Over the years I very rarely had the sense that my diabetes and mental health was in charge, that it had me beat. I'm all about holding power over my condition. After all, I love control. My management of my T1 was impeccable for years because of this. Over time I've slipped, mostly when my anxiety and depression worsened. But even with those ups and downs I never felt I'd lost the battle. That was until I failed a clinical placement early this year.
My placement was for 6 weeks in a regional town a few hours drive from home. I was living alone, and entered placement feeling already highly anxious (and truth be told, depressed). My diabetes reacts to my emotions quite strongly, so my sugars were sky high from the start. It was a hard placement and I was set on doing everything perfectly. Every session plan had to be perfect. Every child I saw needed to have the perfect session with the perfect therapy targets and activities. My assessments were planned meticulously. The trade off? I was sleeping around 4-5 hours a night, and not well. I wasn't eating enough because I loathed cooking and never felt hungry. I woke up almost in tears every morning before work because my sugars were in the high teens constantly, sensors failed, I was beyond sleep deprived and I felt like everything was all too much. One morning my sugars had been so high all night, I had so little sleep and so much to do that I had to call in sick. I remember trying to get ready in the morning and sobbing in the middle of my living room because I hadn't prepared my lunch the night before and I felt too bad to do it. Bawling. Over lunch. Yup. (Thanks go to Frank for providing some rational thinking and diabetes empathy that day when I was incapable of clear thought).
I withdrew from friends back home. I stopped talking in any great depth about placement. I existed in an anxiety fuelled haze, trying not to think too much about how low and garbage I felt about myself. I didn't have time to be depressed, so I smothered it in all the adrenalin I could muster.
My work with the clients was good. I did my job despite the chaos in my head. But my clinical confidence suffered and I second guessed my decisions. Ultimately, my supervisor decided an extra placement would be beneficial to cement that confidence. So I failed.
It's still hard to write that. I failed something. I'd never failed anything before. I was so deathly afraid of failure in any aspect of my life that when it happened I didn't quite know what to do with myself. I felt like my life was over, I was a useless clinician and the dream I'd had for the past 6 or so years was shattered. The worst bit was feeling like my anxiety, depression and diabetes had won. I felt like I'd let everyone down and was completely disgusted with myself.
But with time, and a different placement with adults which I passed (yay!) I have a different take on it. I don't think that it was a failure. I lived for 6 weeks, alone, hours from home with some heavy anxiety and depression and crazy sugars. I went to work. I delivered good therapy. I didn't completely fall apart, give up and go home (though the thought crossed my mind multiple times). I was advised not to go on that placement but I did it anyway. I learnt so much. I failed, and then I went straight back into another placement. That's not a failure. That's a win. A win I attribute not just to myself but to all my lovely friends who were constantly there for me even when I pushed away. Along with my lovely friend who was also in the same town on a different placement, who provided the best pep talks over a well needed wine. And of course my family who have done nothing but support me and remind me my life isn't over because I failed one thing.
I'm doing a lot better now than I was a few months ago, but I'd be lying if I said I felt great. I don't, and that's okay. I have more good days than bad.
Failure isn't such a scary thing now. It took a failure to come back with increased independence and confidence in my next placement. It also made me take charge of my mental health with a renewed passion, because I never want to feel that bad again. I never want to put my friends and family through that again.
It might be with diabetes and a messy brain in tow, but I'm going to graduate with a speech pathology degree. You can be sure of that.