Gina’s note: This week, I’m thrilled to share with you a guest blog from my friend, Kim Vlasnik. Kim is living with type 1 diabetes, and over the years I’ve watched her successfully use social media to spread awareness about the condition. Kim’s hard work is paying off — this week she was awarded a $2,000 grant from the Diabetes Hands Foundation (DHF) for her You Can Do This project. As Kim has said, things are just getting started.
When I tell people that Twitter keeps me sane, I’m not sure they understand how much I truly mean that.
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes – an auto-immune disease that leaves the body unable to produce insulin and which affects less than .5% of the U.S. population — in 1986, at the age of six. For the last quarter century, I’ve been pricking my fingers to check my blood glucose levels, carefully measuring and counting foods, and injecting insulin in some way. Diabetes is full of math equations that can never be fully solved — grams of carbohydrate eaten, exercise, stress, hormones, sleep and other factors all create a delicate tightrope we must walk each day.
What I think most people don’t realize is that the hard part of living with diabetes isn’t all of the things you can see — it isn’t the needles, the insulin pump I use or the continuous glucose monitor I wear. Those things are part of my routine. They are what I need to do, for me, to be healthy. A person gets used to this part of life with diabetes relatively quickly.
The hard part is everything else that comes with that: the mental and emotional impact of living a little bit “differently” than most everyone else is a heavy weight to carry. It’s feeling run down and demotivated when you’ve done the same things as yesterday, but have wildly different results. It’s the feeling of never quite being fully in charge of your body — when you have diabetes, you’re expected to take on the role of an organ in your body. Can you imagine having to pump your own heart, or inflate your own lungs with air? Diabetes affects every minute of my day, and there is no vacation. I have to always be on the ball.
So where does social media come in? I began looking online for other people with diabetes in 2009, and what I have found could be called a “family of strangers”. We check in on each other when we see someone struggling. We tweet our blood sugar readings and vent when needed — and people are there with encouragement and support, right when we need it. We share our stories through blogs and videos, and find comfort in seeing our experiences and feelings told through someone else’s words. Humor and levity become as essential to our health as insulin.
In 2010, I started a blog about my life with diabetes called Texting My Pancreas, and it has helped connect me to thousands of other people who are living lives parallel to mine. Last year, I spearheaded an online video movement called You Can Do This, in which people touched by diabetes make and share videos telling their stories — to prove that no one is alone, and that “if I can do this, you can do this”. Social media helps foster the psychosocial needs of people living with diabetes; it connects us and lets us feel empowered — which translates, in many cases, to better overall health.
In a world of so many who “don’t get it”, we create a safe bubble of understanding online. People with diabetes may be spread around the world, but social media helps us feel like we are all in the same room.