I am a communicator. Almost any form of communication suits me, with few exceptions. But my decadelong relationship with type 1 diabetes is so complex that, for a long time, I struggled to adequately talk about it with anyone. Then a thought occurred to me: If I remained silent about how I dealt with this ruthless chronic condition, how could I expect others to share their stories in a way that can be meaningful and potentially transformative?
I have never felt like a sick person. I got on a plane bound for a family vacation the day after I was diagnosed with type 1, and I’m now a seasoned adventurer and globetrotter. Since my diagnosis, I have taken care of myself, physically and mentally. I accept challenges, take risks, and cheerfully face the unfamiliar every day. So it came as a complete surprise when a therapist recently told me that I’m still grieving my loss of a “normal” life.
Intensive insulin therapy used to care for type 1 diabetes relentlessly demands critical thinking every minute of every hour of every day. Taking a break is not an option. Life experience has taught me that the best way to deal with this disease, and accept a new standard of normal, is through communication shaped by creativity and compassion.
For that I had Friends for Life, an international Children with Diabetes conference held every year in Orlando, Florida. The event connects people from all over the world who share a relationship with type 1 diabetes: families, couples, scientists, celebrities, and twentysomethings like me. I attended in 2009 and 2010, then volunteered with young kids for two years after that.
My heart has broken for those children—kids who would never have carefree lives, who would encounter challenges many people never need to consider. Yet over many discussions with my fellow young adult volunteers as we raced through Disney World—having conversations about wearing an insulin pump with a dress, explaining hypoglycemia to coworkers, and navigating a date while surreptitiously checking blood glucose levels—I saw a different reality emerge: Kids with diabetes can grow to live full and rich lives despite having a chronic disease.
Talking about the different ways in which we approach challenges posed by diabetes is a tremendous tool. It can ameliorate the feelings of isolation, frustration, and exhaustion that build up over time. This is how we cope.
Living in Ireland, France, and, currently, New Zealand has led me to discover that the global community can benefit from my candid words about the mundane details of daily living with diabetes. Whether I call a friend to check in or contribute a story of challenge or triumph to an online forum, I hope I can inspire others who are struggling and help professionals trained to treat diabetes find creative solutions. I find inspiration in surprising and unlikely ways: as I glance at my Facebook feed or browse Instagram. It’s a way to feel both present and heard. Through such communication, my generation of young adults with type 1 diabetes gives others the hope of living life unhindered by chronic disease.
Katherine Doyle is an American travel writer and multimedia artist with type 1 diabetes who currently lives in New Zealand. Her work has been published by the American Association of Diabetes Educators, DiabetesDaily.com, HerPackingList.com, and more. Find her at kadoyle.com and on Twitter as @katie__doyle.
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