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

Why I’m Thankful I DIDN’T Attend Diabetes Camp as a Kid

Growing up, the notion of diabetes camp was gently nudged into my brain each Spring. My endocrinologist and my parents would ask me, “Do you want to give it a try this year?” and my annual response, unfailingly, was “NO!”

To this day, I still don’t really know why I was so against diabetes camp. Part of the reason may be because I was a bit of a nervous Nelly growing up (okay, okay, I still am) and didn’t like the thought of sleepaway camp: It meant being away from home for an extended period of time, which made me feel nothing but anxious.

But my best guess as to why I didn’t want to go is that I felt that camp wouldn’t benefit me in any way. Both my mom and my aunt have type one diabetes, so they were (and still are) my go-to sources whenever any sort of diabetes issue crops up for me. I didn’t see how meeting kids my own age with diabetes would help me; after all, I thought I had everything I needed in my mom and aunt.

Things changed drastically for me when I started college and made the transition to caring for my diabetes independently. I got wind of a diabetes student organization on my campus and was interested in attending a meeting. That was it for me: for the next three years, I was very involved with this organization (the College Diabetes Network), eventually becoming the President of my school’s chapter and continuing to this day to volunteer for them whenever I can.

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I wasn’t ready for any kind of diabetes camp as a kid…but it’s a different story now that I’m an adult.

My involvement with the CDN has resulted in me meeting countless other T1Ds my own age, and it’s been amazing. I love sharing stories and learning from them. And as it turns out, most of these individuals went to diabetes camp when they were young and loved it. In many cases, diabetes camp is where they thrived and met some of their closest friends. They learned a lot about caring for their own diabetes and became more independent with diabetes management at a younger age.

But even after hearing the rave reviews about diabetes camp…I’m still thankful that I didn’t go to it when I was a kid.

Why? Because I think that a person’s journey with their own diabetes is highly personal. Like insulin-to-carb ratios or multiple daily injections versus insulin pumps, diabetes is often a disease about choices and responsibility. As an individual with diabetes, I hate being told how to handle my condition by someone who thinks they understand it better than me. I’m the one person in this world who understands MY diabetes better than anyone else. I know my body and I know what diabetes treatments and decisions are best. And for those few years of my life, I thought it was best for me to not go to camp. It was out of my comfort zone, and I refused to be coerced into going.

Perhaps in the back of my mind, I knew I’d have an opportunity later in life to connect with people my age who have diabetes. And I’m so thankful that I did because it came at a time in which I felt ready and was more accepting of my diabetes overall.

So there are no regrets for me when it comes to my choice to not attend diabetes camp. You could say that my decision to stay at home during those summers made me a happy camper…

Sorry, not sorry for the bad pun.

 

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: