Beyond Diabetes

This November, I participated in the #HappyDiabeticChallenge on Instagram. This challenge centered around daily prompts to respond to via an Instagram post or story. I’ve decided to spread the challenge to my blog for the last couple days of National Diabetes Awareness Month. As a result, today’s post topic is beyond diabetes.

I can’t believe that today is the final day of November, A.K.A. National Diabetes Awareness Month. In a way, I’m relieved. After all, diabetes advocacy can be exhausting. I’ve kept up daily Instagram posts, in one way or another, in response to the #HappyDiabeticChallenge. I’ve tried to keep all of my blog posts this month on theme. I even participated in a fundraising live stream on YouTube, which was an anxiety-provoking yet exhilarating event all on its own.

Needless to say, I’m looking forward to dialing it back down, temporarily, for the month of December. I won’t stop advocating, but I will take a small step back from it so I can recover and process everything from the month in my own time.

It’ll be a good way of reminding myself that I’m more. More than just this stupid chronic disease. There’s so much more to me than diabetes: I’m a daughter, a sister, a girlfriend, a best friend. I’m a dog lover (despite being allergic to most of them). I’m a young professional. I’m a millennial (who proudly owns the moniker). I’m a Disney fanatic and Harry Potter obsessive. I’m a creative and passionate person who cares about a lot of different people, things, and projects.

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I am more than my diabetes.

I’m beyond my diabetes. I prove that to myself each day by living my life unencumbered by it. When it knocks me down, I always get back up to remind it that I’m the boss.

Beyond National Diabetes Awareness Month is a broader realization that I’m a bit burnt out by this hardcore advocacy. And that’s okay. I’ll take a breather and remember to enjoy life more, because I know that I’m beyond diabetes.

Leadership in the T1D Community

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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Recently, I’ve asked myself, “Am I doing enough?”

I want to make meaningful contributions to the diabetes community. I think that I make a slight ripple by writing this blog, but to me, a ripple isn’t enough. I want to do more.

That’s why I want to put more effort into seeking additional advocacy opportunities. I haven’t defined those yet, but I know that there has to be more ways in which I can make my voice heard in a way that has a greater impact. Perhaps I can do more to further the #Insulin4All initiative, which, if you’re unfamiliar with, is explained on the Insulin Nation site in the following terms:

T1International is a global nonprofit that works to improve life-saving access to insulin, supplies, and healthcare for individuals with Type 1 diabetes around the world. Their mission is to support local communities by giving them the tools they need to stand up for their rights so that access to insulin and diabetes supplies becomes a reality for all. The organization helped to launch the #insulin4all hashtag and campaign, which has recently gained a lot of traction in the United States, where diabetes costs have grown especially exorbitant. Note: T1International is not limited to #insulin4all and vice versa, although both are discussed here.

I admit that it’s an effort that I’m only vaguely acquainted with, and I’d like to change that because it’s massively important. It goes without saying, but diabetes is difficult enough. Anyone who lives with it or cares for someone with it should be able to afford the insulin they need to survive, or to help a loved one survive.

If you’re someone who’s worked on this campaign, or if you know a way that I can step up and do more as a leader in the T1D community, please feel free to let me know. We’re in this together, and the more people we’ve got chipping in on various efforts, the more impact we’ll make.

Type 1 Diabetes, an Invisible Illness

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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Invisible illnesses like diabetes can be difficult for healthy people to truly understand. Typically, they only see bits and pieces of it; for instance, when someone performs a blood sugar check or injects insulin. There’s so much that they don’t see: doctor’s appointments, late/sleepless nights, complex calculations, careful monitoring, and so forth.

But what’s really difficult for anyone to see is the emotional impact of diabetes.

Unless I choose to open up to someone about it – which is easier said than done – then there’s no way for another person to grasp the magnitude of the emotional side of diabetes. There’s no way for someone to feel the incredible amounts of anxiety, fear, and anger that cycle through me as I deal with diabetes. While I don’t experience these emotions every single day, I DO have to experience diabetes daily, and it’s impossible for someone to know what that’s like unless they either have T1D or care for someone with it.

I don’t wish for anyone in the world who’s unfamiliar with the (literal and emotional) ups and downs of diabetes to actually learn what it’s like. But I do wish for a world that’s a little more understanding, accepting, and educated when it comes to all things related to diabetes – and that’s why I advocate.

Hugging the Cactus is One Year Old!

October 2, 2017: The day that I hit the “publish” button and Hugging the Cactus went live.

I can’t believe it’s been one year (and one day) since this blog was officially born. So much has happened in my life in the last 365 days, both related and not related to my diabetes.

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And this blog has gone through so many changes in that time span. From aesthetic to logistical, it’s been a (welcome) challenge to figure out the best way to write and run Hugging the Cactus. I’ve learned so many new things along the way and I continue to learn more on practically a daily basis.

Although I wish that diabetes wasn’t a part of my life – or anyone’s life – I’m grateful that I’ve mostly made peace with it after 20 years of living with it. Actually, scratch out the “living with it” and replace it with “thriving with it”. I used to think that was totally cheesy, but that phrase really does encapsulate what it’s like to be undeterred by diabetes.

I’m also grateful for you, the reader. There are times in which I question why I write this blog. Those times are fraught with self-doubt, writer’s block, and listlessness. But then someone reaches out to me – directly through the blog, via social media, or even in-person – and they offer support or let me know that my writing has resonated with them in some way. And that, right there, reminds me why I write this blog: to connect with others, to remind people in the diabetes community who deal with this isolating chronic illness that they’re not alone, and to raise general awareness of T1D. There are many people in this amazing tribe of ours who write better blogs, take prettier pictures, and impact a larger audience than I do, but like them, I’ve found my own voice that has allowed me to channel my experiences with diabetes in my unique, storytelling way. And I plan on continuing to do so for a long time to come.

So thank you, reader, for stopping by here three times a week and supporting my mission. I hope that you enjoy the next year’s worth of Hugging the Cactus. For now, let’s celebrate today by reminding ourselves that we’re more than our current blood sugar values or A1c levels. Celebrate by choosing to do more than just live: thrive.

I Know, I Know: I Talk Too Much About Diabetes

Diabetes is never far from my thoughts.

I write a blog about it. I vent to family about it. I almost always casually mention it to new people that I meet.

I have multiple social media profiles dedicated to it. I own several t-shirts that identify me as a person with diabetes.

It’s the first thing I think about in the morning when I wake up, and the last thing I think about before I fall asleep at night.

And yet, sometimes people complain – jokingly and seriously – that I talk about it too much.

Of course I do! I totally own up to that fact. But think about it…

Doesn’t it make sense that I talk about it so much?

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…but there’s a reason for it.

It affects the most mundane decisions that I make on a daily basis. It affects my mood. It affects my body. It affects the foods I consume. It affects what I carry in my purse each day and what I pack in my luggage on vacations. It affects my finances and my gym routine and the doctors I have to see.

If someone thinks I talk too much about my diabetes, then I’d like them to understand this:

Talking about diabetes spreads awareness and saves lives.

Bold, italicized, and underlined so the message and its significance is clear. Too many people in this world just don’t understand type 1 diabetes. They don’t realize how dangerous it can be, or how it is managed. In my personal experience, being open with others, answering their questions, and dispelling diabetes myths has resulted in nothing but positive outcomes.

It’s even helped people I know save a life, because they knew what to do when a T1D close to them was experiencing a hypoglycemic event.

All because I “talked too much” about diabetes.

With that in mind…you can bet that I won’t be shutting up about it any time soon.

Advocacy is not “One Size Fits All”

Not too long ago, someone told me that my blog wasn’t really a form of diabetes advocacy, a point that I strongly refuted.

Advocacy looks different to everyone, and people can be advocates in countless ways. I think it depends largely on 1) what someone is trying to advocate and 2) their personality. For instance, maybe someone is really good at fundraising and wants to raise money to donate to a particular charity. Perhaps someone thrives from advocating at the group level, whereas another person prefers to do it individually. Maybe political advocacy for a cause like diabetes is right up one person’s alley, and another person is more comfortable with using social media to raise awareness and interact with others in an environment like the diabetes online community.

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My blog is my diabetes advocacy outlet.

If you haven’t guessed it by now, my preferred way to partake in diabetes advocacy is blogging. I feel that writing down my story, whether it’s lessons I’ve learned over the years or mundane anecdotes about life with diabetes, is the form of advocacy that makes the most sense for me. It allows me to open up to a large, eclectic audience (i.e., the entire Internet) and show them what it’s like, to some degree, to live with diabetes. I keep things real in my posts and write about the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to T1D, and to me, that is advocacy.

Bike Beyond, the Documentary: An Emotional Cinematic Experience

Last summer, a team of 20 international riders embarked on the journey of a lifetime. They spent 10 weeks cycling from New York City to San Francisco – east coast to west coast. As if this feat weren’t incredible enough, this team was comprised of individuals with type 1 diabetes.

This ride was risky enough, but throw diabetes into the mix, and it seemed impossible. Blood sugars would be a constant concern. Diabetes technology could fail. Careful watch of blood sugars could clash with the focus on cycling. Diabetes burnout could affect the riders physically and mentally.

But – spoiler alert – neither fear nor diabetes would prevent these riders from completing their arduous trip.

When Team Bike Beyond officially started their trek last summer, I remember following along as best as I could through various social media channels. I felt connected to the team: not just because of diabetes, but because I personally befriended a couple of the riders a few years ago at one of the College Diabetes Network’s Annual Student Retreats. I attended as a volunteer, and Jesse and Meagan were there as students. It’s funny how quickly friendships can form over the course of five days, but as anyone who’s gone to one of these retreats can tell you, there’s something about being immersed for a few days with a group of people who just get it. So it’s natural that we bonded over our mutually dysfunctional pancreases.

Anyways, as neat as it was to read those updates from Jesse, Meagan, and the team, there’s no way that words could capture what they were actually experiencing out on the road. I think that’s why watching the documentary was so emotionally captivating to me: Within the first few minutes, tears were rolling down my cheeks as the bikers explained the nervous energy they felt in the days leading up to the ride kickoff. In fact, my facial expressions changed so frequently throughout the film that I’m sure it was comical. One moment I’d be beaming, and in the next my jaw would drop open. I’d laugh when the riders were being goofy together on camera, and marvel with them as they took in stunning scenery across the country.

Overall, the documentary was incredibly well done. Victor Garber’s narration was fantastic – smooth and clear without taking attention away from what was happening onscreen – and the visuals were beautiful. I liked how footage from the riders’ GoPro cameras was incorporated so viewers could get an accurate representation of their perspectives from the bikes. It made me appreciate the physical intensity of the ride that much more, because diabetes aside, cycling such a long distance filled with rocky roads and steep inclines is extremely demanding on the body.

My recommendation? Check out the trailer. I included it above. I guarantee it’ll pique your interest and stir your emotions. You’ll want to watch the full documentary, which you can get here. After watching it, I think you’d agree with me that Team Bike Beyond crushed their goals of raising T1D awareness and eliminating stereotypes by completing this journey.