest of my life, I’d mentally calculate the carbs, fat, protein of each bite. I’d be attached to an insulin pump and sensor and carry around loads of supplies and shots and insulin and have good days and bad days and cheat and be high and low and every minute of every day know exactly where my blood glucose was headed. That diabetes would be a mental health challenge alongside a physical one, and depression and anxiety were a’ comin.
But what I did know was that I felt loved and supported from all the emails and calls checking on me.
Looking back it’s amazing to see how far I have come. I ultimately earned a Masters in Education and have four healthy, incredible kids who are my reasons for living. I have the support of my community of other people who struggle with Type 1 Diabetes along the way, as well as my amazing friends. I continue to work on my physical and mental health constantly.
There are beautiful days and ugly days.
I know I am not alone in my struggles. I am in contact with other Type 1 Diabetics to ask questions and support each other. I am a Juvenile Diabetes Ambassador with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) where I help counsel newly diagnosed diabetics and their families. I have a warm circle of people to lean on. My husband is with me every step of the way. I have a therapist to help with my depression and anxiety. I exercise daily, try to eat well, keep a gratitude journal, and cut myself some slack. Mostly I enjoy life with things that make me happy- like dance parties in the kitchen, reading into the wee hours of the night, and lighting scented candles.
Through it all, I am ok.
I wanted to commemorate this 20th dia-versary by sharing a bit of my story. I have lived more than half my life with this disease. Here are my takeaways:
1. Be thankful for the health I have. I thank God for the miracles that have been achieved in medicine that keep me alive. To go to the bathroom, to see, to digest food. These are miracles that are so easy to take for granted.
2. Awareness for Type 1 Diabetes is so vitally important, as it’s kind of invisible unless you know what to look for. It’s not a glamorous disease or well-known, but it deserves a cure!
3. Be that friend to someone else. You have no idea how your support or encouragement to someone going through a challenge can be the lifeboat that saves them.
So much love and gratitude to all who have been with me on my journey.
Jessica Koenigsberg has a Master’s degree in Jewish Education and has taught grades 6 to 12 in various yeshivot. She and her husband and family live in West Hempstead NY. She is a mother to four amazing kids and is currently at home running her household.