Mentally overcoming the diabetes stigma. Q&A with Psychological associate Michelle Sorensen

This answer (which I heard a part of when I saw Michelle speak) really changed things for me. Big time.

I can’t even begin to describe to you how freeing her response is. Here we go, the next Q&A with Michelle 🙂

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Michelle Sorensen, M.Ed., Clinical Psychological Associate Member of the College of Psychologist

How to deal with acceptance of the stigma and the fact some people will say things that are not true?

Michelle: There are many layers of difficulty in living with Type 1 diabetes and this is a tough one to address. I have learned a few things that have helped me with this issue since being diagnosed at age 24.  A lot of my learning comes from the privilege of counselling other people with Type 1.  My patients have taught me so much and I often see some of myself in their stories.

Having a disability or disease that is associated with stigma presents us with the challenge of focusing on what we know to be true, versus the thoughts of others.  Sometimes we are up against not just misconceptions or stereotypes from others, but what they WANT to be true. 

Why would they want to blame people with diabetes or believe people caused their own disease?  Well, because then they can tell themselves they are safe, that this kind of life changing diagnosis couldn’t happen to them. It’s the same reason many of us want to know if someone smokes when we hear they are diagnosed with cancer.  It’s scary to hear about a peer being diagnosed with something out of the blue, and especially if they seem to be doing the right things and living a healthy life.  It makes us feel vulnerable and we don’t like that. 

Brene Brown, in her wonderful book, “The Gifts of Imperfection” writes about how she became more comfortable in her own skin, which is key to being more resilient against judgment from others: “I learned how to worry more about how I felt and less about ‘what people might think’. I was setting new boundaries and began to let go of my need to please, perform, and perfect”.

I can really relate to what Brene writes about.  I think diabetes forced me, in my twenties, to realize how much time and anxiety went into pleasing others.  I remember feeling stressed when I was newly diagnosed and recovering from the ordeal … but about things like not returning a phone call to a friend, or saying no when someone wanted to make plans.  Those things caused me more stress than many of the priorities I needed to focus on, like my schoolwork and my diabetes care.  But no one other than me was responsible for that stress.  It was all pressure I put on myself. 

People with Type 1 can and do accomplish great things.  However, it should always be about what makes us happy and creates moments of joy, not what impresses or pleases others.  if we please ourselves we will be far more tolerant when we perceive judgment or stigma from others.  If we are trying to please or impress others, then we will be very disappointed when they appear unkind. 

Thank You Michelle Sorensen

We all have a lot on the go, so a big huge thank you to Michelle for taking the time to answer my questions and provide support 😀

Xo,

J

Check out my first Q&A with Michelle about being diagnosed with t1d as an adult here.

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Did you know I have anxiety? Anxiety and diabetes.

A recent Instagram post: It exists. You can live without hating your body, a disease you might have, or circumstances beyond your control.  There's so much happiness and life to live. Every moment is a gift. So stop and really take notice of your thoughts. Take stock of how much time you spend doing things that never help you achieve your goals.  Calculate all the time you spend worrying about nothing, reading about people you don't know and will never be part of your life and choose to focus on the better.  Health is not the absence of disease. Health means choosing a life worth living.

Beside the toilet. On the floor. In my bed. Under the dining room table. On the street. During a run. In the shower. At a casino.

I have lived with anxiety for the majority of my life and these are a few of the places where I have had debilitating anxiety attacks. In the midst of hyper-ventilating, crying and often shaking, I sometimes think, “What did I ever do to deserve this?”

Sometimes I wake up with a face so swollen from so many hours of crying, it looks like I had some type of severe allergic reaction.

Although I haven’t addressed this much before, I am going to now. This is prompted by fellow Canadian blogger and athlete Chris Scully Brown. She recently wrote this article for A Sweet Life.

It’s so honest. And vulnerable. And crazy empowering.

Scully, thank you for being so brave and giving your perspective on a topic we need to address more.

J

 

I signed up for my first marathon! Walt Disney World here I come!

 

 

The above photo was taken right from my subway station bench seat. This was minutes after I signed up for my FIRST MARATHON <–I can’t believe I just wrote that.

The race will be the Walt Disney Marathon 2015.

I’m looking at this marathon as my first and possibly only. Out of all the races I’ve seen and heard about, I knew this would be “the one”.

Most Disney races sell out fast, so when I found out that registration opened, my fingers started frantically pressing the keys on the screen. Then poof. I was in!

My friends and I talked about the idea of Disney but it never went further then that. However come registration day a BBM message “You in?” got me and my friend Rebecca signing up simultaneously.

Side note, Rebecca’s sister is type 1. That automatically makes her an extra special 5.5er.

Later in the week I was heading to a hot yoga class with Rebecca. When I walked into the studio, this was the first sign I saw.

 

Why do you run/walk/exercise? For me it brings me a sense of calm. My brain rests. I feel free. And most of all I feel strong and I…

That hot yoga session had me in such an amazing place. I daydreamed of crossing the finish line all throughout class. Even a low during the first 5 minutes of class didn’t phase me.

Have any of you run Disney? Been a spectator? Would love to hear your experiences.

I’m so excited & happy.

 

 

 

 

 

My DSMA Blue Fridays Photoshoot-After 8 sequence dress

A multi-blue, after 8 sequence dress. Big shoulder pads and even bigger sparkle.

Every Friday we wear blue to support those affected by diabetes. It’s called Blue Fridays and it’s all the rage! Enjoy the blinding photos.
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Have a look at the other thrift store dresses I tried on:

80’s secretary dress with pleated skirt

Rose Spanish style dress

Modern silk evening dress

I’ll have some new Friday fashions next week.

What blue are you wearing this Friday? As sparkly as this?

J

Photo Essay: Spare a Rose, Save a Child (Life for a Child Program)

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How many of us stare at our meter, then cringe and complain at our blood glucose reading?

We feel our hard fingertips and needle stings, grunt at error messages and faulty sites.

Although our frustrations shouldn’t be dismissed, they are definitely #firstworldproblems. Many in developing countries don’t have access to insulin, meters, strips or even doctors.

You can make a difference for someone living with diabetes. The difference between life and death.

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This Valentine’s Day, consider donating to the International Diabetes Federation Life for a Child program. Spare a rose in your bouquet on love day and give hope to a child who needs it.

See the faces of those you are helping.

A full list of blogs and sites helping to promote Spare A Rose, Save a Child via Kerri Sparling’s Six Until Me

Sending love to diabetic children and their families around the world,

J

My worst diabetes day: lowest low, a diabetes proclamation without my permission & what helps

I am usually the queen preacher of positivity. 

The reason you don’t see me expressing my diabetes distaste or frustration often is because I think there’s enough of it out there. And it’s not to knock people for expressing a negative thought. It’s just not what I choose to do most of the time on my social media outlets.

I have my bad moments.

My dark days.

I think this is something you need to know about me. I find this damn hard. 

There’s been many episodes of uncontrollable tears and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. This is the part that many don’t see. And it’s not just us. It’s all people with invisible illnesses whether it’s mental, physical, or both. 

If someone asked me how I was handling my type 1 diabetes (diagnosed in 2012), my honest answer would be, “not well”.

 

I’m writing this entry after my lowest hypoglycaemic episode. I went below 1.1 mmo/L (or 19 mg/dl). This was 3/4 into my run.

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I managed to get myself up and out of trouble, but I’m sure the severe drop didn’t contribute well to what transpired after. 

Long story short, I was presented with an “herbal tea” that was supposed to “be good for my diabetes”. I scoffed at it, went to another room and just broke down. It was also given to me by someone whom I am…not a fan of. Deeply not passionate about, you know, that one person who gets under your skin and just makes your blood boil. I was NOT aware she knew about my diabetes (told WITHOUT my permission). All this was fuel to the fire, the latter revelation being the worst.

I think I could tell this story until I’m blue in the face to my non-d friends and family, but it wouldn’t do much. I would hear words of sympathy and smiles of compassion, however I know no matter how hard they tried to comprehend it, they wouldn’t get it.

I don’t get that same sense of peace I do when I connect and open up with other diabetics. 

The more d-people I meet and talk candidly about my type 1, the better I feel.

I sometimes feel like curling up into a ball and crying in a corner. There are so many things I haven’t decided yet: who I want to know, how I want to contribute to the diabetes community, what to keep private, what is important to share so others don’t feel alone.

While I’m telling this story my hands are usually over-animating, my eyes are slightly bulging and I’m trying to coherently express how angry/sad/frustrated I can become. Nowadays there is a person across the table at a coffee shop, that is part of my growing diabetes family, who is looking at me and saying, “I understand”. 

So maybe they don’t understand and are just humouring me? It doesn’t really matter. I feel less alone. Less scared. And a moment of feeling just so miserable gets a little bit better. 

It doesn’t solve the ignorance. It doesn’t take away the pain. But it acts like a big bandaid, providing a buffer and sense of support until things get a bit better. 

The one blessing I have gotten from this horrible disease is that of finding amazing people who have helped me through my darkest days.

I am forever thankful for them, and for you the #DOC. I don’t know what I’d do without you. 

J

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The dreaded “before” photo & taking on the Inches Challenge

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I’m a big fan of my gym. Here’s why:

  • Trainers are friendly and so helpful. Every time I go in, I call on one of them to see if I’m doing an exercise correctly. I always have a good experience and walk away feeling empowered and not intimidated in the slightest (the latter being a big deal for me).
  • They provide lots of fundraising initiatives. For Christmas, one of the trainers dead lifted the total weight of how much food was donated. For Movember, donators could purchase from an exercise “menu”, appetizers being $2, a main course $5. I bought a few appetizers and purchased squats. At the end the trainers had to do all the exercises that were purchased from the Movember menu. I won a poster and free passes to the gym 😀
  • New programming. Last month I took part in two olympic lifting sessions (power clean and dead lift, which I’ll blog about later) and had a blast doing it. And now, I am taking on the Inches Challenge.

So the photo above explains it all. On Thursday I had my measurements taken and sat down to talk about my goals. You can decide your end date to the challenge. I have decided it will be a year from now.

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For the most part, I want more definition. I want to build muscle and decrease my body fat percentage. 2013 was definitely a year to push myself when it came to fitness and this year, I want to continue to grow and dedicate myself to my health.

Taking a “before” photo was nerve-wracking. It took 10 seconds at the most, but standing there, in form fitting gym clothes to bare every curve in front of a lens that I wasn’t shooting was no easy task. I wouldn’t have dared to enter something like this 5 years ago.

I’ve never been a person that was proud of my body. I struggled long and hard and resounded a while back that it just wasn’t in the cards for me to be really fit. Being diagnosed, and all that has come with it, has really changed my perspective on things.

We hold so much power in our thoughts. We are much stronger than we believe. I’m thankful to be part of a fitness facility that helps build my self esteem and provides me with a comforting environment where I can say, “Yes, sign me up! I can do this.”

Find a place, whether it’s outside alone on a trail or a group class with an energetic instructor, that makes you feel comfortable. An environment that makes you feel strong, that encourages you to step outside of your comfort zone.

It makes all the difference. And with that, you will be another step closer to conquering your fears and reaching your goals.

Body Fat 33% & going down,

J

2013 Year in review fitness goals. Did I meet them? Plus my promise for 2014.

I had three fitness goals for 2013: complete two mini triathlons and my first half-marathon.

It was pretty ugly at times, and there were moments where I wanted to throw in the towel (and toss my meter into the lake and never look back), but I pushed through and got it done.

Being able to do these events during my first year and some after diagnosis mean more to me than my university degree or any promotion I’ve gotten too.

 

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Why? Because the past few years have been the toughest of my life thus far.

I found out about multiple health challenges and with that came the stress, the worry and the realization of how precious life is. It also meant coming to terms with how I lived my life up to this point. It was and is really, really tough.

It was a smack in the face about every aspect of my life.

A quarter life crisis on steroids.

After all the hospital visits and endless doctors appointments, it seemed as though the universe was saying that my body was simply faulty.

As things got worse, I started to look at training differently. A gym session wasn’t just a time to get sweaty and have fun, it was a part of my day where I felt in control and in charge. Getting stronger and faster showed me how powerful I was. And instead of my body being ugly and riddled with defects, I saw how beautiful I could make it. I could turn myself into a well oiled machine and the things I did this year, blew me away.

I completed all my goals by the fall, so I decided to tackle Runner’s World magazine’s Run Streak Challenge. Run 1 mile every day from Thanksgiving to New Years. I haven’t missed a day, and this morning, I silenced my doubts about hitting my 9 minute/mile goal with this:

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So 2014, I will start with the Inches Challenge at my gym. It’s time to devote myself even more. I’m ready.

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And with Nike’s #WeRun2014 challenge. 100 miles in the first month of the year.

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The distance seems scary, but so are a lot of other things. I can do it. And YOU can do whatever you set your mind to. If there’s anything I learned this year, it’s that fear can rob you of your dreams and the life you want to live. So proclaim your fitness goals for next year.

2014: 

  • #WeRun2014
  • Complete my gym’s inches challenge
  • Complete the Ottawa half-marathon
  • Complete 150km MS Bike ride (my first long distance ride)
  • Get over fear of lake swimming (so I can do more triathlons)
  • Volunteer more at events/programs that promote physical activity

I’ll be here, writing next year around this time, about how I accomplished the above. And you will too with your goals.

In the spirit of hashtags…

#letsdothis

J

 

 

 

Count me in: My first Nike Training Club class at the Academy of Lions

 
Count Me In

 

I was surfing around last week and discovered that there are FREE Nike Training Club classes in Toronto.

Switching up the old routine is never a bad thing in my option. Your body gets a little out-of-the-ordinary shock. New environment. Different people. Right price. Count me in.

RSVP’ed on Facebook If you want to give these classes a try, RSVP early, they fill up fast. 

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The classes available in Toronto are held at the Academy of Lions, a fitness facility that houses some pretty mean crossfitters.

(FYI: I have never done a crossfit workout.)

I’ll have to admit I was a bit intimidated by the setting. And I knew no one.

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Enter our NTC trainer Paluna Santamaria. She’s been leading NTC classes for 6 months and has been a personal trainer for 10 years. Her directions were clear, enthusiasm was way up and she demonstrated a lot. Modifications were given often (and I took some of them as my butt was getting kicked).

After a nice warmup, all of us lined up into rows and did all kinds of sweat-filled moves. Line by line we tackled burpees, sprints, high-knee jumps and all sorts of fun stuff. At one point we split into two groups, half of the class would stay in a low squat while the other would be football shuffling. Ab burn? Check. There was a lot of that too.

I chit chatted with a few girls and overall, the atmosphere was quite friendly. What was most rewarding for me though was the applause my classmates would give to each other without direction.  It was a nice booster that kept me going when I really felt like hitting the floor for a good nap.

Taking a class like this was pretty hard for me on a mental level. Since being diagnosed I’ve been very careful as to what type of training I do. My blood glucose levels have gone wacky for different kinds of workouts (leaving me feeling very ill) so I was apprehensive.

After class I was able to open up to Paluna, who, by the way, was lifting herself up effortlessly (that’s how it looked anyway) at this bar contraption. I kind of stood and watched in awe. Asked if I could take her photo and she held herself up there for a crazy amount of time. 

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“I want people to move more. We are designed to move more than we think we are,” she told me after class.

I didn’t go into great detail but told her about how I was diagnosed last year with an autoimmune disease aka. type 1 diabetes and how I really made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t let one of my organs dying deter me from reaching my fitness goals.

She hit the nail right on the head for me when she said this:

“Some people feel ashamed when they are ill. They don’t feel confident in approaching instructors. They (instructors) are happy to help you.”

My eyes kind of lit up because I knew exactly what she was talking about and I think a lot of others do too. At first I found the act of having to “confess my condition” very difficult. I knew in order to exercise I had to let people know for safety reasons, but in the beginning, the whole process was mentally draining.

I personally think it’s very important that those around you know your condition. For me having a medical ID bracelet just doesn’t cut it. The more people that know, the better off you are. People can see the symptoms sometimes before you can.

For me, some of my greatest support has come from the people I “had” to tell like members of my run club or trainers at the gym.

“More movement is good for your body and good for your health. You just have to understand your condition.”

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It was then that she explained the story of one of her clients. He’s 82 years old. He’s blind. He suffered a heart attack. And you know what? Even after his ticker episode, he made the effort and was present for his training session with her. He couldn’t do everything fully, but he showed up, and he gave whatever he got.

Paluna says it’s that kind of attitude and outlook that can make your body and mind so strong.

For me, making through the session feeling good and with great bg’s gave me a lot of confidence.

So, I will declare this now: Every day I will push myself to get stronger and faster.

Blood, sweat and tears (quite literally!)

Jessie

*I wrote this review to document my first NTC class. I was not compensated in any way by Nike, the Academy of Lions or Paluna Santamaria.

 

 

 

What it’s like to be the only Chinese type 1 diabetic you know

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Every time I go to a type 1 diabetes-related event, my heart breaks a little.

Not just because I have type 1 diabetes, which I am learning is a disease that breeds champions, but because I am consistently one of very few if not the only Asian person there. In Canada. In Toronto. A city that is touted for being one of the most multi-cultural places in the world.

In fact I’ve been hard-pressed to find a significant representation of any visible minorities during the events I’ve attended. Mind you, I haven’t been to a ton of these things, maybe 10, but for me it’s enough to know that when I go in the future, chances are, I stand alone. And, if I ever do get the chance to see another visible minority out there, I apologize in advance, but I’m going to want to befriend you very quickly and in all likelihood will try and hug you towards the end of whatever session we are attending.

I attended my first JDRF adult support group meeting last night, and I asked the entire group, “Do you know anyone who is Asian with type 1 diabetes?”

Silence. Then the JDRF rep piped up to say she did know Asian families with children who have type 1. Okay, so they are children and I’m an adult (I was diagnosed at 29). However, it was enough to give me a little boost.

Once the meeting was over, she came back to me and said, “Now that I think about it, the kids are mixed with one Asian parent.”

I can’t explain why but I was a disappointed when she said that. Let me be very clear, if I’m not seeing anyone out at support groups because I am really one of a very very small group of people who are Asian and have type 1, I am totally fine with that. But I really don’t think that is the case.

I’m not going to say that Chinese Canadians are the only group of people who, in general, don’t speak openly about illness. That would be very ignorant. There are a myriad of cultures and subcultures that hold beliefs which make speaking about illness in an open fashion a very difficult task.

Explaining to people you have type 1 diabetes is not easy. You need to mentally prepare for what it means to take this next step: the questions, the myths, people’s wild assumptions, clarifying stereotypes, the pity party you did not ask for, and the worst, that look and sigh, as if to say, “Sorry your life sucks”. For me this is an emotional and taxing process which requires a lot of strength, courage and sheer willpower.

I’ve done it before, so I know what it’s like. I waited a month before telling my parents. I did this in part because I wanted more of a concrete answer to what I had (they initially diagnosed me with type 2 diabetes), and in all honesty, I needed the time to mourn. And although in my heart of hearts I knew this wasn’t the case, I still felt I had let them down somehow. I felt I would be outcast, unwanted and unloved. And my parents are the most wonderfully supportive parents I know of. Yet I still felt this way. I still struggle with these thoughts all the time. I secretly cry about it still. I’m working on it.

I understand and sympathize as to why people believe it’s important to keep illness a secret. I must, because I’ve spent a good chunk of this past year trying to break my own head out of that belief system.

There’s no place in this entry to explain all the different types of belief systems that lead people to live with illness in silence. I’ll leave that up to you to decipher. And it’s by no means a finger point to any of the cultures that hold these beliefs either.

People who have diabetes or any kind of illness need support. I think it’s fair to say the greater the support, the better chance at a greater quality of life. How do you garner support when no one knows? One of the biggest reliefs I felt was when I met people who also had type 1 diabetes.

No one wants to feel alone. Loneliness is a dark and scary road. I don’t know about you, but I feel a lot better going to battle with an army of people beside me than carrying the load by myself. Knowing people rally behind me gives me strength to move forward and to tackle life’s challenges.

If you are out there, Chinese type 1 diabetics, or anyone living with an illness tucked neatly in your jacket pocket, please know you are not alone.

You are not alone.

Jessica

Please feel free to e-mail me with 100% confidentiality at t1dactiveliving @ icloud.com (take out spaces).