Five years ago, I didn't actually think I would be thriving with diabetes. Maybe right when I was diagnosed - but only because I saw people like Halle Berry and Nick Jonas and thought “if these celebrities can manage it, I can definitely do it”. But at that point I didn’t really know what "it" was. I didn’t know what type 1 diabetes really consisted of on a day-to-day basis. I didn’t know about everything that came with that tiny, yet loaded sentence: “You have diabetes."
I spent the first three days after diagnosis learning about what my new life would be like: A million tiny decisions throughout the day. finger sticks, calculations before eating, planning exercise, carrying devices around, treating highs and lows, and way too many needles for someone who doesn’t even like to get a flu shot, not to mention the mental toll of the disease. After realizing all the baggage that came with that initial diagnosis, I wondered “Can I really live happily with this? Just because those Nick Jonas could do it doesn’t mean I can!" Thriving with diabetes wasn’t really in the picture as I doubted my ability to manage and come to terms with it.
I was a junior in high school when I was diagnosed, and unfortunately at this point I hadn’t yet learned that having things that made you different was actually an incredible thing, and not something to be ashamed. Things that did NOT make me feel like I was thriving: Going to the nurses’s office every day before lunch. Going to the bathroom before a meal at dinner out with friends. Not being able to go for a run exactly when I wanted. Wearing an insulin pump that bulged from under my clothes. Having to worry about alcohol and junk food as a college student. I didn’t feel like I was being the best version of myself, or living with the attitude I wanted.
I continued to look up more success stories for inspiration and it turned out, celebrities weren't the only ones conquering this disease. Six-year-olds played in soccer games without going low. Thirty-year-old moms with diabetes were healthy throughuot their pregnancies and had healthy babies. Sixty-year-olds who remember giving insulin with syringes they had to boil and sharpen, and no blood glucose monitoring, and are still here and still healthy. I read about thousands of people with diabetes that decided not to let this disease get the best of them, but to make the best of life with this disease. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to thrive with diabetes like they did.
So, I began to share my story. I went onto the "My Story" section of the JDRF website, where anyone with type 1 can share their journey with this disease. I didn’t get an overwhelming response from doing this, but writing about it and sharing with others felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. This opened up a whole new world for me. Before doing this I hadn’t reached out to anyone for help, hadn’t talked to anyone else with type 1, and didn’t really have one person that really understood what I was going through. Now I found that I could take action and feel like I was thriving with diabetes - When I shared my story, met others with this disease, and attended conferences and meetups.
I finally knew what it was like to feel okay with living with this disease, but I wanted more than that. I didn’t want to feel like I was thriving just when I was with other people who understood, because chances are that wouldn’t be every single day. So little by little, I started to do things that I was uncomfortable doing. I started to wear my pump where people could actually see it. I did BG checks in the open. I explained to others why I had to count carbs. Little by little, I started to feel more comfortable with my life with diabetes. I started to accept that I have type 1 diabetes. I started to believe that I can and will thrive with this disease.
I can't say that I feel this way every day. There are still days when I feel defeated by diabetes. Days when I feel like I have done everything in my power to manage it properly, but it just wants to fight back. I have to remember that this is part of life with diabetes. Thriving with diabetes includes recognizing a bad day and accepting it for what it is, not blaming yourself for a disease that has a mind of its own. Thriving doesn't mean eating exactly what I'm supposed to 100% of the time and exercising every single day. It means enjoying a treat once in a while, and taking a break from the gym every now and then, and accepting my choices. Thriving with diabetes means making the best of this disease, sharing my story with others, connecting with community, and acknowledging that I am doing my best.