When doctors hand out a diagnosis of diabetes, I wish they’d give you a list of tips that can make life happier living with the illness. After my diagnosis, I felt ashamed of my diabetes, ashamed of my inability to control it with diet and exercise even though I literally worked out every single day for nine months straight. I skipped nearly all carbohydrates and didn’t eat meat at the time, so all I ate was nuts, cheese, eggs, and vegetables. The doctor didn’t put me on insulin right away because I was eighteen, and she wasn’t sure if I had type 1 or type 2. But nothing I did was working. It was soon apparent that I was type 1 and that insulin injections were unavoidable. I had no idea that it wasn’t my fault. I felt hopeless, hungry, exhausted, and alone.
The first tip on my list is: If you don’t understand something, ask, and if you aren’t sure of the answer you get, ask someone else. It would’ve made my life much easier if I had known to do some homework on diabetes. I didn’t know what questions to ask my diabetes educator, and, looking back, she didn’t tell me about quite a few very important things. Serious mistakes in my care could have been avoided if I’d been educated. At that time, I had no Internet to look things up. I checked out some books at the library, but the selection back then was quite limited, and I didn’t even know there were differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. I was overwhelmed and confused, and I pretty much gave up taking care of myself.
Second on my list is to find others like you. Today, it’s easy to make friends online. Facebook isn’t only about friends’ “TGIF” status updates, silly photos, and retailer advertisements. It allows us to get to know other people with diabetes and to ask questions and receive answers and support from all over the world. Recently someone on Facebook asked if anyone lived close to a friend with type 1. Responses flooded the post, and I actually made two new friends in my area. It’s important to connect with people who understand what you’re going through. You should never feel alone with diabetes.
Third, participate in a fundraiser in your area. It’s as easy as going online and registering. After having diabetes for nearly sixteen years, I joined the ADA Tour de Cure bike ride. It was a challenge, but it also made me feel so strong. I rode on my thirty-fourth birthday and asked my family and friends for donations instead of presents. What gift could be better than raising money to fight diabetes? Though I was exhausted after my ride, I never felt happier. Seeing what my body could do despite diabetes made me proud. No friends or family members rode with me on the tour, but I was far from alone. As I rested a minute at the top of a bridge, a fellow rider stopped with me, wished me a happy birthday, and told me that this was a birthday I’d never forget. He was right.
Last, don’t feel guilty. When your blood sugars are less than stellar, remember that you cannot be perfect at this. After all, you have diabetes. It’s not your fault. It’s the fault of diabetes. Keep in mind that blood sugars are always changing due to hormones, stress, exercise, and other factors. What works one day may not work the next. Just do the best you can to control your blood sugars and live a happy life. You are worth it!