I will never forget the afternoon of December 6, 2001. Little 11-year-old me had been sick for nearly a month and lost about 15 pounds in two weeks. My mom had been so concerned that I wasn’t eating, or that something very serious was happening. On December 6th, she picked me up from school, took me to my doctor, and stood by my side as my life changed forever.
That afternoon, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, a chronic autoimmune disease in which a child’s pancreas stops producing insulin – one of the 8 hormones produced in the body that regulates blood sugar. Though 1.25 million Americans have diabetes, only 5% of those have Type 1, or Juvenile Diabetes. Without a functioning pancreas, insulin cannot be produced and must be administered via daily injections or through an insulin pump. Though not life threatening when treated properly, there is currently no cure.
I am now 28 and await my 17th dia-versary this December. Although I’ve lived with diabetes longer than I lived without it, this fact does not leave me discouraged. The benefits I have gained from my diagnosis seep into every facet of my life and are so tangible, it inspired this blog post! Through this journey, I have learned how struggle manifests (eventually) into beautiful strengths, three of which have notably helped me personally and professionally.
Lean on intuition
I wear an insulin pump and Continuous Glucose Monitor, two pieces of medical equipment that are attached to me 24/7. Almost always visible to those around me, you could say that I wear my illness on my sleeve, most literally. What used to be a source of self-consciousness has become an intuitive inspiration. Thanks to my Type 1, not only am I finely in tune with my body, I have learned to be highly in tune to those around me. I spend a large part of my day leaning on intuition. Over the years, I’ve translated that skill to astutely notice the details of those I work with – their preferences, our conversations, and the experiences we share. Developing this intuition is always something to work on and will most likely serve you well as you build client relationships.
It’s not always convenient to excuse myself from a professional setting due to blood sugar issues; likewise, as a professional, it’s not easy to explain why a 28-year-old urgently needs to drink a juice box. The reality is, though, that these moments happen and can’t be put on hold. As many times as I’ve carried myself proudly in my profession, I’ve come to expect an equal amount of time when I must embrace my imperfection. I’ve learned that the grace I receive from others in these situations has had a lasting impact – it improves my people skills, makes me a stronger collaborator, and encourages me to show that same grace to those I work with.
Diabetes treatment is very complex, particularly for a Type 1. I have to keep my blood sugar within a normal range by controlling my food intake and treating with proper injections and doses of insulin. External factors like stress/anxiety, exercise, illness, quality of food, and even the environment can affect levels as well. It’s a give and take. A zero-gravity balancing act that never ends. And that fact – that it never ends, that there’s never a break from it – has been the hardest, yet most rewarding thing to accept. When facing hardship in life, I have fallen just to pick myself back up again, endlessly. The grit that I’ve discovered within myself has built the foundation for my confidence, motivation to achieve a goal, and encouragement towards my leadership skills.
Living with Type 1 Diabetes is quite an adventure. I am surrounded by wonderful people who support my journey, who love me for my juice boxes, and who remind me of all this illness has taught me. I think that one of the greatest side effects of hardship can be the silver linings that present themselves through the storm clouds, a serendipitous reaction to something difficult. So, I challenge you to consider what lovely parts of your character and professionalism have been shaped by the journey of hardship: lean on your intuition, embrace your imperfection, and exude grit in your career.