Living with type 1 diabetes is hard. There will be days where a lot of your efforts to successfully manage it can seem like a waste. At times, it will force you to slow down when you want to keep going fast and can unexpectedly invade a positive headspace with negative thoughts. Changing your overall lifestyle in small ways can be scary at first, but ultimately extremely impactful on how diabetes fits into your everyday life. It’s important to focus as much on your mental health when it comes to living with type 1 diabetes as on your physical health - associating blood sugar numbers with positive or negative emotions is extremely taxing on your well-being. Getting to a point of peaceful coexistence with any chronic illness is the most positive thing that can be done in order to thrive and be happy. As someone who has lived with T1D for 8 years, my relationship with the disease is constantly evolving. I still have bad days but have gotten to a place where I feel truly at peace with my disease.
Throughout my years of living with T1D, I have discovered some things that have greatly helped my relationship with the disease and T1D has slowly become an amazing, beautiful part of my life. Here are the top 3 things (that have helped me) that I hope will help you peacefully coexist and thrive with T1D.
This one is the hardest. Letting go of the freedom you had pre-T1D diagnosis and shifting your perception of your identity to include a chronic illness will take a lot of time and introspective work. It took me years to fully accept T1D; I was in denial for a long time. My denial came from an unwillingness to want to change, but also because I was very frequently being told by health care professionals that “a cure was just around the corner.” Getting fed that information was extremely disruptive in my ability to accept my disease. I was holding on to false hope and neglecting dealing with how I would integrate T1D into my life now.
Fully accepting T1D means getting comfortable with the fact that your body has changed and it is not going to change back. Acceptance will allow the rest of your journey with T1D to feel less pitiful and more resilient. Acceptance will allow you to perceive your chronic illness as something that gives you strength, compassion, and knowledge instead of something that makes you weak. Comparing your new, slightly more complicated life, to your life pre-diagnosis will only add unnecessary feelings of longing and unrest to your current existence. Acceptance will make way for true transformation and will allow diabetes to impact your life in positive, grounding ways. It’s important and natural to mourn your past life for as long as you need but eventually, it will be time to let go let go let go… and then move on.
2. Make overall health a priority
Finding foods, exercises, insulin delivery methods and monitoring devices that work for you and support your overall health will have a great impact on the management of type 1 diabetes.
Finding foods that support your personal health is so important to having good blood sugar management. Until I started making deliberate choices about the food I consumed, I didn’t realize the power it had. Be very cautious while on your food journey and try not to get sucked into a very specific diet plan that is extremely restrictive. This can lead to missing out on certain nutrients and possibly also lead to disordered eating. Getting diagnosed with T1D will totally change your perception of food and it will be easy to start associating negative or positive emotions with it. Be VERY wary of these attachments that may start to creep into your everyday life. Categorizing foods as good or bad is not supportive of a healthy relationship with food and will add unnecessary stress to everyday life. If a food spikes your blood sugar a lot, think of it as matter of factly as you can, be mindful when you consume that food and take extra precautions and steps when eating it to avoid that spike. Lots of spikes will make you feel unwell so it’s also important to gauge whether the taste or the food is worth the possible spike. Sometimes it totally will be, but sometimes knowing your blood sugar will be stable is more important, it depends on the day and how you are feeling mentally!
Exercise is also an important part of diabetes management. Regular, physical movement will allow your body to use insulin more easily and effectively! Being mindful of how stationary you are in a day is a good thing to be aware of. If your job entails a lot of sitting then perhaps try to incorporate some walking or biking into your commute or during your break. It isn’t necessary to be going to the gym every single day to be healthy! Steady, regular movement will be just as beneficial for your overall health. Find an exercise that you love and doesn’t necessarily feel like work to you. Creating a positive association with movement will motivate you to want to partake in it more often. Personally, I love dancing, biking and running!
Find an insulin delivery method that works for you! There are so many different ways to administer insulin… pumps, syringes, pens, inhalers! Depending on what country you live in and your own personal accessibility, doing proper research and assessing what you need together with your healthcare professional is key to finding what’s best for your lifestyle. Finding the right insulin delivery method will allow you to feel in control and happier about your management and can have a very positive impact on your relationship with T1D.
Consider getting a CGM (continuous glucose monitor). For me, when I started on a Dexcom, my relationship with type 1 diabetes completely changed. Choosing to go on Dexcom has single-handedly improved my blood sugar management more than anything else in my time living as a type 1 diabetic. Being able to see the exact response that foods and activities have on my blood sugar levels is like taking blinders off. Not only has it given me more control, but it has allowed me to worry less and added much needed peace of mind. I am more open to partaking in new activities because I know my brain won’t be consumed with fear of having a low or high. One of the best parts about having a Dexcom is that you can set alarms to go off when your blood sugar reaches a certain level. These levels are personal and can be adjusted which is so great for feeling free and not worrying about your blood sugar without neglecting it or compromising your health! If a Dexcom CGM System is accessible to you, I would highly suggest trying it out, even if only for a few months. It will allow you to be much more aware of how your choices are affecting your blood sugar - like how the timing of your bolus makes a difference before a meal, different types of physical activity, stress, travel, etc. T1D changes every day, so having a tool to see what's going on is both revealing and empowering.
Physical health and mental health are truly a symbiotic relationship, each supports the other. It’s hard to feel truly good and whole if one is neglected. Making an effort in both areas will nurture a happy, thriving life where type 1 diabetes fits in nicely.
Make an effort to find your tribe! Connecting with other humans living with type 1 diabetes is one of the most validating things you can do for your existence. There are many platforms online to meet other T1Ds including Instagram (just search the hashtag #type1diabetes), beyondtype1.com and JDRF just to name a few. If you prefer real-life interaction with other type 1 diabetics, many organizations such as JDRF host monthly meet-ups. Consider asking your diabetes health care team about how you can get involved in the community! However you go about it, I urge you to take the plunge. My life and my relationship with type 1 diabetes changed so much when I met others who lived the same struggles I had. It’s really hard to understand what a really bad low blood sugar experience feels like if you don’t have type 1, so sometimes the support you get from family and friends can feel totally unhelpful. Having a type 1 friend may just be the tipping point in maintaining your sanity when you’re going through a tough time.
Evidently, there are so many choices that affect type 1 diabetes. Everyone's health takes time and mindfulness and when type 1 diabetes is thrown into the mix, it just takes some extra effort. Knowing that you’re doing your best and knowing that your best changes based on the day will ultimately have a positive effect on your type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes should never get in the way of reaching your goals or living your dreams. If neglected, it might start to do that. This is why it's so important to embrace your type 1 diabetes, make peace with it and eventually live together in harmony.