Kim Vlasnik is a diabetes advocate living in Nebraska with her husband. She is the author of the great blog “Texting My Pancreas,” and the “You Can Do This” project.
You were diagnosed in 1986 at the age of 6. Tell me what you remember from that time. I’m a big believer that the way parents handle their kid’s diagnoses has a big impact on the way we see ourselves and the way we manage our diabetes. How did your parents approach diabetes management-do you have siblings and if so, did you feel like you were treated differently? Did you go to a diabetes camp? Did you feel overprotected or were you given independence?
There aren’t a lot of things I remember about the days following my diagnosis – learning to inject into oranges, a tupperware container with all of my new ‘diabetes stuff’ residing on our kitchen counter, and a little bit of fear are what have stuck with me. I had known that my grandfather (who had passed before I was born) had also had type 1 diabetes and endured many of the complications, and so I knew that I now had this big, scary thing too. My parents did a great job of learning what needed to be done and tried to engage me in the process of taking care of myself. I can’t remember there being anything I wanted to do that diabetes prevented me from doing. Slumber parties, dance classes, art lessons, cheerleading – those were all experiences I still got to have.
I attended Camp Floyd Rogers in Nebraska for two years as an almost-teenager, and those experiences helped me in so many ways – though I’m not sure I realized that at the time. I got to see firsthand that I wasn’t alone in having to deal with diabetes as a person my age; I saw that other people had to take shots too. I saw that I was mostly capable of handling the diabetes stuff without my parents nearby. I think it was here that I started to taste a little bit of freedom and hope.
You’ve mentioned that you went through some years of not being in the best control (me too, I would not want to return to adolescence!). What changed? How and why did you decide to do things differently?
College was the roughest time for me diabetically speaking, as I think it is for most people. For me, this period of time also included an undiagnosed thyroid condition that sort of spiraled me out of control – of diabetes and of life. I didn’t want to have diabetes anymore, and many of my actions were true to that wish. It’s a dark place that I want to help others stay out of. I was lucky to escape it relatively unscathed.
Finding a doctor who properly diagnosed me, and subsequently finding the right combination of thyroid medication, helped me start to feel a little more like myself. Things still weren’t as good as they could have been, though. It took a few more years and an accidental finding of a few diabetes blogs and communities that really helped me own my health and feel confident and supported in doing what I needed to do. I’m not sure I would have been convinced to try an insulin pump (and definitely not a CGM, to which I am now certainly addicted) had I not found this online community when I did. I found people who felt the same things I felt and struggled with the same things I struggled with, and if they could wear those things and be okay (and even more than okay) with it, why couldn’t I? Emotional support has been essential to my overall health.
You have been a big part of the DOC since 2010 with your blog and the “You Can Do this” project. Tell me where you got the idea for the project and what makes your blog unique. (I would say your humor but I’m not going to put words in your mouth!)
The You Can Do This Project was born while I was on an elliptical, watching Glee. A Google Chrome commercial about the It Gets Better project came on and moved me to the point that I froze mid-stride, watching and wiping tears away. There is such power in positive realism, and in acknowledging and validating the really tough experiences in life. One of the most universal things I see from people with diabetes who first find the online community is that whatever their situation was, they “don’t feel so alone anymore.” I wanted to help foster that feeling in others by asking PWDs to share their stories: what they’ve been through, what they’re working on, and what they’ve accomplished. The project has generated dozens of videos from all walks of diabetes life, and I love that there exists this pool of videos that anyone can access when they need encouragement. And we’re not done yet!
With Texting My Pancreas, I just do what feels right. I share my story – the good, the bad, and the way ugly – because that’s what I appreciate from others. I try to help people feel a little bit better about life with diabetes, and if they actually laugh? I’m not sure how it gets better than that.
What advice would you give to other women with diabetes? Or what is the best advice you ever received about how to live well with diabetes?
One of the biggest revelations I’ve had about living with diabetes is the idea of “perfect,” and how it doesn’t actually exist. “Perfect” is one of those dangerous mythical things that can really damage your self-worth when you try to measure yourself up to it. No one is perfect. Let me say that again – no one is perfect. No one has all of the answers, and if you have diabetes, highs and lows will be there no matter what. The best thing you can do for yourself is to keep trying, keep working, keep starting over. Try as hard as you can, but also forgive yourself when things don’t go as planned – and start again tomorrow.