Sometimes There is No Lesson in Diabetes + That’s Okay


The start of a new year inspires many of us to re-evaluate our lives—our goals, how we spend our time, and who with. On top of this new year tradition, January is a time of reflection for yours truly on life with diabetes. January includes the official day of my diabetes diagnosis, more lovingly known as a diaversary. Although, it’s not always so warm and fuzzy to look back.

19 years of diabetes = a lot of character development

This year, my diabetes is in its final teenage dirtbag phase. That’s right—I’m celebrating 19 years of living with diabetes and looking forward to 20. It feels like a bit of a graduation, but my development with diabetes as a person is constant, and that’s worth acknowledging.

If my diabetes were a person, they’d be in the second semester of their first year of college, navigating dorm life and a questionable meal plan. Were any of us really happy with the froyo machine in the lunch hall?

For the past year, I’ve told new diabuddies that I’ve been living with type 1 diabetes for nearly 20 years. While true, rounding up to a whole number seems to take away from the many moments diabetes impacts my life. Would I say the same if it were 15 or 16 years? No. Definitely not.

Every day of living with diabetes can be uniquely challenging. But with a bit of luck, a lot of experience, and diabetes education, there are happy rolling hills too.

Crying at my desk

In some ways, I feel far removed from my official diagnosis day, but it’s still one of my more vivid childhood memories. My fourth-grade teacher, Miss Schirmer, allowed me to cry at my desk. I remember the kid who was always getting into trouble, Billy, sitting next to me. One of us was being punished, and the other was being allowed to grieve.

Then again, maybe I did feel punished, too. Those years ago, I lived in a time when some adults around me still thought my dietary habits were to blame for my diagnosis (which forced me to question the same), but thankfully, today, more of us know that is far from the truth.

Oh, burnout! How I loathe you…

I have shared many times over the years with the diabetes community that if not for my sister asking my dad, “Why is Julia acting like a baby?” I might not have snapped out of feeling sorry for myself about living with diabetes.

That’s not to say there weren’t times over the years when I grieved, needing a break so badly but never being able to get one. Diabetes burnout is a b*tch. Burnout days inspired lots of naps and Netflix binging in my early 20s—warranted moments and valid feelings.

Before Netflix and other streaming services entered our lives and our Instagram feeds were flooded with self-help posts—Remember those days of yore?—I tended to disassociate from my resentment of diabetes by staying super busy with clubs and hobbies.

Dissociating never served me well—I’ve mentioned that before too. Working with my condition always brought out the better in me. Working with and being kind to myself always makes life with diabetes more enjoyable.

Saying goodbye to trauma dumping + hello to dumping my diabetes trauma

I was one of those kids that adults always called “mature for their age,” and while mentioned with good intention, today, more of us also know that childhood maturity also tends to go hand in hand with childhood trauma.

That is not to say diabetes is entirely to blame, but it was a factor. Despite those innermost feelings, I recall being a happy kid most of the time. Acknowledging the traumas I’ve experienced over the years has only made me a more content adult, aware that trauma doesn’t have to make you a victim and that you’re capable of living a satisfying life with everything you are and everything you’ve been through. 

There are many lessons in living with diabetes, but one phrase I can’t help but keep thinking about comes from “The Office.” Dwight tells Ryan, “not everything is a lesson.” And 19 years into life with type 1 diabetes, this saying gives me peace in thinking about it.

There’s not always a lesson in diabetes + that’s okay

Sometimes, diabetes just sucks. Sometimes, there is no lesson in it—there doesn’t always have to be. At times, you do need to find a lesson in the challenges, but often, diabetes is the white noise hum. It’s the burr in the back of your shoe that you can’t get out. It’s the check engine light that never fades, despite your many visits to the mechanic.

Depending on your personality type, this can sometimes take time to digest, especially if you’re an ENFJ (Extraverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging) like me. I’m someone who needs to feel and pursue purpose. There’s nothing wrong with that, but life isn’t always that grandiose. That’s okay too! My generation was raised to believe we need to be larger than life to be valued, but the truth is that many of us are somewhere in the middle. That shouldn’t be disappointing. 

There are billions of us humans on planet earth…of course we’re all somewhere in the middle.

The goal is to be content while living with diabetes

When you learn to understand that life is happening for you and not to you, you will be more content. When you know how to select your problems and think of them that way, you will be more content—diabetes being the obvious non-choice choice. Learning these lessons over these past 19 years has made me a more fulfilled adult. 

Thinking about diabetes as something that is, instead of questioning why it is happening to me, helps me live a more content life. And if that concept is entirely foreign, I implore you to read “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” by Mark Manson.

Like finding the best work-life integration for yourself, you must find the best diabetes-life integration. Sometimes, that means thinking about it actively. Other times, it means lowering the white noise dial as much as possible without sacrificing your health.

If you’re a chronic over-thinker like me, maybe this will give you some calm thinking about your days with diabetes. 

Whatever your headspace, if you, too, are celebrating a diaversary at any point in the year, I hope you remember that you don’t always have to find a lesson in diabetes. You are allowed to let it be what it is and walk through life adjusting your white noise dial in the ways that most positively contribute to your enhanced state of mind.

It’s not about ignoring it. It’s not about letting it control you. It’s about having a healthy relationship with “the white noise.”

WRITTEN BY Julia Flaherty, POSTED 01/03/23, UPDATED 01/03/23

Julia Flaherty is a published children’s book author, writer, editor, award-winning digital marketer, content creator, and diabetes advocate. Find Julia’s first book, “Rosie Becomes a Warrior.” Julia finds therapy in building connections within the diabetes community. Being able to contribute to its progress brings her joy. She loves connecting with the diabetes communities, being creative, and storytelling. You will find Julia hiking, traveling, working on her next book, or diving into a new art project in her free time. Connect with Julia on LinkedIn, Instagram, or Twitter.