How to Lean in and Find the Gratitude in a Life with Type 1 Diabetes


January 5, 2022, is my 18th diaversary (the anniversary of the date I was diagnosed). If diabetes were a person, now my type 1 diabetes (T1D) could buy a lottery ticket, join the military, get a tattoo or piercing without parental consent, vote and do a host of other exciting things. To this, I say, “Happy freaking birthday, diabetes.” 

My only question for diabetes today, if it were a person, would be, “Can you move out already?” I think 18 years is enough to inhabit my body. My diabetes may never grow up and move along without me — I can live with that, but boy, would I love a babysitter. (Or, you know, a doctor.)

Despite wanting a break from my 18-year-old, incapable moocher, I’ve learned I can either lean into this disease or resent it. If you’re in a similar burnout boat, let me be clear that resenting it has never gotten me anywhere good. (It’s never gotten anyone anywhere good.)

Lean in!

Live—don’t just survive.

There were times in my actual teenage years where I didn’t give T1D the attention it needed, and my A1C suffered the consequences of my apathy. If you’ve ever thought about ignoring your condition out of resentment, I understand but warn against it.

T1D allows for no breaks, and when you can find a moment of rest, it’s often unsettling—as if you need to be constantly alert just to survive the day. You find yourself thinking, “relaxation makes me feel unrelaxed.” You worry that looking away from it for five minutes will be five minutes too long.

Developing a survivalist mentality may become second nature, and while T1D is unapologetically exhausting, the worst thing you can do while living with it is to just survive. Just surviving implies you aren’t fully living.

You owe yourself more than that.

Remember, you’re not alone.

I remember sitting in the parking lot of a Petco with my parents at 16-years-old and crying to my dad that I hated a part of myself I couldn’t change. I felt burnt out and had few outlets to express my struggles.

Burnout is bound to happen the longer you have T1D. What I didn’t know then that I know now is that I’m honestly not alone, and other people in the world are experiencing similar emotional and physical pains. It’s too easy to believe, as a teenager, that you are the only one going through what you’re going through. As an adult, you realize your circumstances aren’t that special. 

That’s a gift!

Find your community

Beyond Type 1 was a game-changer for me when I discovered it as a fan many years ago. Today, as an employee, I feel proud to be a part of its mission to deliver information, insights and messages of positivity to people with diabetes. That’s how it served me when I felt like I had no community. 

Community stories resonated with me in ways I hadn’t felt connected to others before. Connecting to other people’s stories helped me when I felt isolated, self-pitying, and ashamed, as much as I don’t like to admit I ever felt that way.

When you’re going through burnout, it’s important to find your community, whether that’s BT1, a local JDRF chapter, or leaning on your family and friends. Diaversaries mark huge milestones. If all you want to do is sleep or vent to mark the occasion, that’s okay. On any given day, that’s okay.

Finding gratitude despite the endless cycle

After 18 years of hearing a cure is just five years away, of nearly 50,000 insulin injections, of moments of great pride and joy, of feelings of great overwhelm and frustration, I still am hopeful. Even if I have to live with type 1 diabetes for 60 more years, I will be immensely grateful for every moment of life I have lived.

Despite the burnout and anguish and the rebellion of my blood sugar levels, I feel grateful. Centuries ago, I wouldn’t be writing this. I wouldn’t have made it to 28-years-old and an 18th diaversary. I feel freaking grateful to be alive!

If I can give one piece of advice to anyone who is just starting out with T1D or even is a seasoned veteran, it’s that the sooner you can treat yourself like a friend, lean into and accept this disease, the more fulfilling life you will lead.

You are allowed to grieve the process, just don’t live in that state continually. You owe yourself much more. (Your life is worth much more!) Curse when you need to. Talk when you want to. Sleep when you need to. Love yourself through it all!

Refocus your perspective

As the saying goes, when you change the way you see things, the things you see change. Perspective makes a world of difference in handling T1D. Remember to nurture your soul as often as possible. 

Diaversaries can be a mournful reflection of everything you’ve been through with the disease or a joyous celebration of all you’ve accomplished while managing it. (Maybe both?) Have a good sense of humor as you decide your path. You get to choose what you see in yourself. Perhaps, it’s a “Happy Birthday, Diabetes!” after all.

Diabetes is one obstacle of many you will face in life. Though it’s a great event, so are you.

WRITTEN BY Julia Flaherty, POSTED 01/05/22, UPDATED 12/11/22

Julia Flaherty is a published children’s book author, writer and editor, award-winning digital marketer, content creator and type 1 diabetes advocate. Find Julia’s first book, “Rosie Becomes a Warrior.” Julia finds therapy in building connections within the type 1 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 or Twitter.