Take it in

Take in what it can feel like to live with diabetes

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“Take it in,” is a haunting poem by Josh Kuntzman, commissioned for the diaTribe Foundation’s d21 Executive Innovation Lab. Though the experience of living with diabetes is uniquely individual, Kuntzman based his poem on extensive research and created a unique and compelling portrait of the emotions and challenges of a chronic condition – and of being unfairly blamed and judged.

You can listen to an audio recording of the poem, read by Kuntzman, here.

I wouldn’t say lazy.
I’d say angry. “Seeing red.” “My blood boils.”
I’d say angry, if I had to pick
A feeling, an outlook, a way of life
At the top of my emotion/spirit list.

Of course, I went through the
other steps of grieving:

Saying “no way” and disbelieving
Because I didn’t even feel the disease—
Just a little bit dizzy and a lil bit thirsty—
And of course that turned to “Please.
Don’t let this be real.”

But it was, and it is.
And it seems like it always will be:
Stomach, pancreas, liver, blood,
Misaligned dominoes of flesh—thud, thud, thud—
Falling inside of me.

“You have diabetes.” Okay, then I was angry:
Where was my sin? The rot in my soul.
Because I know diabetes: it’s fat, lazy, unaware,
Balloon-people whose legs fall off because
They have no self-control.

But I? — okay, maybe the occasional Arby’s,
And big bones run in my family—
But can we make a deal? A barter, a bargain,
A trade-off? Don’t take this from me.

And that was the start of my life as a number;
My skin full of pinholes, my blood full of math:
My CGM, my A1C? No DKA, take TZDs.
Shit, I’m at 200… now 153.
Is this just at random? God’s playing with me?

I Hate it. And it’s work:
Constant hunger, excessive thirst.
I miss buffets. (Heh) miss Taco Bell…
If that doesn’t make you depressed, how’s this:
I’m so Tired, that my version of peace
Is a cool-quiet place to poke a needle in my skin,
Without someone making the same goddam joke
About me doing heroin.

And these are the people who’d say “I’m his friend”;
Who don’t even listen, before saying, again,
“You just need to do X, and then you’ll be okay”
Repeating false-hopes, like a Gut-punch replayed:
Chromium & Cinnamon, Hydrogen Peroxide & Magnet Shoes, Glymetrol & Exotic Herbs— “100% effective!” It’s Facebook-true.

But—God grant me serenity—
I accept that I’m not alone in this flood;
That for every 10 men I see checking their watch,
… one of them’s checking their blood.
That for every pregnant woman (who’s obese, non-white, or over 25)
There’s a chance, while she’s busy growing that life,
…that her glucose is on the rise.
That my roommate’s first boyfriend in the schoolyard
… always carried an orange juice, just in case.
That my partner’s dad
Couldn’t feel his foot bleeding, then stopped breathing
… had his heart-valve and carotid replaced.

That the father of the bride had two metal legs.
That the baseball coach now avoids broccoli.
That my neighbor had a block in his infusion tubes
… and was over 400 before he got some insulin.
That my student pulled through 5 all-nighters,
Trying to get an A … knowing that she’d take a hit
When her lab results came in.

So here I go, getting all angry again,
When it attacks my blood while you attack my pride:
As I fail to control unstoppable pumps,
And forego comforts like a monk,
While you say “Why don’t you just (pfft)—
Be different inside?”

Because it’s easy:
Exercise & diet fixes Fat & Lazy.
Pearls? Meet Swine.

That’s your view. But in reality? YOU
Want an easy pivot from seeing this reality of mine.

Take it in. The pricks and needles,
Doctors, drugs, blood every morning.
Every hour. Every meal.
Ketones, glucose, … are You absorbing?

Take it in: this is not simple choices.
Take it in: this is not moral failing.
Take it in. What I control, what I don’t;
The dangers, and the stressors
That compound my ailing:

All that I love, that I’ve let go and miss.
The normal excesses that make life… lived.
All that I fear—drugs, tools, insurance,
… my own body—that I must accept and forgive.

All those around me, who I need to love me,
Who head-shake at tired eyes and discolored skin.
All those who judge me, as I try to live
While my blood boils inside me; my life.
Take it in.

About the author

Portrait of poet Josh Kuntzman

Josh Kuntzman is an educator and writer based in Southern California. He teaches educational practices and ethics to university students, and writes moral reflections and poetry under this mantra: “Imagination unbinds the radius of compassion. Become every world you crash through; nothing is hollow.”