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.

Creativity and Activism: Another World is Possible

This post originally appeared on the T1International blog on November 30, 2020, and it was written by Marina Tsaplina. I am sharing it here today because it made me start to think about creativity and activism as a unit for the first time. Want to know exactly what makes it so powerful to join art with activism? Read on…

When I think about activism, I think about creativity. The two are inseparable. Think about how much creativity and strength it has taken the #insulin4all movement to:

  • Counter the stories put out by the for-profit U.S. health industry about why insulin “has” to be so expensive and transform the national narrative around insulin affordability
  • Continually transform the pain in our community into stories for change
  • Imagine a world where insulin is affordable and accessible for every single person who needs it to live.

#insulin4all, as a banner of the movement, is itself an act of fierce creativity. It imagines a world that we do not yet have, one that countless activists are organizing to bring forward. The courage and imagination that this statement holds brings forward a vision for the world we want to see. It makes it possible to strategically identify those whose actions harm or block us from achieving this vision. And under the banner of the #insulin4all vision – this dream that we are turning into a reality – we organize and strategically map out the steps we must take in order to achieve the world we want to see.

#insulin4all also means a different thing for each of us: each person who joins the movement has their own personal meaning and reason for why we join. And it is these deeply-felt personal stories that make adding art into advocacy and activism actions so powerful. It is another way to bring our personal voice into a collective movement for change. It is also fun!

Here are five reasons – showcasing #insuiln4all and other social change movements around the world – why joining art, creativity and activism together is so powerful. It fosters self-expression, community building, activation, it is inspiring and attention grabbing, and it leads activists to better engage with the media.

1. Self Expression

Getting creative helps hone your personal advocacy voice, transforms a personal feeling into a political message, and contributes your creative spirit into collective creativity. It also helps people feel that every single person’s voice matters. Because each voice does matterCommunity art making is a deeply democratic process.

Patient activists pictured below are expressing their personal stories. As another example, signs created by individuals from the disability community NoBody is Disposable call for an end to the discriminatory medical rationing policies during #COVID19.

2. Community Building

Working on an art-build is a fantastic way to build community. Pictured below is one of the in-process photos from advocates making large banners for the New York #insulin4all Chapter and actions. The Chapter was still new and forming, and the art-making process, as well as the many advocacy actions the Chapter continues to do, forms connections between the members. Yes, it takes energy and effort, but once you’ve done it, you have the materials to use in many future actions! Not to mention, people showing up to contribute helps each of us know we are not alone in this fight.

This below pictured postcard was designed by New York #insulin4all Chapter member Annalisa van den Bergh for advocates to fill out and send to the governor. This is a great example of digital (and safe!) advocacy during COVID.

Community artist and organizer Rachel Schragis created screen-printed signs and banners, and led on the creation of many concepts for the Sunrise Movement, because climate health = public health = our health. 

3. Political Activation

There’s no one right way to join creativity and advocacy – the image here shows the powerful way an imprint of a red hand across the mouth united indigenous women and allies across Turtle Island (United States and Canada) to bring awareness to the gender-and-race-based violence being perpetrated against indigenous communities.

Being immersed in creative energy opens the space within people to reflect on their own experiences, share and unite in dialogue with others, share opinions, build knowledge and commit to actions. People may often feel embarrassment, or shame, for being unable to afford insulin. This is how oppression works: we internalize external causes and place the blame on ourselves. Creative activism helps activate and engage a person to realize that their suffering has social origins, and helps inspire them to become an advocate and activist who works for policy change.

4. Inspiration and Attention Grabbing 

To build energy and grab attention of the public to join your cause, there’s no better way than through creating a bit of a public spectacle. The large banners that the New York Chapter created took up space, and made our messages loud and clear for both the media, and passers-by. The portraits below of the lives lost to insulin rationing by artist Mike Lawson created a deeply-felt homage in helping us mourn the sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, mothers and fathers we have lost to pharmaceutical greed.

Giant puppets have a long and deep history in activism, including the HIV/AIDS movement and beyond. Little Amal, a giant refugee puppet, embarked on an epic journey from Syria to Europe in order to “rewrite the narrative about refugees”.

5. Media Engagement

Finally, by uniting creativity, purpose, emotion and action and creating attention-grabbing visuals, our cause is more likely to catch the attention of social media, and the press. Strong, clear messaging, unique perspectives, and inspiring visuals unite joy, inspiration and purpose in the long, winding road of social change.

Most of all, art and creativity helps us remember the most important thing: We are unstoppable, and another world is possible! 

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: