One year ago, on September 6, 2014, I was a shadow of the person who I am today. I was gaunt, hungry, and insulin-deprived, the result of months of insulin pump product defects and subsequent health problems due to medication delivery malfunctions. Alone and desperate for answers, I decided to start a diabetes blog from my tiny apartment in Rhode Island. Very Light, No Sugar was created, and technical insulin pump support, as well as general diabetes support, was sought. I thought that I was looking for biomedical engineering answers, but it turns out that I was really looking for something more powerful: empathy and understanding. The diabetic online community (#doc) rose to the occasion.
I distinctly remember, years earlier, sitting at my desk overlooking a soccer field during my junior year of college. I Googled “diabetes blog,” and clicked on sixuntilme.com. Wow, can she write!, I thought, as I nodded my head along with the words that I read and laughed at Kerri’s signature humor. At the time, blogging seemed like something really cool for other people to do, but not for me. I was too busy pretending that diabetes-related anxieties were not affecting my life negatively. What do I really have to say, anyway?
Reflecting on the past year, right now I want to speak to those who think similarly to how I did in college. Trust me here; you do have something to say and something to write. Go for it. The #doc is generally supportive and uplifting, and each member offers a unique perspective peppered with the common bond of diabetes, whether as those with T1D, T2D, LADA, MODY, cystic fibrosis-related diabetes (CFRD), or as friends/family/caregivers. We all “get it.” Your perspective is part of the larger fabric of diabetes which connects us all. Isn’t that voice worth sharing, then?
When I started Very Light, No Sugar, I was the epitome of the dorky new kid on the playground. I tweeted and retweeted and never stopped virtually talking. Even today, live-tweeting my emotions could land me on TLC’s My Strange Addiction. [Insert “thumbs up” emoji].
Back in September of 2014, some criticisms labeled the #doc as too “exclusive.” I had only been in the #doc for a few days or so, but my first impressions of its friendliness meter were positive. So, I threw myself into a Twitter conversation amongst many “#doc pioneers” (i.e. the “big names with big hearts” whom we all love- no need to name-drop here) regarding how to make everyone feel welcome.
Much to their credit, the #doc pioneers did not bite at a newbie who had very little perspective to offer at the time. To be honest, I did not really belong in that conversation. But they entertained my rookie thoughts, which went something like, “THE #DOC IS GREAT. EVERYONE IS COOL. BE FRIENDS WITH ME!!!” (I’m blushing as I write this). My point here is that when you start a blog, you cannot possibly be as nerdy as I was, and the #doc embraced me. Sooo, again- go for it!
My largest piece of blogging advice would be to foster genuine connections, which begins with being your authentic self. If others take the time to comment on your blog or to tweet at you, write back! Understandably, there are some #doc superstars who get inundated with messages; it is unfair to expect that they can respond to every single one. But for me as a “humble beginner” blogger, I had a lot of time on my hands. So I took an extra few minutes to engage with my audience, and I now consider many of those who I interacted with to be my friends. Also, dive into weekly chats like #DSMA and #DCDE for helpful advice and comradery.
Find your balance. Share as much or as little as you choose, but know that if you open your heart to the #doc, they give great big bear hugs of support. I will forever be indebted to Laddie and Cherise for sharing my Broken Record blog post about my insulin pump issues. The response was more than I ever could have garnered on my own, and it helped me to make the difficult decision to try insulin injections again. (In particular, Caroline’s reassurance that it would be okay sticks out in my mind; thank you.)
While I still have room for improvement in my diabetes management, I can say that I have grown into an emotionally-stronger person through this experience. I have also learned that each person’s diabetes management choice is a very personal one; do what works for you. We have plenty of options, and nothing has to be permanent.
Although we are unique individuals, we make up a larger whole- a powerful, inspirational, worldwide community. At the time of publication of this post, my blog has been viewed in 58 countries, from here in the United States to Madagascar to Afghanistan, and many more globetrotting locations. That fact, in and of itself, has made me a better person. I am no longer desperate and alone. People from all over the world understand and support the same fight against diabetes. All I can say is, “Wow!” Although I wish that this disease did not touch so many of us on an international level, it is humbling to know that we are all in this together.
Thank you for hearing me out on the good days and the bad days, and thank you for allowing me to do the same with you. Thank you to those who email or message regularly with me (you know who you are); I cherish the wisdom, strength, and support found in our virtual Pen Pal notes. Thank you to those in the Boston area who came together for our inaugural #BetesOnTap meet-up, which offered social support for diabetics and filled a void in my heart that I had not quite acknowledged before.
I write often about electronic forms of communication, but- with her permission obtained beforehand- I want to note that my first old-fashioned mail came from Hope Duncan in New Zealand (NZ). I admire Hope so much for the wonderful example she sets for youth with diabetes. She is also one of the most talented artists out there, and I encourage you to check out her creations on social media.
Hope’s gift still sits atop my fireplace mantle, a spot reserved for cherished items. Her card explained the gift’s background, stating, “Well, it’s a marae, a little piece of NZ for you in the States. 🙂 The native people in NZ are called Māori and their meeting places are called marae (said like ma-rye)… I hope you can fit it all together. I taped the pieces where they should go, so hopefully that helps.”
The marae model (pictured above, along with Hope’s card) represents the #doc to me: a meeting place that feels like home, where all of the puzzle pieces fit together as part of the larger story of community.
One year later, I still want a cure for diabetes to help our community, our marae. I still hope and dream and pray for it every day.
One year later, I am motivated to achieve better health and to try new approaches if needed. Through the #doc, I have a safety net of support to catch me if I fall or to cheer with me when I succeed. Likewise, I hope that in my own way, I have given the same support back to some of you.
One year later, I look forward to fostering new friendships and learning more in the online world of healthcare interactions, particularly with Stanford Medicine X (#MedX) coming up shortly.
One year later, I still drink very light, no sugar coffee, and one year later, I still lift my coffee mug to all of you.
Thank you, #doc- for everything. Thank you for who you are and for what you do, for advocating long and hard, for listening, for talking, and for caring. You inspire me every day, and I feel so blessed to consider you my friends and diabetes family. Cheers to many more years together!