4 Ways Diabetes Motivates Me

This blog post was originally published on Hugging the Cactus on March 19, 2021. I’m sharing it again today because it’s important for me to remember that on the days when diabetes feels so utterly defeating, it can also be incredibly motivating. Read on to learn how…

Life with diabetes can be inconvenient, unpredictable, and downright frustrating. But it’s not all bad. In fact, after living with it for more than 23 years now, I’ve actually identified a few different ways in which it helps motivate me. And what, exactly, are those ways? Well…

#1: It’s constantly challenging me to strive for the better: Better “control” over my blood sugar levels, better management of my diet and exercise regimen, and better care of my entire body, in general. While it involves a lot of work, it’s extremely motivating because I know that anything I do for the better of my diabetes and my body now will pay dividends in the future.

#2: Diabetes encourages me to ask questions. I think that my diabetes is the reason why I’ve learned to be curious. It pushes me to want to know the who, what, when, where, why, and how of various scenarios, both relating to and not relating to diabetes. It’s natural for human beings to be inquisitive, but they don’t always do something to pursue answers to questions. My diabetes pushes me to do that, with varying degrees of success, and that’s something I’m grateful for.

Today on the blog: Find out how I get motivation from my #diabetes in my new post - visit #HuggingTheCactus to read it. #t1d #type1diabetes #diablog
How does diabetes motivate you?

#3: It pushes me to prove people wrong. There’s so much stigma surrounding diabetes…”You can’t eat that! You can’t do this! You can’t do that!” are exclamations that I’ve heard my entire life from different people. Rather than nodding and smiling politely at these poor, misinformed individuals, I strive to show them exactly why they’re wrong. Whether it’s explaining the facts or going out and doing the very thing they said I wouldn’t be able to do because of diabetes, it’s empowering for me to smash down diabetes misconceptions.

#4: Diabetes inspires me to seek more out of life. This goes hand-in-hand with point number 3, but it counts as a separate notion because this is all about how I view my life with diabetes. I didn’t fully accept my diabetes until I was a teenager. That acceptance represented a turning point for me during which I realized that just because I was dealt this card in life, it doesn’t mean that it should stop me from accomplishing my hopes and dreams. Over the years, my diabetes has made me want more: opportunities, experiences, relationships…you name it and I’m hungry for it.

Sure, diabetes can be my biggest headache…but it can also be my greatest motivator, and I think it’s important for me to embrace the beauty of that.

3 Things I Learned From the Virtual Friends for Life Orlando 2020 Conference

This past week, I attended my very first virtual diabetes conference: the 2020 Friends for Life Orlando conference, hosted by the Children with Diabetes (CWD) organization.

Before I recap my experience, I’ve got to give a heartfelt round of applause to every single individual involved in the process of turning this in-person event into a virtual one. Between figuring out the technology and adapting the program to make sense in an online format, I’m sure it wasn’t easy, but the CWD staff and many volunteers made it appear seamless. While every conference attendee (myself included) would have loved to see each other in real life in Orlando for this event, it was the right (safest) call to make this conference a digital one. And the majorly bright side of doing the conference online was that more people were able to attend *for free* – literally thousands of people! Each state in America was represented, as well as dozens of countries. The massive turnout makes me happy as I think about how much more accessible this particular conference was to people with diabetes and their families around the world.

Moving along to…the actual conference!

Attending the Virtual Friends for Life Orlando 2020 Conference
All decked out in my conference gear – t-shirt, name tag, green band, and OmniPod, to boot.

It ran from Wednesday, July 14th through Sunday, July 19th. Given that I was away with my family for the duration of the conference, I knew going into it that there was no way I would be able to attend every session or social event. (I was by the beach for a week, so when given the choice between staying indoors or logging onto my laptop…need I say more?). However, I also learned pretty quickly that many of the sessions were going to be recorded and made available at a later date (along with a report summarizing the conference, which will be ready on the CWD site in early August)…so there’s a good chance I’ll refer to some of those recordings for the sessions I missed.

But in terms of the handful of sessions that I did make it to, there were some major takeaways I got from them. Here’s what I learned:

#1: There are some important steps that I (and the rest of the diabetes online community) can take in order to address underrepresentation within our community. In the last few months, issues of underrepresentation of people of color within our diabetes online community has gained overdue attention. Individuals and organizations are working hard to address this and make everyone’s voices equally heard. However, I’m sure that I’m not the only person who felt helpless when trying to figure out how I, as just one person, can make a tangible difference. During one of the conference sessions that I attended, I learned that there are actual a few simple steps that I can take that will make a big impact over time: Follow social media accounts run by people of color. Amplify their voices by sharing and highlighting their content. Support and listen to their experiences as non-white individuals with (and without) diabetes. The bottom line is that everyone deserves to have their voice heard, no matter what, and our community must come together in order to help make this happen. It’s an uncomfortable truth that these representation issues exist, but it’s one worth acknowledging and doing everything within our power to fix it.

#2: Diabetes care and management comes in many different formats, and what works best for one person should always be respected. Of course, I’ve always known and believed in this, but this notion was reinforced for me during one of the sessions that I attended. I can’t remember the exact context, but it was brought up that sometimes people who choose to manage diabetes with multiple daily injections (MDI) take a little heat from people who use insulin pumps. In other words, those who prefer MDI might get pestered and questioned by this choice, which is unfair because it’s a very personal one. It reminded me of how I refused to even contemplate an insulin pump for nearly two decades of life with diabetes – I was so ardently against them for no real reason other than I just preferred my MDI regimen. But then when I did switch to a pump, I was instantly converted and I can’t really imagine going back to MDI. So when I saw a lot of MDI-ers reminding the rest of us that pumps aren’t for everyone, I remembered that diabetes care and management tools aren’t always high-tech (and that doesn’t make them any less effective) and that devices shouldn’t be pushed onto those who get by just fine the old-school way. At the end of the day, we’re all doing our best to take care of our diabetes in the way that’s right for us, and we should always remember that we’re in the fight together.

#3: Our community is strong, resilient, and adaptable – the virtual format didn’t put a damper on anyone’s enthusiasm. It was truly incredible to see how much energy every speaker, staff member, and attendee had for the event. You could practically feel it radiating through the computer screen in some of the sessions! Diabetes forces us to make decisions that are tough sometimes. It throws curve balls in our paths and we must find a way to deal with them, and we always do. This collective tenacity totally translated to this conference as we embraced the virtual format. It was heartwarming to see photos all across social media throughout the five days from attendees and speakers alike showing snippets of their at-home conference experiences, and I loved how everyone had so much spirit for the event. I admit that I even got up and danced  (to several songs) when we had our virtual banquet on Thursday night. I gladly draped the tablecloth and fairy lights I got in my BoFFL (Box of Friends for Life, a package I got in the mail last month containing swag from conference sponsors that was available to the first 500 conference registrants) to really set the mood as I ate dinner “with” diabetes community members across the country and ’round the world…and smiled widely because my T1D mom was able to experience it with me for the first time.

So yes, while it’s a bummer that I didn’t get to hug so many of my friends from the diabetes online community or meet new ones for the first time in-person, I’d say that the virtual conference exceeded my expectations in terms of what it delivered using the available technological resources and passion from the community. Hats off to the sponsors for doing what they could to really engage attendees, and another extra-special kudos to the staff, volunteers, and speakers who pulled off yet another amazing conference.

It just makes my anticipation for the next in-person one that much greater, knowing how wonderful it will be to see everyone in-person again.

Four Signs of Diabetes in the Summertime

Sun’s out, guns pumps out, amirite guys?

The summertime season is in full swing, and now that it’s here I’m thinking of the various ways my diabetes is more pronounced in the warmer weather. It’s much more visible, leading to many more questions, but what are the cues that give it away to others? I thought of four…

Visible sites. Shorts-and-t-shirts weather makes it much harder to place pods or CGM sensors in discrete locations. And if I’m going to the beach? There’s no way that I can even attempt to hide my devices. That’s probably why I make them even more obvious with…

…Pump and sensor art. I’ve written about Pump Peelz and GrifGrips in the past – they make adhesives and skins that are specially designed to fit pods, PDMs, pumps, meters, and more. The products they make are truly little works of art for diabetes devices, and I like to make sure all of mine are decked out in the summer months so I can show off tech that’s not only functional, but also stylish.

Four Signs of Diabetes in the Summertime
I’m looking forward to donning my best beach-y Pump Peelz on what I hope will be many trips to the beach this summer.

Gadget tan lines. Or if you’re like me, it’s more like sunburn lines. That’s because each summer, without fail, I somehow manage to neglect the space around my pod or my sensor, so when it’s time to remove it, there’s a huge red circle around the perimeter of where the device was situated. Maybe this year I’ll actually learn my lesson and take the time to apply sunscreen properly so I can avoid the very not-cute sunburn circles.

Travel coolers. This is probably the least obvious sign of diabetes in the summertime, but to those in the know, coolers meant to protect insulin are pretty recognizable compared to regular coolers. Whether it’s a Frio cooling pouch or another brand of insulin cooler, people with diabetes tend to carry these throughout the summer months in order to prevent insulin from spoiling due to heat exposure.

 

Ethan Zohn, An Inspiring Survivor Contestant

If you’re a reality TV junkie like me, then chances are you’ve probably watched Survivor at some point during its 20-year (and counting) run.

And if you’ve never seen a single episode, it’s still highly likely that you’re familiar with the concept of the show:

  1. Find a group of strangers willing to be stranded on an island for 40 days
  2. Make them compete against one another in tribes, then individually, for food/other rewards and “immunity” from tribal council
  3. Force the losing tribe to go to tribal council and vote one of their own off the island (“the tribe has spoken”, anyone?)
  4. Watch as a jury of voted-off contestants selects a winner, also known as the sole survivor
  5. Plunk a bunch of cameras in front of these people and watch all of their antics, including plenty of twists and turns introduced by the producers, that happen in-between
  6. Marvel over how Jeff Probst has not aged a day in the 20-year time span and looks like a million bucks in front of these dirty, hungry people who are actually competing for a million bucks

So yeah, that’s the basic premise…it might sound like a stupid show to some, but I know that Survivor has a devout and large fan following that includes my dad.

Growing up, my dad, my brother, and I watched Survivor almost religiously. We’d ooh and ahh when tribes pulled off unsuspected victories and make bets on who would be voted off the show each week. We’d have our favorites and our far-from-favorites that we rooted for and against. The three of us were nuts about the show for years, until one day we weren’t and only my dad continued to tune in.

Ethan Zohn_ A Survivor Contestant Who Inspires
Yes, that it is a photo of me on the last day of 5th grade, wearing my very own Survivor buff around my head…a buff that I still actually own.

Things changed for me this season, though…Survivor, Season 40 (!), takes previous winners and pits them against each other for the title of perhaps the ultimate sole survivor. The prize is a cool two million this time around, and I decided to start watching because I wanted to see how winners from when I watched fared in a show that would be a very different experience for them compared to when they first played.

And I’m having a lot more fun watching than I expected. Even though a couple of my early favorites were voted off too soon, there’s a chance for someone to re-enter the game thanks to the “edge of extinction” rules. This means that, for a few minutes each episode (so far), the camera focuses on the voted-off survivors who are trying to earn a way back into the game by surviving the edge of extinction.

Again…I get that this all sounds hokey so far. But what’s actually pretty cool to me is that I found a bit of inspiration from one of the survivors who is trying to fight the edge of extinction.

And that survivor is Ethan. I remember watching Ethan in two previous seasons of Survivor. I tooooootally had a crush on him (my brother made fun of me for it and yes, I know Ethan is happily married now) in his first season, which he won, and I remember being thrilled when it was announced that he’d compete a second time in an all-star contestant season. On TV, he came across as a friendly, smart guy who wasn’t cutthroat like some of the other contestants, but just as determined to win, so rooting for him was natural and it was crushing when he was eventually voted off.

It’s been 16 years since he last played the game, and a lot has happened to the guy in that span of time. In 2009, Ethan was diagnosed with a rare form of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. From what I’ve read, he endured a difficult battle with cancer that lasted four years. Obviously, I don’t know details about that time in his life, but I can only imagine how emotionally and physically challenging it was to face that ordeal…certainly, though, it was much more difficult than competing on Survivor.

Fast-forward to the present: Ethan’s back in the game after that long gap of time away from it in which he’s faced a serious health condition. He might be on the Survivor-dubbed edge of extinction right now, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t fighting to stay in the game.

In fact, during last week’s episode, Ethan was struggling to complete the challenge that he and the other voted-off contestants had to do before sundown. It was a physically grueling task that required Ethan and the others to climb up and down a treacherous, steep path over and over again. As a viewer, seeing him lose his balance, become super pale, and admit to the other contestants that he wasn’t okay was hard to watch – he looked like what it feels like to have a severe low blood sugar. I was practically convinced that he was going to be forced to tap out of the game altogether, especially when he was visited by one of the show’s paramedics.

But then…he turned it all around, drawing on the strength he gleaned from literally fighting his way back from a different kind of edge of extinction from his cancer battle, and finished the challenge. It was a pretty spectacular comeback.

On-camera, Ethan explained how he was able to push through:

I wanted to complete this for myself, I did not want to quit. I want to set a good example for everyone who’s been through a health challenge and thinks that they can’t do it anymore…you can do it, you can get through those hard moments.

I kept saying to myself, remember when you were getting spinal taps, radiation…I started saying the mantras I was saying when I was going through chemotherapy to get me through those moments.

Watching this, I felt incredibly awe-struck by Ethan’s courage and resilience…and I felt like he was speaking directly to me, as well as any other person who is dealing with a health problem, whether it’s type 1 diabetes, cancer, or anything else. While all of these conditions vary greatly from each other, it’s amazing just how much the right mindset can help fight against whatever it may be.

So I’m writing this post to say thank you to Ethan for sending some inspiration my way, and undoubtedly, the ways of so many other individuals who struggle with the mental and physical side effects of an illness. Thank you for reminding us that we have to just keep going and do whatever it takes to overcome the obstacles we face.

Watch the clip in question below: