Anum Anwar (Pakistan)

Challenges are backed by opportunities.

Diabetes made my ordinary life an extra-ordinary experience for me which lead where I stand today. We are what we have around us. That had been my view point of life for a long time. This isn't only a story about dealing with diabetes, this is a story of what happens when we let ourselves free and rebel against the stereotypes in society. When we don't know how to become what we are expected to be. This is a story about strength and determination.

I am Anum Anwar - a person living with type 1 diabetes for the last 18 years. This fact is an important part of what defines me. The first five years of my life were like those of any 5 year old; care free, healthy and fun. My likes and dislikes too were similar. I distinctly remember that I had a sweet tooth! I loved chocolates, ice cream, birthday cakes, colas and everything sweet. However, things changed quickly once I touched five. I started getting weak, losing weight and was sick most of the time. Visits to the doctor became a routine for me. The reason stayed a mystery until the very end.

For eight months I was treated for an undiagnosed issue. At that young age I was prescribed loads of irrelevant medicines to alleviate the symptoms - instead of treating the disease that they pointed to. The possibility of the disease they indicated was over ruled by the doctor for four months. In the end, my body reacted severely to this negligence  and I developed ketoacidosis, a life-threatening condition in people with type1 diabetes. My mother found me unconscious in the middle of the night and rushed me to the hospital. The doctors told her what had happened and finally diagnosed me with type 1 diabetes.

The news came as a shock to my family. Back then, I was the only child of my parents and the eldest grandchild of a loving family. Though I belong to a well educated background, it was hard for family and friends to accept the fact that a toddler could face a painful condition like diabetes. My parents were told by people around that there was a huge possibility that I would not make it to the age of ten They were often bluntly advised to stop my education and to refrain from spending large amounts of money on me because all of it would go in vain. Hailing from a small city three hours away from Karachi, I did face difficulties in getting proper medication and advice from doctors. Our visits to Karachi became more frequent, many of which were emergencies.

My diabetes diagnosis was a life changing point for me; it changed my perception of the world and my reality. I was now not looked at as the brilliant student in school or the adorable girl in the neighborhood. I was defined with one single word - Diabetic. These perceptions did not prevent me from achieving what I wanted in life, but I cannot deny that they did often blur my vision. However, I feel very blessed that my parents not only accepted the fact strong headedly but also strived with me to overcome the challenges that I was presented with. My mother had always been an independent strong woman but there are moments that redefine you, and my diabetes did that for her. She did not give up but I did sense a change in her. She now looked at things differently; her priorities changed from planning for my strong future to just counting on the present moments and she stopped forcing me into activities and studies. I cannot deny that I enjoyed being left to my own free will. I was not forced to do things I was not fond of. I guess that every child dreams but one of the amazing things about growing up is that our perspectives are gradually altered and our experiences and observations work as chisels to form our unripe thoughts into proper bigger and well defined judgments. We understand the mechanism of things and how what we take pleasure in is not always what we could do with.

I made it to university in Karachi, kind of surpassing the expected time limit of being alive that people had given me. Karachi is a vibrant city. It is called the city of lights and I would say that it is called that for the right reason. Karachites firmly believe the best way to fight chaos is with chaos. In such a city it is difficult to retain your identity and not to get lost among the crowd. It was difficult to adjust there as I was always taken care of by others and quite dependent on others so for me that was what I defined as normal. But after moving to the city, I learnt that the perspective of life and perception of people is very different. I had to take care of myself on my own as my parents were living in another city. The studies, the people, everything seemed so hard to understand and adapt to because I hadn't seen the world like this before.

The thing which really bothered me and had a bad effect on me until my teenage years was the feeling of being alone throughout my childhood and adolescence. There were two main reasons for this. Firstly, I had a lifestyle altering medical condition that no one in my circle had; second, nobody ever told me that diabetes should not be the paradigm of my life. I always tried to find some friends who were dealing with the same condition so that I could share and talk my heart out knowing that they would understand the issues. I wanted to get inspiration and motivation from them. Unfortunately, at that time I could not find any and always dealt with the feeling of being special and different. Being the eldest in the family, I was always provided with ample care and attention which made me quite reliant on others. It was only in this big city that I got a reality check; I was thrown out of the fools paradise I was living in. Among people with vast experiences and backgrounds, I learnt that life was much more than minor hurdles such as these and I learnt that I was not different or special, that there were many like me.

Karachi awoke my competitive spirit and brought me out of my comfort zone. I was finally among people who stopped looking at me with pitiful looks. I was finally being treated like a normal part of society and not given special treatment. This changed my views about life. Most importantly, I started taking responsibility for myself. My family always supported me in my every decision completely. They always encouraged me for whatever I wanted to accomplish and never denied me of anything that any other normal individual would have in their life. My parents and sisters always helped me to deal with such a complicated thing with ease.

I have completed my Master in Biotechnology and am currently doing an MS. I have participated in every activity that I saw as an opportunity to prove myself, from sports to doing volunteer work, organizing campaigns, and conducting seminars. I won the national science Olympiad and was one of the selected young leaders from Pakistan in the International Young Leaders Assembly 2014, organized by UNESCAP, the UNESCO the Global Peace Foundation and the Global Young Leaders Academy. I went to Thailand to promote participation development and peace at the Asia Pacific Forum, where I was certified as a Global Ambassador. I believe it is possible to live your life in whatever way you want. Diabetes cant stop you!

I know it's easier said than done because there will always be people around you who, because of their misconceptions about diabetes, will keep confusing you and, if you are a female, it will lead to the big question that you can't marry or have kids. In the end, it all depends on you how you take it and what is more important for you; being trapped by the criticism or to fight with diabetes and your lifestyle. If you choose the latter, success will definitely be yours. And to get that success, I am still fighting for the cause and to overcome the problems I had faced in my childhood. I started looking for people with diabetes and now I have many around me that help me get motivation. I feel inspired and strengthened when I talk to them because they are dealing with the same thing and can completely understand me. Peer support can do wonders for people with diabetes!

I intended to start a forum for people with type 1 diabetes, particularly the young ones, so that they can meet with others dealing with similar issues because the feelings of loneliness sometimes overcome you. For the same reason, I have joined hands with Meethi Zindagi to accomplish this mission. I am very much hopeful that the work we are doing under the umbrella of this forum will add real sweetness in the life of many children and young people dealing with diabetes. I feel great to work for this cause and look forward to achieving success in this mission.

Living with diabetes is challenging, partly because there come certain moments when you really feel helpless and de-motivated, but it's up to you how you face this challenge. For me, it is an experience which taught me a number of things and I think its your perception which matters rather than the condition. There will be moments when you think why you have been chosen to live with diabetes and why not others? My faith and my beliefs have helped me get through these thoughts. That there is good and wisdom in everything, and the bravest thing we could do is be patient and make the best of what we have. We are never burdened with more than what we can endure and I think, if we truly understand and believe in these words then life does get easier. We are capable of a lot more than what people think of us and even at times what we think of ourselves. And all of this has led me to the conclusion that we are what we do with what we have around us. Things do get out of my hands even now, but I have learnt to accept and  face them, making peace with the situation.

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