According to Kimball, the shock of his diagnosis was compounded by a thought that he could not get out of his head: “Don’t only old people get diabetes?” Kimball had dreamed of becoming a race car driver since he was a little boy, and he could not understand at first how he, a healthy athlete who exercised daily, could be diagnosed with this condition. As he began to understand Type 1 as an illness different from Type 2, his shock turned into determination.
“At first when I was diagnosed, I thought I wouldn’t be able to do what I wanted to do, but when I spoke to my endocrinologist, he mentioned other world-class athletes who have Type 1 diabetes and compete. We just had to figure out how to make it work,” he says.
Kimball has spoken publicly about his diagnosis from the beginning, and he shares his daily journey as a young adult living with Type 1 diabetes on his Twitter account at @RaceWithInsulin (www.twitter.com/racewithinsulin).
Awareness pros and cons Charlie Kimball is one of a number of public figures with Type 1 diabetes who have spoken out about their diabetes. Others include Olympic swimmer Gary Hall, Jr., 35, American Idol finalist Elliott Yamin, 31, and actresses Jean Smart, 58, and Mary Tyler Moore, 73. For non-celebs, seeing others with Type 1 diabetes in the spotlight can be inspiring. “It’s awesome to have someone like [football player] Jay Cutler, , Charlie Kimball, and other celebrities, because they spread awareness,” says Cherise Shockley.
On the other side of the public awareness coin, however, are media campaigns that feature frightening imagery and imply that everyone diagnosed with diabetes will go blind or lose a limb. “It is awful when scary images are used to try and motivate us to take care of ourselves,” says George Simmons. “We deserve a positive future as a goal. Not trying to scare us into taking better care of ourselves. It doesn’t work for me at all.”
Douglas Deatrick tries to find the humor in the way that Type 2 diabetes generally gets more media attention than Type 1 — and in the way his colleagues rib him about it. Deatrick, a stock trader, works in an office that has a television tuned to business news channel CNBC all day. Because he’s educated his coworkers about his Type 1 diabetes, they try and catch every commercial with information about Type 2 diabetes and say, “Hey Doug, there’s another Type 2 commercial.” “I just laugh along with them,” Deatrick says.
Connecting with others The good news is that new forums for connection and expression for adults with Type 1 diabetes are becoming more readily available. This is enabling more adults to claim a voice, advocate for research, and find ways to support each other through the daily challenges of living with a chronic illness that, to the outside eye, is largely invisible. Here is a list of helpful resources for adults with Type 1 diabetes.
Gina Capone, 34, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 25 and is now the community manager for Juvenation.org, a social networking site created by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International so that adults with Type 1 diabetes could connect online to discuss such topics as insulin pump therapy, nutrition, pregnancy, and men’s issues related to Type 1 diabetes. Gina is on the Juvenation site daily and has discovered that for the 7,300 people who are part of this online community, connecting to other adults with diabetes can be life-changing.
“There is always support for me at the site,” she says. “I can go online if I’m feeling down or have a concern, and someone will answer me…someone who is living with Type 1 and knows what I’m going through.” Gina notes that her HbA1c level, a measure of blood glucose control, has dropped from 9.1% to 7.1% since she has been part of the Juvenation community. She credits the tips she has gotten from other adults with Type 1 diabetes with helping her to better control her blood glucose levels.