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There was one weekend during my senior year of high school that I can thank for opening my eyes to the importance of fostering secure and healthy connections with others. Let me set the scene for you; I had been missing a lot of school at that point due to erratic blood glucose levels and not being able to wake up early enough to make it to school on time. Along with the physical fatigue, pain and nausea I was experiencing, I was also going through my first moments of depression from my blood glucose levels being hypoglycemic for extended periods of time.
I was craving a friend to speak with so that I could share these thoughts, feelings and struggles with someone who would hold space for me to be heard. However, on that morning, I had reached out to 4 people and none of them were willing to hold the space that I so desperately craved. I looked at the phone that I had used as my lifeline, with no one on the receiving end. I realized that maybe the common factor for my own solitude was me. Why was I noticing patterns?
We learn how to interact with others, by observing the people around us in various social encounters. I was picking up social tools from the adults in my life who modeled little accountability for self, defensive demeanors and deflection. I would make connections, only to later find out that I clearly didn’t have the tools to be an empathic and emotionally available friend, myself. Fun fact: when the most common response to people expressing their frustrations with you is, “Well that sounds like a personal problem,” you don’t typically see intimate connections, blossoming from that approach! With enough negative feedback from classmates, I found myself crashing humbly into self-realization.
That moment from my senior year, inspired me to search for tools online that might help me. I found tips like pausing before reacting, asking deeper questions that express interest in the lives of others, being accountable for behaviors that affect others etc. It all sounded like great—albeit unfamiliar—advice at the time, so I decided to change my behaviors tangibly. Needed a ride somewhere? I would be there. Needed to vent about the tribulations in your relationship? I was all ears! Feeling like you needed to get out? I would reach out and invite friends to do more fun activities together.
When I graduated high school, I ironically had 4 very close friends that became a huge part of my diabetes support during that time! Not only were friends answering my calls, holding space and inviting me out to spend quality time, but they were reaching out to check in with me as well. The shift in de-centering myself from my friendships, really allowed for healthier connections to flourish in my adulthood.
In 2020 during the pandemic and forced quarantines, I found myself dealing with more stress-related complications with my diabetes management and not having anyone in my support network that was living with T1D. Hmm. I must have skipped over that part about connecting with folks from my Diabetes Community. The realization that I didn’t have anyone I could just call to spill-the-tea with about diabetes was a painful one. I started to feel those old familiar feelings of craving connections, but this time the craving was to meet people who could offer the type of diabetes support I realized I needed.
Without knowing anything specific about someone except for the fact that they are living with T1D, I immediately know that we both will be able to understand each other about a whole lot! From the anxiety you feel when your glucose levels drop, to the physical symptoms and the mental heaviness that being on-alert 24/7 brings, there is always a mutual understanding there. Not to mention that if you spend enough time with your friends living with T1D, sometimes you can just look at each other and know that the other is going through something.
I introduced myself to new friends on Instagram from the diabetes community. I honestly felt so vulnerable approaching complete strangers online, but by making the first move, or being open to receiving contact from others in the T1D community, my diabetes support network grew rapidly. I would be at home in the same city or thousands of miles apart, from other people living with diabetes, but I found myself reaching out to these new connections a lot more frequently. Whether it be texts, calls, video chats or in-person hangouts, I could feel my emotional needs being met for the first time since my diagnosis.
Whether you try tools like reaching out to your community online, listening, offering to accompany a friend to that dreaded doctor appointment, giving a check-in text to your friends living with T1D, sending snail mail, asking deeper questions, saying, ‘I’m sorry’ when you’ve hurt others or just simply asking, ‘how can I help you?’, these tools may help you like they’ve helped me with my own connections. When we learn how to practice adopting healthier social behaviors, we are gifted with stronger emotional intelligence and deeper understanding for self and others. Today, I can truly say that I am blessed with the security that my diabetes support system brings.
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