Friday, August 31, 2012

Buffy the Diabetes Slayer

For comedy's sake, dressed as Vampire Willow
In my apparent quest to compare diabetes to pop culture, I suppose I always knew I would reach Buffy the Vampire Slayer eventually. My sentimental favourite show of all time, it aired at the perfect time in my life (middle through high school) to become a part of my growing-up process. I could go on and on about the show, but I won't. Suffice it to say that Buffy is the Slayer, sworn to do battle with the vampires (with some notable exceptions) and the occasional demon; knowing that one day she will lose and be replaced.  (This is, by the way, the only instance where I will compare myself to Buffy; everyone who knows me will tell you I'm pretty much a [pre-Tara] Willow, right down to the identical SAT scores.)

In the Broadway musical Title of Show, a vampire is defined as something that saps your creative ability, such as self-doubt, or negative people ("Die, Vampire, Die!")  In Buffy, vampires are a metaphor for a host of issues we all face as we grow up. In my life, diabetes is the vampire. I'm not just saying that because it sucks.  Or because it sucks a lot of blood out of me on a daily basis, but that is a fair comparison; because blood is a daily thing for me and for Buffy, it has a tendency to remind us of our bodies, being alive, and the importance of blood to both of those things. As Spike the vampire said in "The Gift," "Blood is life, lack-brain. Why do you think we eat it? It's what keeps you going. Makes you warm. Makes you hard. Makes you other than dead." It's a bizarre phenomenon when your own blood becomes the enemy, with too much or too little glucose spelling disaster.

I've been thinking about this because, in the process of introducing the fiance to the series, we recently watched the episode "Fool For Love." (Warning: spoilers for a couple of things in that episode lie ahead.) One of my favourites, its genesis lies in Buffy confronting her own mortality. She's doing better than ever in the fight, gets a bit cocky, and then gets staked with her own stake, by "just" a vampire: 

So tell me about the bad guy- or guys. What do you think they were?


How many?


Riley is surprised.

So... what? He was like a super-vampire or something?

No, he was the regular kind. He just beat me.

That ever happen before?

I'm in the best physical shape of my life. I mean, if you're asking how it happened, I don't-

 Buffy desperately wants to find out what went wrong and how she can avoid this mistake from ever happening again. She obsessively scours the Watcher Diaries for answers that she can use, but finds nothing:

You didn't lose last night, Buffy. You just-

Got really close. I slipped up, Giles. I've been training harder than ever and still I... (beat) And there's nothing in any of these books to help me understand why. I mean... look, I realize that every Slayer comes with an expiration mark on the package. But I want mine to be a long time from now. Like a Cheeto. If there were just a few good descriptions of what took out the other Slayers, maybe it would help me to understand my mistake, to keep it from happening again.

Eventually, Buffy turns to Spike for answers. Though we find out how he's killed other Slayers (and a great deal of his origin story), we find out that it boils down to a couple of things. One, that every Slayer has a bit of a death wish, and without ties to the world, it might take over. And the other?

[...]we just keep coming. But you can kill a hundred, a thousand, a thousand thousand and the enemies of Hell besides and all we need is for one of us- just one- sooner or later to have the thing we're all hoping for.

And that would be what?

Spike leans in close and whispers in her ear.

One... good... day.

And that's the thing about being a Type 1 diabetic. You fight little battles every day that keep coming up, over and over again.  You may be in the best shape of your life, a line of Buffy's that resonated with me because my latest A1c was better than ever. But there are complications, and things unaccounted for. There are reactions, and, most terrifying, there are lows.

As diabetics, we walk the fine line between secretly believing we're immortal and knowing that we've got this expiration date. In a way, we have more conscious control over what our bodies are doing than anyone else; in another way, we have much less, our bodies being essentially out of control with so many factors to deal with.  Buffy's super strong and quick, but she has to deal with all sorts of violently unpredictable outside forces that most people don't.

Whenever I have a frightening day with diabetes, particularly with a bad low, my thought process becomes like Buffy's. What specific thing did I do wrong? How could I have countered that move? How can I stop it from happening again, and become the Cheeto with the long-off expiration date?  It's even worse when I see news stories about Type 1s my age, slightly older, or younger than me, dying in their sleep. These tend to get circulated around the Diabetes Online Community in solidarity, because we're all upset. These become my Watcher Diaries, where I scan them trying to figure out how I'm different somehow. What mistake did this poor kid make? Was this guy a really hard partier? Were there drugs involved? Another condition? Did she stop taking insulin? To understand my impulse, there's no blame involved, just a psychological reaction. Most of the time, there is no specific "mistake" - I'm just like them. Even if there was a "mistake," I've made them all over the years, and I'm still here. And that's not because I'm a special Slayer. There is no "why." All of those people should be here still. And they're not.

Because diabetes slipped in and had One...Good...Day.

That's all diabetes needs to be the last vampire. One good day. The element of chance is a heartbreaker. What Buffy, and what I have to learn, is to see being the Slayer as both a quest with a long haul (the mission, the season-long arc) and with small, individual battles and episodes.

"The thing about the dance is, you never get to stop," says Spike. Diabetes is that dance. It's the Big Bad. In a way, it's a similar calling; not something you'd ever choose, but something that you have a duty to deal with, and can become all the stronger for. And you get certain "superpowers," like being bionic. You perform "spells" like Willow, except the magic is insulin, exercise, or sugar. (And sometimes, like Willow's spells, your combinations go awry.) The only difference is that, unlike the Slayer (for the most part, without including any more series spoilers), there doesn't have to be the sense of being totally alone, "one girl in all the world," even if it does feel like that sometimes.  In our community, everyone's a Watcher and a Slayer, providing some much-needed ties to the world. Plus, I've got my own Scoobies to keep me company. I wonder if I should start calling my lancing device Mr. Pointy?

In any case, it's a worthwhile fight.

Grr, Argh....

(All "Buffy" quotations from Fool For Love credited to Douglas Petrie; quotation from The Gift credited to Joss Whedon