Jeanette Terry, T1D, addresses the day-to-day struggles of living with diabetes to help improve overall adherence and management.

It has been a long road getting to where I am now: a place where I feel that I am in control of my diabetes, not the other way around. I was only 11 years old when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, so I certainly didn’t understand the weight of that news. But as the years go on I sure do feel the weight more with each challenge as I try to maintain control of my diabetes and my overall health. Here are some tips that I wish I had known when I was first diagnosed that could make your life a little easier.

Counting carbs is not black and white

There are a lot of variables to consider when you are counting carbs. First, and most important to understand, is that everyone reacts differently to different foods. You may eat exactly the same dish as another person with diabetes and have a dramatically different change in your blood sugar levels. Counting carbs is an important part of diabetes care, but you also have to learn by trial and error what your body can tolerate and how it reacts to the foods you usually eat. You may have to give a little more insulin for some foods even though the carbs don’t show it. It isn’t an exact science, but a learned skill that you will develop over time.

Start simple

Daily diabetes care can seem overwhelming, and if you don’t take it one day at a time it could stay hard forever. When I was diagnosed I didn’t want to have anything to do with the details of diabetes care. I did just enough to keep myself from getting sick but didn’t learn as I went. I realized after many years that when people asked me about diabetes I still didn’t know much about the disease. If I had tried to learn the important details from the beginning, I wouldn’t have had to play catch-up as an adult. So every day try to learn a little bit more about the disease itself and how it affects you personally.

A great way to learn how your body is affected by diabetes is to temporarily eat a simple diet with a limited number of different foods. Once you are able to accurately count the carbs and give insulin while maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, gradually add more foods to create a more complex diet. Eventually you will be able to eat pretty much any type of food you want and still be able to maintain good blood sugar control by giving more or less insulin to compensate for what you eat.

Don’t let fear control you

Complications might seem frightening, but most can be avoided with good control. After I was diagnosed, at first I tried to avoid thinking about the future, and when I did it scared me because I thought that my health would just continue to decline because of my diabetes. Fear can really take a toll on your quality of life. But you don’t have to be scared. All of the life-threatening diabetes complications that you hear about aren’t inevitable. The better diabetes control you have, the lower your risk of complications. Chances are you’ll find that when you feel like you are in control, your confidence will help you maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Some days are going to be hard

No matter how good your blood sugar control is, you are bound to have a few bad days here and there. Sometimes there is nothing you can do about a bad day. Don’t blame yourself. Just know that tomorrow is a new day to try your best. Our body and our environment are always changing, so the way we treat diabetes has to keep changing too. Emotions, stress, and pretty much every aspect of our lives could affect our diabetes care. Be careful not to let a few bad days turn into months of bad habits, though. It is much harder to start over completely than to tweak your management plan from time to time.

Get a support system

You might not think this would be so important. But I have found through personal experience that it is enormously easier to stay in control of your diabetes when you have family and friends who support your decision to live a healthy lifestyle and want to help in any way they can. The more you educate them about diabetes, the more comfortable you will be doing important daily diabetes-care tasks around them such as testing blood sugar, injecting insulin, and counting carbs.

Diabetes doesn’t make you strange, it makes you strong

My biggest worry as a teenager was that people would think that I was strange or different in some way because of my diabetes. I didn’t like the attention that it drew to me. So I tried my best to hide the fact that I had diabetes. But that was a huge mistake. Diabetes doesn’t make you strange, it makes you strong as you learn to face and overcome its challenges. If you can embrace that strength it will affect every area of your life, giving you confidence that others will admire.

Being diagnosed with diabetes is going to bring many challenges to your life. But know that you are strong and diabetes doesn’t have to control you. You are in charge of your future. Try to think of it as an adventure. Some parts might be really hard but other parts could be incredibly rewarding. Even if you’re not perfect, if you try your best every day, chances are you will be able to live a long, healthy, and happy life.

What do you wish you had known when you were first diagnosed with diabetes? Do you have any tips to share with others? Help others by taking a moment to comment below.