It’s been over two decades since I was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. I was ten, just a few days shy of Valentine’s Day. I remember finishing my lunch with a handful of Valentine’s Day Sweetheart candies right before heading to the doctor’s office.
After a series of tests, I was diagnosed and rushed to the emergency room. I spent a week in that hospital, but I remember it feeling like years. What would follow would be a whirlwind of appointments and injections – too young to understand that my life had been changed forever by the diagnosis.
For this American Diabetes Month, I find it more important than ever to share my journey, reflect on how far I’ve come, and shed light on the importance of self-care in my diabetes management.
There is no denying that staying healthy is an absolute necessity for myself and others living with this disease. Still, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge how exhausting and unrelenting staying healthy can be.
Diabetes management is a 24/7 full-time job requiring round-the-clock monitoring of my blood sugar levels, including constant insulin injections and carb calculations.
A laundry list of factors can fluctuate blood sugar levels: lack of sleep, stress, sickness, food, and exercise — causing dangerous long-term side effects, including damage to large and small blood vessels, heart attacks, strokes, and issues with kidneys, eyes, feet, and nerves.
Although insulin pumps and glucose monitors have made my life easier since my diagnosis, there is still no cure for Type 1 diabetes. While I’m hopeful for a cure in my lifetime, for the foreseeable future, this is my reality.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that diabetes happens because of lifestyle choices – one too many sweet teas or that pesky sweet tooth; I’ve heard far too many jokes about the cause of this disease.
Unlike Type 2 Diabetes, where a person can typically produce insulin but is insulin resistant, Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease caused by the pancreas’s inability to make the insulin hormone that helps regulate blood sugars. It is far less prevalent, affecting less than 10 percent of those with the disease, even less so for Black people, particularly Black women.
Growing up, the misconceptions around the disease, combined with a severe lack of representation, forced not only deep isolation around my particular experience but also reinforced the empowering but often harmful narrative around the strong Black woman trope. I embodied #BlackGirlMagic. I embraced my diabetes like a badge of honor, masking my invisible illness with ease, working to achieve everything everyone else could. Nothing could stop me, even on my worst days, including my disease.
When COVID-19 hit, though, it was the first time in years that I truly felt vulnerable. Before stay-at-home orders were in place, I remember heeding the warnings for people with diabetes and feeling disheartened that there was no way to protect myself. For once, I was faced with the reality that perhaps I couldn’t do everything everyone else could. And it spun me into deep anxiety and isolation.
In addition to my diabetes management, I, like so many other Black women, juggle a corporate job, an entrepreneurial business, relationships, and a social life. I have been fully subject to the burnout many Black women face now. Yet, I have learned the hard way that I do not have the luxury of ignoring my body. In the last two years, I have clung even harder to the need to prioritize my self-care. Being physically active, meditating, practicing yoga, and going for brisk walks have helped me manage my mental and physical health.
This Diabetes Awareness Month, I am sharing a few of my lessons for self-care that have helped me over the years:
Take Time For Yourself:
While I know I can never take a day off from my diabetes care; I can take time for myself. When things feel tough, take time for yourself. Book a massage. Binge-watch TV. Read a book. This disease isn’t easy; some days are more complex than others. Take your rest.
It took me years to find my community. I found other diabetics of color through social media, including some lifelong friends like Ariel Lawrence of Just A Little Suga. Lawrence is creating an inclusive space shedding light on the experiences of diabetics on the margins. Through the digital community that others have cultivated, I’ve learned to feel less alone in my experience and seek help when needed.
Set Small Goals, Celebrate Small Wins:
Setting a large and unattainable goal won’t lead to success. Instead, focus on smaller goals leading to better results, like getting 30 minutes of movement daily. Then celebrate those wins.
Don’t Let it Stop You:
For years, I’ve been fully committed to not letting my diabetes diagnosis stop me from doing anything I’ve set out to do. Travel, explore the world, eat fantastic food, or go on that adventure.
My entire life’s work has been to elevate the narratives of Black people, particularly Black women, but I now know that I can not do that if I don’t learn to prioritize my well-being and livelihood first.
Learn more about Type-1 diabetes here.