The CDN Changed My Life

4/22/16
WRITTEN BY: Mindy Bartleson
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Being a young adult with Type 1 diabetes is an exciting and sometimes scary time; preparing to leave for college, navigating independence or starting your career. The College Diabetes Network is a nonprofit located in Boston, that works with student leaders in campus chapters across the country and an engaged ecosystem of supporters. Looking back on my time in college and during my young professional career, I can see how participating in CDN affected me both personally and professionally.

Once I got to college, I got involved with Dawgs for Diabetes (D4D) at the University of Georgia (UGA), a chapter of CDN. I had been keeping up with D4D since I was in high school because I started to feel more alone in my teen years regarding diabetes. During high school, I looked up to this group, and it was comforting to know that something was waiting for me in college.

Personally, diabetes wasn’t a major part of college planning for me, and I knew people I could go to for answers. When I later arrived on campus freshman year, I felt the interaction between college and diabetes — meeting new people, stress, navigating accommodations, dorm-life, the dining hall, a crazy schedule and all of the ups and downs. I began my guess-and-check work to figure out what was best for me. I was also able to go to people for support and ask questions from those who understood this transition. In college, I felt like students were less judgmental and more willing to learn about Type 1 than they were in high school, and I no longer felt like I was alone because I was involved in a CDN Chapter.

I got a lot out of my chapter involvement. Besides being around people who I could relate to, I learned a lot — a crash course in social media, how to plan programs, how to go beyond my comfort zone, how to gain self-confidence and believe in myself, how to ask for help, how to try new things, how to prioritize and in the process, I learned what support truly means.

Growing up, I didn’t enjoy putting myself out there, and I struggled to believe in myself. I didn’t like situations where I didn’t know anyone or I couldn’t memorize a speech. I didn’t like all eyes on me, and I found it scary for people to look to me for anything. With a leadership position in my CDN Chapter, I had to face all of that head on.

I now embrace the concept of “I have no idea what I’m doing” in life and in diabetes, and that is okay! Just like diabetes, chapter involvement was a lot of guess-and-check work: what meeting time worked for people, what did people want out of a chapter, how do I ask for help and utilize people’s strengths at the same time, how do I handle all eyes on me when I would rather be in the corner. The list goes on!

Seeing the work we put into our chapter took time. I expected to see a room full of people every meeting. The first semester, I walked in, prepared and excited, and I was the only one there, except a few times when a close friend came with me. Every time, I would go home, cry, and question what I was doing, but something told me to keep going. Over time, we created our Executive Board and the community got excited.

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I attended the CDN Retreat in the summer of 2014 and didn’t entirely understand why I was there. I felt like I had nothing to show, and diabetes burnout was still fresh on my mind. There was something special about the atmosphere of all the students and CDN staff there. The retreat was the first time I admitted out loud that I had had burnout, and I was recharged by being around others who were involved in chapters all around the country. I realized I was a part of something bigger.

The fall semester after attending the CDN Retreat, more people showed up to meetings, and we started to plan “The Campus Tour: A Diabetes Perspective,” an “Off to College” event. The event went better than we could have ever imagined. We even won a SOAR (Student Organization Achievement and Recognition) Award for Most Innovative Initiative for the tour.

Our chapter learned as we went; we guessed and we checked. We raised money and participated in community activities, social events, education and awareness on and off campus and created/implemented new programs.

The CDN staff was always there for me; when I ran into issues with financial aid, stressing about “The Campus Tour,” making sure I practiced self-care and the scary moment I decided law school was probably not for me.

Shortly after graduating college last spring, I found myself in Boston working for CDN. It feels unreal to be on the other side of things as the Program Assistant at CDN, but I love it. As the Program Assistant, I work with our Program Director, and we collaborate with CDN Chapters and students across the country. I enjoy working with different chapters because they all vary in size and what they do as student groups, but similar to my involvement in a chapter, each chapter creates a community for young adults with T1D on campus who get it. CDN also has our “Off to College” program, and I find myself looking back on my transition — I’m appreciative that I had people I could go to and ask questions of, but I’m glad that there are resources like our “Off to College” program for those students who lack the same connections I had.

What I learned in college through academics was definitely important and helpful, but I continually realize how much real-life and work experience I gained from chapter involvement. I like to be “punny” and say all of the blood, sweat and tears were completely and totally worth it. Sometimes, you don’t see the work you put in right away — it takes time. I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world, even the tough parts, because I learned a lot about life and myself, but I wish I had known that it isn’t about how many people are coming. The ripple effect is huge and takes time. Being involved in a chapter made diabetes better because I felt like I was doing something about it. I also got so much out of the power of “me too.” I had a group of friends for good days and bad days, the highs and the lows, and everything in between.

Being involved in a CDN Chapter was like having diabetes camp all year. My chapter involvement isn’t what necessarily made my college experience (but it was a huge part of it), it was truly the people involved who take up a very large place in my heart to this day.

Things I live by…

  • The blood, sweat, and tears you put into something you care about are worth it.
  • Asking for help is not a sign of weakness.
  • There is a lot of power in not feeling alone.
  • It is okay to change your plans, dreams, and how you reach your goals.
  • Believe in yourself.
  • College is a place of self-discovery and learning inside and outside the classroom.
  • College and Diabetes can be tricky and require guessing and checking, but it is possible, especially with a hub of resources like CDN.

The College Diabetes Network (CDN) is a non-profit organization, whose mission is to provide innovative peer based programs which connect and empower students and young professionals to thrive with diabetes. To connect with other young adults, or to find out more, sign-up for more information HERE.


Read about Christina Roth starting the CDN.



Mindy Bartleson

Mindy is the Communications and Partnerships Coordinator at the College Diabetes Network (CDN) in Boston, MA, and is a former CDN Chapter Leader. She graduated Cum Laude from the University of Georgia with a Bachelor’s in Social Work and a minor in Sociology. She was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes on March 8, 2000 when she was 7, and she has been involved in the Diabetes Community since then. She thoroughly enjoys diabetes camp, travel, crafts, reading and being awkward. She blogs about life, diabetes, mental health, and women's health on her blog, There's More to the Story. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @mindy_bartleson as well as on Facebook.