Hometown: Salt Lake City, UT
Diagnosed at age 18
Anyone living with diabetes understands the constant balancing act; for Chris, a 37-year-old with type 1 diabetes, it was no different. “The most important lesson I’ve learned is the importance of balancing diabetes management with living life. It’s so easy to burn out when I over-manage, but equally dangerous to under-manage diabetes,” says Chris. “Sometimes I ignore diabetes—other times I overthink it.”
Between the balancing act and management, denial is a diabetic’s worst enemy. A diabetes diagnosis means a new way of living, and for Chris, it meant adjusting more than just his teenage attitude. “I was told early on that I might struggle with denial; after all, I was an indestructible teen at the time of my diagnosis. As much as I wanted to be the guy with a great attitude who saw the challenge and took it head on, I found myself struggling with the emotional challenges that came with being told what I can and can’t eat, how I must change my eating habits, how I must change my sleep patterns, get different shoes to protect my feet, test so many times a day and inject insulin several times a day.”
“Before long I found myself wanting to run away from it. I stopped caring eventually. I went an entire year without testing my BG once. All I would do is make a guess with my insulin doses. I would eat what I wanted. When I felt inexplicably awful feelings of high blood sugar, I’d guess a dose to get myself feeling okay again—and that’s a dangerous place for a type 1 diabetic to live,” he says.
> Everyone has a turning point in his or her diagnosis where the burden lifts and understanding breaks through. “What started bringing me back was knowledge. I had recently earned my bachelor’s degree and had developed a love of research and knowledge. I started looking at diabetes in a whole new light, trying to figure out what it really was, what it was doing to me, and how I can live a longer, more full life with my wife and my kids,” he says. “I began to understand things I’d never considered, or had ignored for so many years—especially during that year that I decided I wasn’t going to be diabetic.”
With knowledge came acceptance for Chris. “The fact is, I am and I probably always will be diabetic. Once I got that into my head, it made much more sense to keep it in control. Once I got there, I found the depression I’d been living with subsiding and have enjoyed being much healthier and happier,” he says.
Having a physician whom you respect and respects you back is an essential part in your diabetes management. Chris made the switch from his primary physician to one who specialized in diabetes. “The doctor isn’t an endocrinologist, but he himself is a type 1 diabetic and only accepts diabetic patients,” he says. “My A1c at the time of our first visit was around 10, which is a terrible number. But for some reason, having a doctor who really understands the daily struggles of dealing with diabetes, and who can be both empathetic and demanding, I found myself working harder to get to the numbers I needed. Over a year’s time I worked my way to an A1c of 6.5 and have held it there.”
Support was found close to home for Chris in his wife and sister. “My wife been with me through so many struggles, and has been a major support. She allows me to be in charge of my diabetes, but is willing to work with me when adjustments need to be made to our eating habits. We don’t have the perfect formula in place, but we learn together and try to make a healthier home for us and for our children.” His sister Nikki is also a type 1 diabetic. “She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes more recently, age 26. Watching her struggle to get on track gave me a great opportunity to not only help her, but also help myself. She needed support, as the doctor who diagnosed her did not give her much knowledge or support. It was unfortunate for her to be diagnosed, but the opportunity to share knowledge and insight allowed me to relearn what I have not thought about for years. New perspective allowed me to grow and improve myself,” he says.
Sometimes strength comes from more than just overcoming challenges, but from finding self-awareness; for Chris, it was both. “I know a lot of strong people without diabetes. Who’s to say I wouldn’t be this strong without it, both physically and mentally. But I can say that diabetes has shaped who I am. The experience of diabetes is not fun. But the necessities and self-awareness can be strengthening,” he says. “I treat myself better than I did before diabetes. Maybe that’s because I was a teenager back then, or maybe I was on a slippery slope. Maybe it comes from survival instinct. Maybe it comes from a love for my family. I guess I don’t know that I am stronger because of it, but no question, I am more determined to fight through it and live healthy.”
With all the challenges life throws at you, it can at times feel like you’re on a rollercoaster—the rise and fall of blood glucose, body weight and the ever-changing emotions. “I recently saw a meme with a box of sugar on a roller coaster. It was talking about BG, but it reminds me of the big picture, long-term job a diabetic must take on,” he says. “It’s hard to consistently balance, but it’s something I’m constantly learning. Small adjustments can make a huge difference.”
> Diabetes isn’t a race and it’s something that will last throughout life. When facing a life with diabetes it’s important to know your limits. Chris’ advice for those living with diabetes is to, “Pace yourself. Don’t burn out. Don’t overdo it. Don’t wear yourself down. But please, take care of the essentials. Test your blood sugar. Count your carbs. Make smart choices. Learn about foods. Develop a taste for things you may not have liked before diagnosis. Pay attention to the way you feel, and be prepared to regain control if it slips away for a moment. Develop a support system with people you love, as well as other people with diabetes. We can all be better if we stand together.”
“What has helped me is knowing that everybody is dealing with something and this (diabetes) is my something to deal with. People take what ails them and they learn to deal. That’s all I can do, and the better I do with that, the better my life will be. I’m loving and making the most of life,” he says.