Do you ever feel like a puzzle piece; one that belongs somewhere among the other 1000 pieces of imagery, not quite sure where you fit or how you can connect to form the giant picture? This has been the story of my life. For over 44 years my jigsaw had a hole. I let this empty space define me while I constantly searched for a way to fill the empty void. If only I could see that the answer was right before me the whole time.
Before I tell you how I finally found peace within myself and where I belong in this big picture called life, I’ll describe a recent series of events that led to this life-altering change.
I was packed and ready for my flight at 5:30am on Thursday, overwhelmed with feelings of excitement and anticipation. This happiness was shattered as I reached airport security and told the security guard that I needed a pat-down due to my diabetes-related electronics on my body. I went through a pat-down and my hands were swabbed. The alarm was triggered, and I was led to a private room for a second pat-down. I explained in detail each device that I must wear and why they are necessary. I feel violated, exposed, like an alien. Have they really never seen a person with diabetes devices before? I breathe deeply and move on. I will not let this incident ruin my trip.
I land in Chicago. What a beautiful city! I smile as I think about spending time here this weekend. You are probably wondering what brought me to Chicago. I am here for my first ever DiabetesSisters (DS) Leadership Institute. I volunteer my time leading a peer support group with women who, like me, live with diabetes and issues that come with it. I provide support and serve as a mentor.
Friday night arrived and I went to our first event – a social with all of the leaders attending the Institute. I was nervous as I walked into the restaurant. While I am not usually one to be shy, I had never met any of these women before tonight. Some of them have attended this conference in the past. I didn’t know what to expect. By the end of the night I am amazed by the beauty of it all. The food was “diabetes friendly,” we laughed, became acquainted and prepared for the conference that would start the next day.
It just got better from there. Saturday was more than I ever could have expected. We listened to speakers and were given information so that we could learn how to be better leaders and mentors to our peers. The room was filled with love, compassion and smiles. It was empowering, comforting, inspirational and in an odd way, funny to be surrounded by so many women who live with diabetes just like me.
It may be hard for you to understand this feeling, but try to put yourself in my shoes for a minute. Some of us have insulin pumps, we test our blood with devices that beep, and we wear mini-machines that are like another body part. This was a no judgment zone! No matter if our blood sugars were high, low, in the middle; if we were beeping, testing, or eating. No judgment!
We learned and talked about so many topics this past weekend. I learned how to be an advocate. I learned how to be a leader. I learned how to spark interest in our meetings. I learned that there is no better place to gain this knowledge than from the source: women with diabetes. I loved listening to others’ stories and I loved sharing my story with the other leaders in the room. But what I love the most is my newfound pride. I have type 1 diabetes and I am proud.
I didn’t always carry this pride in my heart. I am a stay-at-home mom. Don’t get me wrong - I love my family, but I have always felt that my life had no purpose. I needed more and I had more to give. The weekend in Chicago at the Leadership Institute showed me that I am not a lost piece in this puzzle of life. I have finally found where I fit, right here among these amazing women. This is where I am meant to be and this is what I am meant to do. I am truly helping other women live a healthier and happier life, diabetes and all.
Until next year, DiabetesSisters Fam. Stay healthy and I love you!
~Denise Scheffler is a PODS Leader in Bridgewater, NJ