Happy National Diabetes Awareness Month!

It’s that time of year again – National Diabetes Awareness Month!

Did you know that the blue circle is the universal symbol for diabetes? It represents the unity of the global diabetes community in response to the rising number of people affected by diabetes.

I’m not sure if it’s because I work for a diabetes organization now, but sheesh, this month seems to have arrived more suddenly than it ever has. I’d say it’s caught me off guard, but after literally months of preparing for it as part of my job, it’s really just got me marveling over how fast time flies.

It’s also got me reflecting on how I’ve participated in NDAM in the past. Previously, I’ve done daily postings on my Hugging the Cactus Instagram account and replied to various prompts throughout the four weeks here on the blog.

This year, I’m not so sure I have the bandwidth to dive so deeply into the spirit of the month – but that doesn’t mean I’m mentally checking out of it altogether.

Rather, I’m plan on being more intentional in my approach. Instead of replying to daily prompts (that, over the course of the month, start feeling like homework – in other words, an unenjoyable task), I’d like to post when I feel like I actually have something to say. I don’t want to post filler content, I want to post things that are meaningful and capture my feelings about diabetes, NDAM, and the broader diabetes community.

That’s not a knock on the everyday post inspiration that many members of the DOC take part in – I think it’s wonderful that they have fun with it and use it as a very effective way to raise diabetes awareness throughout the month. It’s just that for me, as someone who’s been part of digital NDAM activities for the better part of a decade (!!!) now, it’s time that I mix up my routine a bit and also step back so I don’t spend all of my mental diabetes energy on NDAM in lieu of my actual diabetes care.

Here’s to deliberate diabetes awareness and care this month!

T1D and Trolls (Literal and Figurative)

Let’s talk about trolls.

No, not the cute ones from the 90s with the gems stuck in their bellybuttons and wild, vibrant hair.

I’m talking about two specific types: Internet trolls and in-real-life (IRL) trolls.

They’re not my favorite kind of people, I’m betting you’re not a fan of them, either.

This is what T1D trolls look like in my (admittedly strange) imagination.

I can’t tell you how many times trolls have made their presence known on my Instagram posts. It always goes a little something like this: I post a photo to my account and within 10 minutes, I’ve got some sort of comment on it that goes a little something like this (the following is an actual comment I got last week):

Just wanted to let you know that truly what people are posting about DIABETESTYPE1 cure is true. I write one of the doctors and got herbal medicine from him and truly I’m cured from DIABETESTYPE1. It’s real. Message the doc @herbalist.ebho

There are so many things obviously wrong with this comment that I almost don’t want to deign to explain it, but let’s go over them real quick. 1) Diabetes can’t be cured from freakin’ herbs. 2) No matter how many times someone puts “truly” into a comment, it doesn’t make it TRUE! 3) Why on earth does this person think I’d want to seek help from some random Instagram doctor that probably isn’t even a real doctor? And 4) Obviously, this person – or bot, because I’m sure it’s a bot account – is simply plugging type 1 diabetes into this comment. I can only imagine how many other accounts it trolls that focus on various other chronic conditions…

I deal with most of these comments by deleting and/or reporting them immediately, but this time, I decided to respond to the claims that some generic herbs could cure my diabetes. This is what I said:

“Oh yeah? Is it? Wow I can’t believe I never thought to message some random person to get cured from T1D! Thanks for your completely inaccurate message and typos, have a nice life! 🙂

And of course, I never got a reply…because that’s how trolls operate.

But what to do when trolls come creepin’ into real life?

You know, the people who tell you that their distant relative cured their diabetes by consuming cinnamon? Or the people who assume that you caused your diabetes by eating too much sugar?

I wish there was a delete/report option for those comments, but instead, I try to turn them into educational opportunities. My initial approach is always gentle when I explain that these myths are not only incorrect, but they increase the stigma and misunderstanding of type 1 diabetes. More often than not, trolls turn into apologetic students who walk away with the facts…but every now and then, you encounter a stubborn one who just doesn’t seem to get it.

As frustrating as that can be, it’s okay. Trolls are gonna troll and you can’t always slow their roll (ugh, I know that was lame, please forgive me). So even though I feel like I’m going to hit the roof if I see one more stupid troll comment on my IG posts or encounter one other troll spewing diabetes myths, I can take solace in knowing that I can take back control of the comments by explaining why they’re wrong or (more satisfyingly) removing them altogether.

The Comparison Culture and How I Tune It Out

We all know that social media can be…damaging.

Scroll through Facebook, Instagram, or any other social network and 99% of what you see is the idea of “perfection”: Beautifully dressed and made-up individuals showcasing their gorgeous homes or families or possessions. Usually, some sort of caption will accompany the post and it might say something like “so blessed to do life with my dream partner” or “we just bought our first home, can’t wait to fill it with joyous memories” or some other gushing, effusive language that is followed by a series of exclamation points and emojis.

There’s nothing wrong with this…except for the fact that, obviously, people’s lives aren’t as “perfect” as they seem.

Life is messy, but we don’t get to see that side for many people on social media.

This is true not just about life events, but something as specific as life with diabetes.

I think that our community has gotten a lot better about it, but I used to see so many posts that showed “perfect” blood sugar graphs and “perfect” A1c readings.

And I used to obsess over these posts.

I’d wonder why I wasn’t achieving the same levels of success as these other individuals. I’d convince myself there was something wrong with me, and that I’d never have blood sugar graphs or A1c levels that were “good enough” to share online.

Between diabetes perfectionism and real-life perfectionism (Why aren’t I married yet? When will it be my turn to start a family? What’s wrong with me that I haven’t met all the other adult goals that so many of my friends have met?), I was starting to drive myself insane.

Social media was breeding a culture of comparison for me.

I couldn’t log onto an account without immediately comparing myself to the images I saw and the stories they told.

It’s taken time, and I’m not always good about it, but I’m learning to tune out the noise on social media and how to stop comparing myself so much to others.

So how did I start to unsubscribe to that culture of comparison?

For starters, I came to terms with the fact that I didn’t want to leave social media altogether. I like how it keeps me connected with family and friends on top of connecting me with individuals all around the world. I like how it functions as a support system when I need to consult my diabetes online community for wisdom and guidance.

But I knew that I needed to take a step back. So I started slowly and gradually: I removed the Twitter and Facebook apps from my phone, telling myself that if I really wanted to check the feeds for either, I could do so using my Internet browser. I also spent less and less time scrolling, a habit that was addicting to me because I wanted to see as much content as possible, but also one that I recognized as damaging because more content meant more comparisons to others.

The most important thing that I did, though (and continue to try to do) is repeat a few mantras to myself:

This is just one page of this person’s story.

You don’t know the whole picture.

You don’t want to be anyone other than yourself because you truly do love the people and things in your own life.

It might sound silly, but reminding myself that social media is designed to show off the “best” parts of our lives really did help me come to terms with the fact that I needed to stop comparing myself to everyone. Just like I have plenty of bad things that happen in my life, I have a hell of a lot more good, and just because I don’t choose to showcase everything on my feed doesn’t mitigate the good.

And one last thing that I’m trying to do? I’m simply trying to be happy for others who revel in their successes and choose to share them online. I’m also trying to pay closer attention to those who are brave enough to showcase their failures online, diabetes-related or not. In fact, it’s not uncommon for me to open up my Instagram app, scroll through my feed, and see the most “perfect”, straight-lined Dexcom graph followed by an “imperfect” topsy-turvy Dexcom graph. I’m training myself to react to the former graph not by comparing myself, but by feeling good for the person who posted it. And in terms of the latter graph, I also don’t want to compare myself to it (I’m not proud of it, but I’ve taken a look at “bad” graphs before and said OMG, my numbers are sooo much better), but instead offer words of encouragement or commiseration – because we’ve all been there.

The comparison culture is toxic. It’s taken time for me to realize just how much it was affecting me, but now that I have, I’m glad because removing myself from it will help enrich the relationships I have online and in real life. When it comes to diabetes specifically, it’s difficult enough managing my own, and that much harder when I compare how I take care of it to how other people with diabetes live their lives. Learning to appreciate our diabetes differences instead of stressing over them makes it so much easier to support and uplift one another when we need it most.