We all know there are lots of other people out there with diabetes, but who are those people? How do they deal with their diabetes? What challenges have they faced, and how? Diabetes Self-Management talks with one of the millions of Americans with diabetes to uncover both the common threads of living with diabetes and also what sets Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer apart.
DSM:You were diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 10. How does a child deal with a “forever” diagnosis?
GKM: It was hard at first — shocking. I was very scared at first, but I started to adapt once I began to feel better physically. My best friend at the time — who is still my best friend 33 years later — was really there for me, and it helped that her mom was a nurse, so my parents felt secure about me being at her house.
I remember being 11 or 12 and thinking about how incredible it was that because of insulin, I was alive. I felt very aware of my mortality — something that I couldn’t talk about with anyone else. It was something that I would write about in my journal. The ability to not take life for granted is something positive that has come out of living with diabetes.
After my diagnosis, I was pretty resilient once I got used to my routine. I think the much harder years were in my late teens, when I struggled much more with motivation about my diabetes self-care. In my teen years, I wanted to be just like my friends, and no one was thinking about their health and well-being at that age — it was all about eating greasy food late at night at diners, experimenting with alcohol and weed. I was lucky to not do anything too stupid, but it took until I was in my early 20s that I gained the perspective that if I wanted to be around for a while and have a healthy life, I’d need to take responsibility for that.
DSM: How do you balance physical needs with emotional self-help?
GKM: I think that living with diabetes has helped me tune in to the balance of physical/emotional needs. I feel best physically when I’m rested, eating well, taking walks…but I also need to manage stress or I’ll feel terrible and my blood sugars will bounce up and down. I actively meditate, pray, laugh….I’m generally a happy, positive person, but I’ve worked on becoming so. I’ve struggled with bouts of depression over the years.
DSM: With two children of your own, what are your strategies for handling stress?
GKM: I wake up early, walk our dog (who brings me much happiness), and start my day with a strong cup of coffee. I meditate on everything that I am grateful for. By the time the kids are up and need my attention, I am there for them and ready to focus on their needs — physical and emotional.
DSM: As a long-time insulin pump user, has your experience of it changed over time?
GKM: I feel like I wouldn’t know how to not have a pump anymore! I don’t even think of it being there — it’s really a part of me. I think within a year of using the pump, I felt great relief, and that feeling has continued. I still occasionally do careless things — like run out of batteries while I’m in the middle of doing something important — but, so it goes.
DSM: If you could capture your experience with diabetes in one or two words, what would they be?
GKM: That’s really hard! I think I’ll choose…“resilience.”