What advice do you have for someone newly diagnosed with diabetes?
I’ve heard that question a few times over the past few weeks during interviews to promote the Weekend for Women Conference, which starts Friday. Before this summer, I’d only done one radio interview so it’s been fun to share about the conference and talk about our mission – work that means so much to me personally and professionally. But that question has also made me think about my own journey with Type 1 diabetes over the past 7 ½ years – the things I’ve learned and the advice I wish someone had been there to give me.
My friend Kory calls me “the Girl Scout.” Yes, I did spent a little time as a “Brownie” as a kid but the nickname is mainly because I am a planner. When she got married and one of the other bridesmaids needed something – bobby pins, Band-aids, Advil, peanut butter crackers – Kory usually said, “Ask Ellica.”
Having Type 1 diabetes has taught me to be prepared not just for out-of-town trips but also running everyday errands. Those peanut butter crackers Kory mentioned are stuffed in a lot of places – along with fruity, non-chalky glucose tablets. They’re on the dresser next to my bed, in my purse, my car, my work bag, my desk – anywhere I may need them.
When I travel out of town, I carry two or three times as many supplies – test strips, pods for my OmniPod, syringes, an extra vile of insulin and a download of my pump settings – because you never know what might happen. Last year, those extra supplies came in handy when I got sick during a trip last summer and had to stay an extra week until I was well enough to travel.
I’ve learned that it helps to be prepared, but also to be flexible and ready to adapt because diabetes can thrown unexpected things your way too.
You won’t be perfect
For the first two years after I was diagnosed, I kept detailed food journals of every meal and snack. When I was at home, I would try to weigh and measure everything to get the carb counting just right. It taught me to be disciplined in my approach to diabetes. But I think it also stemmed from thinking that if I could monitor those things perfectly I would end up with my target blood sugars. And I did have a great A1C in those early years: 6.0.
But over the years I’ve also learned that you can do all those things exactly right and one day the numbers are great, the next day they may be all over the place. Yes, you learn to track the patterns and trends to adjust as much as you can. But in the same way your life differs from one day to the next, so does your life with diabetes. Be patient with yourself when the numbers aren’t where they should be because things were stressful, you were on vacation or hiking through the woods. Learn what you can, try to leave the past in the past and approach each new day with a fresh perspective.
Support is so important
I am very blessed to have wonderfully supportive friends and family. They’ve tried to learn all they can about Type 1 diabetes. They send me articles about promising new research and technology, encourage me when it’s been a tough diabetes day and know where the stash of snacks are if my blood sugar is low. While my diagnosis with diabetes was unexpected, I also recognize that I’m fortunate to be living at this time when there are continuous glucose monitors and insulin pumps. Technology that makes me the bionic woman, as my boyfriend says, and that make life with diabetes more manageable.
From the beginning, I was determined that diabetes would not define me – even if it were now part of my life 24 hours a day. At the time, I didn’t realize just how important that support network would be because I didn’t know as much about the mental side of living with a chronic illness. Until there was a cure, diabetes would be my constant sidekick. And there were times when that could be daunting. When I would think about the women I’ve met through DiabetesSisters who have lived with diabetes for decades and thought I want to be one of those people, but also realized there were a lot of years in between.
Connecting with other people with diabetes who understand what that reality is like has been life changing. To know that other people feel frustrated or tired at times just like I do, but have the determination to keep moving forward is one of the things that helps keep me going. So in thinking about that question of what advice I’d give someone newly diagnosed: Find other people in the diabetes community who are on that same journey, who get it. Because this is a journey you shouldn’t make alone.
"Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, 'What! You too? I thought I was the only one.' " - C.S. Lewis