Through my life, a lot of my memories have been unremarkable. I had a very normal childhood in a middle-class family. My life was never truly crazy until I met Brittany, a type 1 diabetic.
Now I know that “crazy” sounds harsh, but that’s what this disease is. It fights you tooth and nail, trying to break your spirit. You think you have it all under control, and within 5 minutes you’re attempting to nurse someone back to consciousness. I guess I never imagined as a little kid, riding my bike throughout my neighborhood, that the woman I would fall in love with would have such a battle at hand.
We met in 2009, when the only idea of diabetes I had was what I’d seen on television. That “with diet and exercise you stop taking insulin for diabetes.” So meeting Brittany, I didn’t think that this was such a bad disease.
We dated for about four months, and then we moved in together. That’s when the reality of type 1 diabetes kicked me in the face. Diabetes changed my life. And it added so many complications for both of us that the two years we spent living together uninsured and kind of thrown from the nest are the most vivid memories of my life.
“Her disease is manageable,” I can remember the endocrinologist telling us. With proper management and supplies, you can have a normal life. Really, the only issue they don’t tell you is that “manageable life” has a large price tag. So that’s where my life really became difficult. Not only did we need to make sure there was food on the table and the rent was paid, but we also now had to make sure we had enough insulin and testing supplies for the month. So needless to say, our two minimum wage jobs weren’t cutting it.
I owned a pickup truck at the time, so after work, I would drive around to all of the apartment complexes in the city. Anytime someone is evicted, they have the opportunity to grab whatever they want to take, and what they leave is put by the dumpster. So I began to grab the pieces of furniture left behind and started listing and selling it online. (I would even deliver for a small fee of $20.) This wasn’t raking in the money for us. However, it did buy a vial of insulin and maybe 50 test strips if we had a good sale. This isn’t my proudest moment in life — it just paid the bills.
We wound up getting so far behind on our rent that we were evicted from our apartment. It was either a place to live or Brittany’s life, and we chose the latter. Luckily, my parents had bought a trailer in a small retirement RV park, and we were able to move in there.
During our time in the apartment complex, Brittany had received an education in medical assisting, and I began an apprenticeship as a carpet installer for my father. So when we moved into the trailer, our jobs were better paying and our rent was lowered. I no longer had to scrounge for furniture. Still uninsured, however, Brittany and I would spend large chunks of our paycheck to afford the basics of diabetes: two types of insulin, blood sugar meter, test strips, and syringes. Although Brittany was no longer rationing supplies, the constant battle with diabetes was still around.
One morning, around 5 a.m., I received a call. The other end of the phone was an unfamiliar voice, telling me that Brittany had been leaving the gym when she blacked out from a low and backed my car into the woods. So here we were, a bit more financially established, and this bastard disease was still rearing its head.
I had to do more to help with this disease, so I enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Now we were well insured with continuous glucose monitors, insulin pumps, and paid-for medical care. I still look back at those times in my life as a lesson, and nowadays I often find myself thinking how absolutely bananas it was. It also really jabs me in the side when I think about how many other kids are going through this and whether you have to be rich to live a decent life with type 1 diabetes.
Brittany, the mother of my three children and my loving wife these days, started a blog for others with type 1 diabetes to know they aren’t alone. She’s even begun the process of making a nonprofit organization to help kids who are underinsured get the best life possible. I couldn’t have imagined the woman she would develop into, but I’m sure glad I went through all the troubles of keeping her afloat to get the chance to enjoy the person she’s become. Diabetes changed my life for sure, and it has been some battle to this point. But I’m glad it’s the path I’ve chosen.
Mitchell Jacobs is enlisted in the Navy and married to Brittany Gilleland, who has been living with type 1 diabetes for over 14 years. Together they have three children. Brittany currently blogs at thediabeticjourney.com and raises awareness about type 1 diabetes on social media. Brittany hopes by sharing her story, others can feel empowered to do so as well: No matter where we are in this journey, we are all in this together. Follow Brittany and her story on Facebook.