Phoenix Rising Out Of The Ashes
By: Colleen Mattson-Goos
A few years ago a friend of mine referred to me as a “Phoenix Rising Out of the Ashes” and after thinking about this for some time I have come to the conclusion that he is right. I have a quiet strength that many people do not see until I feel the need to call upon it. Some have even mistaken this sense of quiet calm as weakness. They are wrong.
Unlike many others who have submitted their stories, I did not have a happy or healthy early childhood. I was often sick with ear infections or viral infections. I did not physically or emotionally grow the way most children do and I wet the bed constantly. I did not talk to people, especially at school, and was held back a grade due to a failure to interact. I did not feel safe anywhere and I just wanted to disappear. I was lonely, scared, and felt worthless.
By the time I was 9 years old I had had already testified in court due to abuse that had occurred in my home at the hands of people who I should have been able to trust. My dad and stepmom gained custody of me at this time and my overall health started to improve. I finally had a sense of security and felt that I was an accepted member of my family. I started to live like a child should, even if still very quiet.
Three years later my sense of security and health came crashing down, and my family was thrown into yet another crisis because of me. Or what I incorrectly perceived as my fault.
It was about January of 1984 that I started to feel like something was very wrong but I could not describe it. I was tired all of the time and started sleeping throughout the day, even in classrooms. I went home and slept, I fell asleep watching T.V., or playing with my younger sisters. I was constantly drinking water and was going to the bathroom every 10 minutes. I had always been so tiny that clothing never fit right, so my rapid weight loss went unnoticed by myself and my parents.
I smelled death and even had thoughts about dying, but I still could not put into words what I felt like. How do you tell your parents that everything stinks like decaying matter and that you think it is you? How do you tell them you think you are dying when you cannot even describe what you are feeling to begin with?
On February 22nd I came home from school like normal and went into my room to practice playing my flute. I recall sitting down and putting my flute together, but after that I have no memory. I have no memory of my parents taking me to the hospital, or being in the emergency room. My stepmom later told me that when the nurses put a gown on me I was so thin I looked translucent; I weighed 50lbs and I was 12 years old.
What I do recall is waking up and being told that I am now a diabetic. In the 1980’s they still referred to this as “juvenile diabetes” and they knew it had to do with the immune system but not exactly how. I was told that I now have to take shots every day to live, and I need to test my blood sugar several times a day. I was also to follow a “diabetic diet”. I practiced injecting insulin into an orange and by the second day I was injecting myself and seemingly moving forward.
My early childhood had already set me up for emotional difficulties including eating disorders and suicidal thoughts and behaviors. When I was taught to care for my diabetes what the educators and doctors unknowingly taught me was that I now had the ability to gain weight, lose weight, and even easily kill myself if I wanted to. In my mind this became a covert power and something to cherish. The beast that emerged was my secret friend. Unfortunately by the time I was 19 this friend, in combination of lack of access to care, caused the loss of a baby who would now be 26.
In 1992, after years of quietly abusing myself the way that I did and suffering loss, I discovered that I was pregnant with my daughter. I started to care for myself because I wanted her more than anything one could imagine, and in July of 1993 she was born. She was a perfect, beautiful, redheaded baby. Unfortunately, complications from my diabetes, C-section, and emotions arose and I was placed in ICU for some time.
My daughter went home two weeks before I did, even though she was born early. I had severe postpartum depression from this separation, and such a horrific fear of harming my child that I regressed. I left the hospital under 70lbs after her birth and the Beast was back with a vengeance. I was hospitalized numerous times over the next few years, and once I was placed in psychiatric care. One day when my daughter was about 3 years old, she asked: “Mommy are you dying?” I looked into her face and saw so much fear it shattered my heart. I swore to myself, and silently promised her that I would harness the beast that is Type 1 Diabetes, Diabulimia, and Mental Illnesses.
With the support of my husband and our families, I have seen our daughter up, and I have maintained a healthy weight for over 20 years. I am almost finished earning a Master’s in Library and Information Science with a GPA of 3.972, and I am a Teaching Assistant at the university level. My A1C’s are no longer 12+ and with my CGM, and pump we sleep better at night. Sometimes the beast breaks its chains but the Phoenix always rises to the challenge and my story is not over.