T1D and Peer Support: Because of CDN…

This blog post is a response to a prompt provided by my friends at the College Diabetes Network, who are celebrating College Diabetes Week from November 12-16. Even though I’m no longer in college, I like to participate in CDW activities as much as possible to show my support for the CDN!

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In my last Memory Monday, I touched on how CDN changed my life. But I didn’t go into great detail on how, exactly.

CDN was my first leadership opportunity as a young adult. In college, I became President of the UMass Amherst chapter of the CDN. That role came with tons of responsibilities: organizing meetings, recruiting new members, creating a constitution, getting approval from the student government, keeping track of chapter finances, electing an executive board…it was exhausting! But I was passionate about it and wanted to see it succeed, so I threw myself into the work of running a chapter. I took my role as a leader seriously, but also wanted to make sure that the group benefited everyone who decided to join it. I did my best to listen to member feedback and apply it accordingly to group meetings and activities, which I think shows that I’m a receptive leader.

And my involvement as a chapter leader is what brought me so many friendships. That’s because I was able to attend the inaugural CDN student retreat during my final year of college. That’s where I met student leaders just like me from colleges across the country. We commiserated on the hardships of running chapters as well as the challenges of having diabetes in college, and straight-up bonded for the few days we spent together. I felt that the retreat helped me come out of my shell a bit, and only molded me into a more confident leader with more resources than before that could help me run my chapter most effectively.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m eternally grateful for all the wonderful people and opportunities that CDN has brought into my life.

What I Wish I Knew When I was Diagnosed with Diabetes

This blog post is a response to a prompt provided by my friends at the College Diabetes Network, who are celebrating College Diabetes Week from November 12-16. Even though I’m no longer in college, I like to participate in CDW activities as much as possible to show my support for the CDN!

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I was four years old when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I don’t have many memories from that fateful trip to the hospital. Since it was Christmas Eve, my only real concern was whether I’d be home in time to enjoy Santa’s visit!

But in the nearly 21 years that I’ve had diabetes, I’ve come to learn that there’s so many things I would have liked to know at diagnosis. I didn’t truly understand what my diagnosis meant at that young age…I don’t think I realized how it would forever change my life. I was probably more frightened than anything else, since I was being poked and prodded by seemingly endless needles.

That said, I wish I could’ve told that four year old girl that having diabetes would make me stronger. Every single needle that I was stuck with would help me fight against this disease. Everything that was physical about diabetes would make me mentally stronger. The kind of strength it imparts is a different breed, one that’s difficult to describe, but one that I’m strangely grateful to have.

It always sounds slightly weird to say that I’m grateful for something associated with diabetes, but that’s what Hugging the Cactus is all about: taking the good with the bad and embracing it for what it is.

Memory Monday: Attending my First CDN Meeting

One Monday per month, I’ll take a trip down memory lane and reflect on how much my diabetes thoughts, feelings, and experiences have unfolded over the years. Today, I remember…

…attending my very first CDN meeting as a college freshman who had no idea what to expect.

I remember wandering into one of the dilapidated buildings on campus, my stomach twisting in knots out of anticipation. I had no clue what to expect. I’d decided to go to the meeting partly to find out what it was like to interact with other T1Ds who were my age, and partly to placate my mother, who encouraged me to give it a shot (pun definitely intended).

When I walked into the room, I was greeted by the then-president of the UMass Amherst chapter, a couple of members, and the chapter’s adviser. I remember smiling nervously at them, introducing myself, and sitting down to join in on the animated conversation.

That would be the first and only CDN meeting in which I didn’t have much to say, only because I was too fixated on the novelty of the whole thing. Growing up, my mom and my aunt were the only two T1Ds I had in my life, and I was very okay with that. They were (and still are) excellent resources for my diabetes-related questions, so much so that my young/naive mind couldn’t see what I’d possibly have to gain by befriending other people my own age with diabetes.

If I’d known then what I know now…!

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CDN became such a big part of my life that I even wound up on the cover of their Advocacy and Awareness Guide!                    Who woulda thunk?

To make a long story short, that meeting marked the start of something wonderful for me. A journey, of sorts, to feeling empowered with diabetes. The beginning of many treasured friendships. An introduction to leadership in the diabetes community. A foray into feeling less afraid to rely on others for emotional support when I struggle with my diabetes.

That first meeting showed me what it was like to be around peers who I don’t have to constantly explain things to because they already know the ins and outs of diabetes just as well as I do. And that is invaluable.

I like reflecting on my involvement with CDN because so many positive things are associated with it, and it’s especially fitting on this Memory Monday in question, because Diabetes Awareness Month is right around the corner! My upcoming posts will reflect that, and they’ll also address prompts provided by the CDN to celebrate College Diabetes Week. Even though I’m not in college anymore, I’m looking forward to writing posts that respond to those prompts, because they’ll serve as a great way to reflect and reminisce some more. Be on the lookout for those posts in the next two weeks!

CDN Creates New Guide for Young Adults Entering the Workforce

In 2014, I learned that I was eligible to graduate college one semester earlier than expected. The prospect should have excited me, but it made me more anxious than anything else. I couldn’t help but dwell on the fact that I’d be starting my career sooner than I planned. The thought terrified me. Questions coursed through my mind: How would I adjust to an entirely new daily routine? Would my employer be okay with my diabetes? How should I handle it when it inevitably comes up with my new colleagues? Was I really and truly ready for this?

I can’t emphasize enough how valuable the latest resource from the College Diabetes Network (CDN), the Off to Work Guide, would have been as I made this scary transition.

This new addition to CDN’s Guides is chock full of information for young professionals. In tandem with current CDN students, CDN alumni, and professional resources, CDN has crafted a guide that contains both advice and facts intended to help readers worry less, learn how to be prepared for the workplace, and make a healthy and successful transition into adult life. It covers everything from writing a resume to navigating health insurance options with an employer, and it even features general financial planning advice that could benefit more seasoned professional individuals.

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As I read through the Guide for the first time, I found myself appreciating the sections that talked about workplace rights and networking. There are many legal rights that people with diabetes have as it pertains to the workforce, but I wasn’t familiar with most of them. The Guide presents this information in a way that’s easy to read and less intimidating. And it helped me be more comfortable with the word “disability” and what it means in a professional environment.

The networking section was also a great addition to the Guide. It covered both networking with others in the diabetes community as well as networking at professional events. I learned about several different ways I can keep up with my T1D peers now that I’m a CDN alum. From online groups to in-person meetups, there’s a bunch of options available to young professionals like me who value staying in contact with the diabetes community. Plus, there were some useful tips on how to handle social events when networking in a professional setting (and you’re not around other T1Ds). Check out this section and you’ll see quotes from yours truly on how to find a balance between networking on both a diabetes and non-diabetes level!

The Guide also features several other sections, including one about mental health, one with on the job tips, and one that details the steps to take after getting employment. Beyond that, the Guide covers so much more.

If you’ll be graduating college soon and you’re nervous about joining the professional world, don’t worry. You’re not alone in how you feel. CDN’s Guide contains all the information, advice, and materials you’ll want to know as begin this next chapter in life. And take it from me, someone who’s been through it already: This transition should excite you more than anything else. Don’t let your fears get in the way as you embark on your career path, and don’t let your diabetes deter you from pursuing your professional and personal goals. You can do this!

Request your free copy of the Guide now! https://www.tfaforms.com/4676766

Disclosing Diabetes in the Workplace

Almost two years ago, my friends from the College Diabetes Network asked me to discuss diabetes in the workplace at their annual student retreat. The prospect of bringing diabetes into a new career and encountering new sets of challenges can seem daunting, so I was happy to talk about my positive experiences thus far as a young adult who has already made the transition from college to “the real world”.

Diabetes in the workplace – how do I navigate it? Here’s a little snippet in which I explain how I’ve decided to disclose my diabetes with my coworkers:

College Diabetes Week Day 5: My Advice to a High School Student with Diabetes

My final post for College Diabetes Week 2017…already?!

Here’s the prompt:

What advice would you give a high school student with diabetes preparing for college?

I would tell a T1D high school student who’s bound for college that these next four years are going to be some of the most formative, exciting, and opportunity-filled years in their life. Don’t take them for granted!!! With everything that will happen in college, it’s beyond important to prioritize health. Take care of your mental and physical health as well as your diabetes. Self-care works wonders on all aspects of your health, so don’t deprive yourself of it.

Do things for you. Explore. Share with others. Seek support when you need it. You are NEVER alone and there’s no shame in asking for help from others. Remember that the people who love us want the best for us and often WANT to help us – they just don’t always know how they can do that. So tell them how they can show support for you. You and your support system will thrive as long as you’re willing to share with one another.

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Hey, it’s me! Here I am giving some advice in a video featured on CDN’s YouTube channel.

Before I wrap up my blogging for College Diabetes Week 2017, I want to tell all students who are involved with CDN that they are amazing. I love seeing the various activities that CDN Chapters across the country are working on throughout the school year. These students are innovators and sources of inspiration – true assets to the diabetes community. Know that your work doesn’t go unnoticed! As a CDN alum, it makes me proud to see the national CDN and its dozens of Chapters flourish.

A Discussion about T1D, Mental Health, and Body Image with CDN

Last night, the College Diabetes Network hosted a Facebook Live that brought together a panel of young adults with T1D, psychologists, and special guests who discussed the mental health issues associated with diabetes. The conversation lasted just over an hour and a half, with viewers chiming in throughout to get their questions answered by the panel.

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Missed the Facebook Live? Visit the College Diabetes Network’s Facebook page to watch the whole video.

The topics covered by the panel included depression, burnout, anxiety, ADHD, and disordered eating vs. eating disorders. Incredible stories, insights, and tidbits of advice were shared as the panelists opened up to viewers and honestly answered the questions that were asked.

Several responses from the panel stood out to me, and I’d like to share what was said and why it affected me…

On T1D as a psychologically and behaviorally demanding stress in your life:

The idea of perfectionism…and you have to be perfect at everything, and transitioning into having to go into college, get good grades, do well, and plan for a successful career…and having diabetes also be a factor is overwhelming and can cause people to go into a state of ignoring it. -Karly

I related to this because I’ve always tried to be a perfectionist, in all facets of my life. Karly’s take on diabetes being an unwanted, demanding, and additional stress factor resonated with me because I also view it as just another thing in life that I have to try to handle perfectly – which, of course, is impossible when it comes to a chronic condition with a mind of its own.

On the concept of lowering expectations and setting goals:

It’s less about lowering expectations and more about establishing expectations that are real…Also, the way that diabetes is taught, I personally think is absolutely incorrect. Patients and loved ones are taught that blood glucose can be controlled…and that it responds to an algebra equation…what your insulin to carb ratio and what your sensitivity factor is can land you directly into the target, but what we know is the target is a zone, not a bull’s eye. And we don’t teach it that way. -Ann

I loved how Ann phrased that part I put in bold – I grew up thinking that I had to have my blood sugars right on the money at all times. If it was higher or lower than say, 120, I was failing (this ties in with that perfectionist attitude I was just talking about). But to hear her acknowledge that this way of thinking shouldn’t be taught was validating to me.

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On the fear and anxiety of losing control from low blood sugar:

During a workout…whenever I was making progress, it seemed like something just pulled me right back…because of that, I started training high, purposely. I would start training in the high 100s, to almost the 200s, which is not good at all…I had to become conscious of that…because of my fear of lows [and feeling like I’m about to die]…I intentionally made myself high. -Jiggy

Working out has always been a challenge for me, and my fear of lows during a workout is pretty intense. To hear that Jiggy responds to that in the exact same way as me made me feel not so alone.

On accepting mistakes and that you’re not perfect:

Remember that you were never meant to perform this function. Your body was meant to perform this function. You are trying to take over from something that your body was supposed to do for you…remember you’re a human being [who is] being asked to do something you weren’t supposed to do. -Will

Yes, yes, YES. Will could not have said it better. It’s important to remind yourself that it’s not easy to take over a job that your body is supposed to do for you automatically as a biological function. You just need to try to do the best that you can, and not beat yourself up when you don’t always get desirable results.

A major thank you to William Jennette, Karly Kroeten, Jiggy Yoon, Aaron Sherman, Heather Levy, Ellen O’Donnell, Ann Goebel-Fabbri, and Quinn Nystrom for volunteering their time to get together for this Facebook Live, as well as for being vulnerable for perfect strangers on the Internet. I know it’s not easy to share personal stories, but the integrity and eloquence displayed by each panelist made for a powerful live video.

The College Diabetes Network’s website contains a variety of information on how you or a loved one can cope with the mental health challenges of diabetes. Visit their page to access materials that help explain touchy topics, as well as additional resources.

College Diabetes Week Day 4: Triumphs in the Face of Diabetes

Happy Thursday! Let’s shift the mood a bit from yesterday’s challenging post to a more upbeat one:

Share your triumphs! How have you tackled the challenges you’ve faced relating to diabetes and college? What did college and diabetes teach you as a person?

I wrote about how I excelled in college despite my diabetes last year, so this year I’m going to write about how I’ve triumphed in the “real world”. The major challenges I’ve tackled, and succeeded in, include:

  • Landing my first “real world” job. There’s many aspects to this accomplishment that make me proud: I’ve gained experience writing in a professional setting, I’ve been able to pay off my student loans, and I’ve thrived in this environment. But what I feel especially triumphant about is the fact that my diabetes has NEVER interfered with my job. I’m always able to turn in assignments on time and I’ve never had a bad hypo while at work. Diabetes is seldom my reason for not feeling well, and I’m fortunate to be working with a group of kind, caring, and inquisitive individuals who support me and my diabetes.
  • Overcoming my fear of traveling alone. Three years post-graduation, I’ve flown on more planes than I can actually count. I’ll estimate that I travel every other month, mainly for personal reasons, but the first time I did it alone was far from easy. My anxiety was through the roof and I was beyond paranoid, constantly rifling through my bags to quadruple-check that I had all my supplies and breathing shakily during take-offs. Rather than dwell on how nervous I used to be, though, I prefer to remind myself that I continue to travel in spite of all this.
  • Launching my own diabetes blog. This recent triumph is one that I’m especially proud of. I was incredibly hesitant for a long time to create my own blog. Many times, I had to remind myself why it was important for me to just go ahead and do it. These reasons include 1) I wanted to share a more personal side of my diabetes experience, 2) I hoped to reach a wider audience and foster more connections in the diabetes community, and 3) I desired a creative outlet through which I could share my story. Though it’s been scary at times to be so vulnerable on my blog, I’ve greatly enjoyed having one of my own and look forward to improving it in the future.
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My 10-year Lilly medal is a tangible representation of my diabetes triumphs – next month, it’ll be 20 years!

Speaking of things to look forward to, I can’t wait to see what kinds of triumphs (both diabetes-related and otherwise) I’ll be able to claim this time next year!

College Diabetes Week Day 3: The Hardest Part about Living with Diabetes in College

Here is the prompt for today:

Share the hardest thing about living with diabetes in college. Don’t be afraid to talk about the things that are taboo, like mental health or burn out!

Last year, I wrote about how lonely I felt throughout college – that is, until I found the CDN! This year, I’m going to focus on a more taboo topic, something that I’ve struggled with in the last few years: anxiety.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that my anxiety towards my diabetes manifested itself in college. I was more worried about severe lows than ever, even though I didn’t have to cope with many of them.

But one particular day, it seemed like my blood sugar simply didn’t want to stay above 80. I was terrified. I knew all the tricks in the book to fix it, but that didn’t stop me from fretting over the matter. My lows consumed my mind and I couldn’t focus on anything else. I began to think about the “what ifs” – what if my blood sugar doesn’t come back up? What if I need help? What if I’m alone? What if I pass out? What if???

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I was absolutely frantic, forcing myself to eat 15 or so grams of carbs every hour just to keep level as I monitored the situation. I remember sitting in a 500+ person lecture hall for my psychology class with a T1D friend, who watched me anxiously test my blood sugar three times within 30 minutes. “You’ve got to calm down a bit,” she’d said. “Remember, it’ll take your body time to process all of the carbs.”

She was right, of course. And by the end of the day, I hadn’t experienced a blood sugar below 80 for a couple hours. It seemed like the episode was over. And I was fine.

That’s what I like to think about when I remember this certain episode. I was fine. As scared as I felt at points throughout the day, I took action to stabilize my blood sugar. I monitored the situation carefully and still performed my responsibilities as a student by attending classes. I was fine.

And I will be fine, despite my diabetes, because I’m determined to overcome the hardest parts of living with it.

College Diabetes Week Day 2: The Impact of CDN

The next prompt for College Diabetes Week 2017 is:

Share the impact that being involved with CDN has had on you!

This is my second time around responding to the College Diabetes Week blog prompts, but this doesn’t mean that I’m answering them in the exact same way. For instance, last year I wrote about how grateful I am for the friendships and connections I’ve made because of CDN, and how my involvement with CDN was my first true leadership opportunity.

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A college-aged Molly at a tabling event for the UMass Amherst Chapter of the CDN!

But this year I want to talk about how CDN has influenced my perception of persistence. We all know the phrase “persistence pays off”, but it never really registered with me until I got involved with CDN. I experienced firsthand how important it is to advocate for yourself and what you believe in when I was trying to get my Chapter registered at UMass Amherst. It was a major challenge, but I persevered despite of the obstacles I faced because I wanted to accomplish my goal. And I did.

As a result, I make an effort to give 100% of myself when I get involved in new projects. I find something that I’m passionate about and don’t give in until I see it come to fruition. This blog, for example, wouldn’t have happened unless I persisted to take risks.

CDN’s impact on me has been profound, and I look forward to see how it positively affects the lives of many other T1Ds for years to come!