At the age of 21, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes during my first semester of graduate school. I was a go-getter, an over-achiever, and on track to take the career world by storm. The months leading up to my diagnosis were painful, as my pancreas began to deteriorate, unbeknownst to me. Slowly, my energy levels depleted and I struggled to find an ounce of motivation to complete the simplest tasks. My body had been hijacked.
My diagnosis came as a complete surprise—I felt invincible and had never experienced any major illness, no broken bones, healthy as a horse. I should’ve seen the warning signs as I grew up watching my dad live with Type 1 Diabetes. My initial reaction to my diagnosis was what you’d expect—moments of denial, moments of “I got this. No big deal,” and moments of confusion. However, in the midst of all these mixed emotions, I never once feared what my life would look like with Diabetes. I did have moments of anger & doubts that I would never reclaim my life again or actually experience the life I had always envisioned for myself—a successful career, marriage, a big family, and the perfect balance in all aspects.
Fortunately, these waves of emotions didn’t last long and I distinctly remember sitting in my apartment in Malibu with a decision to make. I was either going to allow T1D to take control over my life and spend my days in self-pity or I was going to prove that my quality of life would not be hindered by this disease; I’d commit each day to overcoming it. From that day on, I was determined to claim victory of this chronic illness, accept it, and use it as a vehicle to inspire & motivate others.
For those living with T1D or loved ones of T1D’s, we know this disease is by no means easy. Before I discuss the ways living with a chronic illness has made my life better, I don’t want to undermine the challenges that come with it. Diabetes is a 24/7 job, and we have no days off. We are constantly reminded of our disease, and our everyday actions dictate the outcomes of our blood sugar levels. Contrary to what most people think of T1D, our blood sugar levels are influenced by a multitude of ways that go beyond just what we consume. For me, my BG levels can be altered by food, exercise, sleep, illness, climate, stress, medications, hormones, and so on. We walk a tight rope and work diligently every single day to ensure that we stay closely within range to feel “normal,” avoiding the discomfort that comes with high or low blood sugars. To those who don’t understand T1D or for those who may be experiencing their first days with diabetes, my message is that it IS truly possibly to live a great life, all while dealing with the day-to-day issues that come with T1D.
Of course, there are occasional days where diabetes beats me, days where I wish this disease never happened to me. However, most days I am completely grateful for this life change. It has added more goodness to my life, more purpose, and direction. Here are 5 ways that living with Type 1 Diabetes has given me a greater life:
Type 1 Diabetes has taught me to be thankful for the many good days that I do have (which far outnumber the bad days). Yes, T1D is challenging but I am thankful that I’ve found ways to mitigate the risks and experience breakthroughs that have benefited my overall wellness & T1D management. T1D brings on moments of unpredictability, but I’ve learned to prepare for these situations & I’m grateful I am able to at least reclaim the majority of control on my disease—one that allows me to experience a full life. T1D has taught me to be grateful for the good health I do have, the access I have to supplies and T1D technology (like my insulin, test strips, insulin pump, and Continuous Glucose Monitor), and the motivation to live life well.
Having T1D has allowed me to expand mindfulness on my body and how it reacts to anything I put into it as well as other influences like sleep and stress. It’s pretty cool to know that I can nearly pinpoint where my BG levels will be if I eat a particular food, do a particular form of exercise, or place myself in a certain environment. As a diabetic, I am much more in tune with my body and extremely health conscious. When asked by others my approach to balancing T1D, I tell them I consider myself my own health advocate, physician, nutritionist, personal trainer, and health coach. As I mentioned before, T1D is a balancing act, walking a tight rope and making sure we are making the best decisions to stay on track. In my 4 years of T1D, I’ve been fortunate to quickly learn the best methods to managing T1D but more importantly, I’ve discovered the decisions that influence my overall health & wellness. I have become quite the wellness guru. I’m not sure I would be, had I not started my journey with a chronic illness.
Living with T1D has given me the opportunity to show more compassion for others. Prior to my diagnosis, I lived in my own perfect health bubble and didn’t understand & was unaware to the challenges that many face with chronic illnesses. I would consider Type 1 Diabetes an “invisible disease,” meaning that from the outside, we may appear to be healthy and what others would consider “normal”, but on the inside, we are dealing with a war waged on our immune system, a condition that will not go away. Far too often I hear the phrase, “But you don’t look like a diabetic.”
Admittedly, I used to be very selfish and self-absorbed on a mission to accomplish my goals with little regard for others. Today, I have put my selfishness aside and traded it for a heart for others. My involvement in the T1D world has grown as I have been committed to learning more from others, offering my own advice & encouragement, and raising awareness for our community of fighters.
T1D has given me more opportunities to celebrate the small victories in life. I’ve learned to find excitement in some of the smallest things- a correct bolus, a successful CGM pairing, completing a challenging workout while stabilizing my numbers, or tightening up my A1C. T1D is an ongoing learning experience and I’m learning something new every single day. As each year goes by since by diagnosis in 2012, I continue to get stronger and stronger. Along with this, brings more confidence, and the grit to take T1D by the horns. I have an incredible support system that walks this journey with me, celebrating these victories. My dad, brother, and sister all live with Type 1 Diabetes! We encourage each other, offer support, and celebrate the T1D wins in each other’s unique journeys. To me, every day is a victory because I can go to sleep knowing that I’m manually keeping myself alive through the use of insulin and other forms of therapy. How cool is that?!
Lastly, T1D has given me more purpose in life. Prior to my diagnosis, I always wondered what my true passion would be, what I would offer to the world. Today, I have a true passion for the T1D Community—raising awareness, spreading positivity & encouragement, educating, breaking stereotypes, and proving to the world that T1D is not a hindrance to living the best life possible. I believe that God gave me the opportunity to be diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes to make a difference in other’s lives and to be a light to the community. In the beginning, I couldn’t see the purpose in it. Four years later, I am grateful to be a part of this unique and amazing group of T1D’s.
Type 1 Diabetes has not been a walk in the park and I know my days ahead will bring on an array of challenges during various stages in my life. However, I am confident in the strong foundation I have set for myself. Instead of choosing a life of self-pity, bitterness, and hopelessness I have learned to view my disease through a refreshing perspective. Diabetes may have taken my pancreas away, along with many other freedoms, but it has given me more gratitude, mindfulness, compassion, victories, and purpose. Altogether, my life has been changed for the better.