How I Thrive with Type 1 Diabetes: My Life is Mine, Not My Condition’s

When I think about thriving with type 1 diabetes, I can’t help but reflect on my original diagnosis at 10-years-old, when I was scared I would never be able to eat ice cream again, couldn’t stop crying, though I wasn’t 100% sure why yet, and began to feel robbed of my childhood.

Of course, I wouldn’t realize the complexity of the thievery that having type 1 diabetes brought me until years in. This temperament was also self-deprecated soon into my condition. Thank goodness.

“Why not live the bright side of this,” I thought?

I realized early on that if I were to truly thrive with the condition, I would have to make the most of it. I couldn’t live as a victim, but an embracer of my condition, an acceptor. If I lived as a victim, I would be seen as a victim, feel a victim, and be a sad and miserable person my whole life.

“NO WAY – NO HOW! That is no way to live,” I knew. “You attract the energy you emit.”

That was no way to be happy. The purpose of life is love, and, without loving and accepting yourself, you can’t thrive – but, I’ll elaborate on that a bit later.

When I was originally diagnosed, I remember crying on and off for about three weeks in my favorite grade school teacher’s class, Miss Schirmer, finding her condolences generous and sweet, while platonically befriending a likely underdog, a misbehaved young boy named Billy. We exchanged a few pleasant conversations at the time about how others couldn’t relate to us. He moved states away weeks later.

My heart and mind began to mold to adversity quite fittingly from that point on.

Finding out the news at the doctor’s office for the first time was certainly confusing. I didn’t understand what it was. I knew it was more severe than a cold, and lifelong, but how was I going to manage this, I wondered, and how was my life going to change?

I knew I had lost weight, which was abnormal for someone my age. I was about 20 pounds down from a healthy weight, and beginning to look frail, depressed, and pale. A friend who worked with me at the guidance counselor’s office for something called Junior Achievement (a youth mentorship program in my community) at the time couldn’t help but notice how I’d changed.

My moods were all over the place, and, simply, I just wasn’t my happy and energetic self. I was mad at her at the time, thinking she was tattling on me, but later realized it was out of care; and I was grateful. I hope she realized this same takeaway later on, despite my failure to communicate it as a child.

I assumed, at 10-years-old, that my life was about to change pretty dramatically, since they said I needed to go the hospital ASAP. Ensue fear. They offered an ambulance ride to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, but my dad came to the clinic with my sister in our family’s red Toyota to pick my mom and I up so we could save ourselves an additional hospital expense that was soon to be followed by years of overpriced drugs that I always felt bad for until I realized the burden was wrongly projected onto me a time later.

I remember my sister asking in the car, “Is Julia going to die?”

I waited with anticipation – “Was I?”

“No, honey,” my mom replied.

I labeled this initial type 1 diabetes experience in a short story I wrote in the fifth grade as “my own personal fear factor episode”.

I don’t even think Joe Rogan could’ve imagined this condition up as an episode scenario.

The first week in the hospital encompassed a lot of IVs, lessons in nutrition, and feelings of frustration. I’ll never forget my Grandpa Jack offering to be an example of how to inject shots while sitting with a diabetes educator in that hospital room. They ended up using an orange and a syringe to demonstrate instead, after my refusal to practice with saline, or whatever substitution it was.

Grandpa Jack was so sweet, and so good to me for so many years, like all good grandparents are, and let me just say that I have been blessed with all of mine. He always took my sister and I out for dinner every Friday night for about 7 years, letting us always (alternate between) picking the places we went, which did not stop even after my diagnosis. What a great man.

My Grandma Audrey and Grandpa Roger practice similar support to this day, and have always made valiant efforts to help care for my condition and support my health.

The technical (shot injections, glucose and nutrition advice, etc.) support I got from my immediate family felt a bit unnecessary, only because I wanted to take control of my condition in order to cope and face it head on. I managed to isolate my treatments early in my diagnosis to being my own caretaker. I was always a responsible child – an old soul, some deemed. Of course, my parents supported me through the years, but I felt, in many ways, I was always my number one nurse, therapist, and mentor to the condition.

I can only imagine the fear and anxiety they must’ve felt as parents having a child with this condition, and I am glad they always watched over me.

Type 1 diabetes was something no one could understand as deeply as the host, who was and always is me. Or, so I thought, until I later joined and became deeply involved with communities like Diabetic Connect, Beyond Type 1, and JDRF in my young adulthood, all of which I hold joyous appreciation for in the highest regards to this day … that, and after opening myself up to talk about it more as I became more comfortable with and accepting of it as I matured.

And – let me just say, there are many conditions that equal this experience in different ways.

One disease or condition of this extremity is not better or worse by comparison, only different and are in no way worthy of discrediting by their comparisons in media. There are so many conditions and diseases that exist in the world today, affecting minority populations, that others don’t understand at an introspective level, and that’s okay, so to say. We can’t 100% know or feel another’s experience, but we have the capacity to hear and care for them wholeheartedly.

What we need from those who don’t understand, I’ve come to learn through my experiences interacting with others, is empathy, acceptance, and support, more than anything. You don’t have to know exactly what it feels like to be kind to and patient with those dealing with the condition.

The same can be said when we approach any adversity or diversity in our lives …

Certainly, it’s a difficult condition to understand unless you have it. Though you can be supportive and learn as much as possible, the (often) everyday feelings of highs and lows are fairly incomparable. Yet, I’ve been told over the years, in ignorance, that my feelings of high and low blood sugar were dramatic exaggerations. Far from.

I am not angry. I am a person who lives without regrets, who embraces each day with the spirit of fullness and fragility. I value my time here. I know, like it is for all, that it is limited, and the way I care for myself to sustain my livelihood matters. What I want for all those I love is peace, love, happiness, and unquestioning acceptance. We should all be so lucky to believe and feel these attributes fully in life.

That said, the only feeling I conjure when reflecting on those particular remarks is sadness that they failed to empathize. In retrospect, empathy has become a quality I hold so dear that I have also come to live daily – in every experience, there is a lesson. If we can find the opportunities in our distresses in life, we are lucky to be open-minded to our small worlds and the bigger picture.

Certainly, this is true, and my greatest takeaway from having type 1 diabetes.

So, what does “thriving” look like after I readministered my perspective early in life to shape a future of happiness, self-acceptance, and self-empowerment?

After graduating from university in roughly two and a half years time with my Bachelor’s degree, I chased a childhood dream of mine, and relocated to New York City, where I worked at various companies over the course of a few years, in marketing roles that taught me not only about what I wanted out of a career, but life itself.

New York was an amazing experience for me, but, the daily flow was full of unbalance and a “rat race” that didn’t match my heart, so I came back to Wisconsin, where I molded a new and old self into the best self I am that is still in constant development.

In reflection, I offer the following considerations: We must remain humble and open to life. We must not be entitled or mean-spirited. We must be open to criticism. We must be open to caring for ourselves, and facing ourselves in order to move forward. To overcome anything in life, we must move through, not around. And we are worth facing ourselves. It may be difficult, but it is worth every moment of development.

Here, I have family and friends. I have care. I have love. I have stability. I have security. I have a future. I have had almost 10,000 followers on Instagram, and have deactivated my account as of about a year ago. In today’s climate, some may see this last sentence as my greatest accomplishment, and that’s simply not true. While it can be inspiring to feel heard or seen for our thoughts or projections in this way, it is not the primary way we should determine our worth or value in life.

In life, it doesn’t matter how many autobots or people we don’t know that we have following us whom we call friends. Hence, the deactivation. It matters that we are genuine, and, that may mean maintaining a high social media presence to some, sure. There are genuine social media presences that exist today.

For me, I just never want to be distracted by false realities that live on some platforms. I love Twitter for its ability to reach people in a fast-paced, high-level way. We all have at least one platform we’re pretty dedicated to, and, being a Marketer, this is certainly the case for me. You have to be involved working in the field at some level.

I have written for publications including Inside the Salesforce Ecosystem, Consumer Health Digest, Social Media Examiner, Beyond Type 1, Diabetic Connect, Thought Catalog, Hello Giggles, and Her Campus, and have worked for companies like, Dana Classic Fragrances, and The Daily Quirk. I’ve found an incredible job culture and function in my current role that I hope to develop for a time to come at Ledgeview Partners now.

My experiences are vast, and my outlook is wide. Having type 1 diabetes has never limited me, and I have never let it control me. I control it, and that is how I truly thrive. I live my life taking it by the reins. It’s mine. It’s not my condition’s.


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