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.

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.

Memory Monday: That Time I Created a Diabetes Lesson Plan for Middle School Students (Part 2)

One Monday per month, I’ll take a trip down memory lane and reflect on how much diabetes technology, education, and stigma has changed over the years. Remember when…

This is a continuation of last month’s Memory Monday, in which I reflected on what it was like to work on a diabetes-oriented community action project when I was a freshman in high school. There were two main components to my project: running a School Walk for Diabetes, and educating a group of middle school students on type one diabetes.

Ugh, the thought of presenting to a group of middle school kids horrifies me now, but I guess I wasn’t so afraid at the time – you know, because I was a cooler, older, more sophisticated 14 year old lecturing the immature 12-year-old children.

*I’ll pause to allow you a moment (or several) to laugh at that mildly ludicrous notion.*

The easiest part of prepping to talk to the students was devising a lesson plan. My project partner and I put together a beautiful slideshow (complete with Comic Sans font, how professional) that we would use in the first half of the presentation. During the second half, I would show the students all of my medical equipment and demonstrate things like priming an insulin pen and testing my blood sugar. We also provided students with examples of healthy snacks for a person with diabetes and when to eat them. The formal presentation would end with us giving students the chance to ask questions.

Sounds pretty neatly put together for just a couple of freshmen, right?

Turns out, it really did go over well with the students! There were a couple technical difficulties (blast those LCD projectors), but my partner and I knew our presentation like the back of our hands, so nothing deterred us from accomplishing the goal of our lesson plan: for the students to have a greater knowledge of diabetes.

We felt like our hard work was worth it when we received completed evaluation cards from the students. We’d asked them to tell us: 1) The best part of our lesson, 2) The worst part, 3) Rate it on a scale of 1-5 (1 being worst; 5 best), and 4) Write one fact about diabetes they learned. Our average rating wound up being 4.2, which made us feel like rock stars! All these years later, I still have some of the best comment cards preserved in a binder about my project:

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Personally, I really love how one student thought that diabetes is spelled “diabedes”. And I’m amused by how another student didn’t seem overly crazy about the PowerPoint (it must’ve been that damn Comic Sans font that ruined it).

But joking aside, this whole project still resonates with me ten years later because I think it marked the beginning of my passion for diabetes advocacy. It was one of the first times that I willingly shared my diabetes with others and let a real conversation take place about it with no holds barred.