Words by Allison Mitchell | Photos by Blair Ryan
When I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2012 at the age of 34, I felt lost, alone, and scared. Even though I had amazing support and love from my family and friends, I wanted to be around others living with Type 1 diabetes because those people would get it. It wasn’t until two years after my diagnosis when I attended a seminar for adults living with Type 1 diabetes that I felt the sense of belonging and understanding that I had been missing. I wanted that feeling of belonging to continue for me, and I wanted to share it with others, so I created a Meetup for adults living with Type 1 diabetes in my city; we meet regularly to share, learn, and feel supported.
Around the same time, I heard about Connected in Motion: an amazing non-profit organization that provides opportunities for people living with Type 1 diabetes to connect with each other. I was fortunate to be able to go to Connected in Motion’s Summer Slipstream in September 2016 where I met fifty others living with Type 1 diabetes. It was an incredible experience that left me wanting to connect with more people. When the applications opened for Connected in Motion’s 2017 Adventure Team, I applied and was thrilled to be chosen. In August 2017, the hiking team of thirteen people embarked on a grueling hike along the North Coast Trail in Cape Scott Provincial Park, Vancouver Island. Our hiking group became a tight-knit community over a 9-day period, and there is no way that I could have done the hike without them. My experience with the Diabetes Community – both on the trail and in general – has provided me with so many gifts over the last few years that include a sense of belonging, the ability to share and learn, and feeling completely supported and understood.
Sense of Belonging
We all know the importance of feeling like you belong, and how lonely it can be when you feel like you don’t belong. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a sense of belonging is a basic human need. When people do not belong to a community, they can feel lonely and are at risk of experiencing mental health issues.
When I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in my mid-30s, I suddenly found that my sense of belonging had been shaken and I felt like I didn’t fit anymore. That changes when I started connecting with the Diabetes Community. Feeling alone and the risk of mental health issues are very real concerns for people living with Type 1 diabetes; belonging to a community has helped me feel like I am not alone and has given me a place to turn to for help, advice, and understanding when I am feeling burnt out.
The hiking team met in person for the first time at the Vancouver International Airport two days before we set off on the trail and I instantly felt like I belonged with this group of people. Not only were we a group of adults living with Type 1 diabetes, but we were also a group of people who were challenging ourselves to show that T1D does not hold us back.
Despite the fact that people on the hiking team came from across North America, I still feel a closeness to this team (my hiking community) one month after the hike that transcends geography.
Learning & Sharing
Talking with people living with Type 1 diabetes, you will hear different stories about the journeys they have been on since diagnosis. While on the trail, we all shared our journeys with T1D with each other. The amount of time living with Type 1 diabetes varied within our group from 1 year to 30 years. There was so much to learn from each other! Shaleen – who celebrated her 1-year diaversary with us – commented that “being surrounded on a daily basis by amazing, positive, and inspiring diabetics really taught me a lot. The adventure team taught me that my diagnosis is not the end but only the beginning of a new challenge that I feel so much better prepared to face.” Regardless of our experience with Type 1 diabetes we all learned something from a teammate. I learned something from each one of my hiking teammates, and I am forever grateful for the opportunity to meet and learn from them.
Feeling Supported & Understood
The hike was the hardest physical and mental challenge that I have ever done; add the fact that we also had to manage our diabetes, and you can imagine how difficult this experience was! I was only able to finish the hike because of the amazing support that I got from the team. Everything from encouragement, positive talk when things got tough, to sharing low snacks to treat a low. A couple of days into the hike, we were walking along the trail in the forest and we approached a log crossing that required us to walk the length of it. As I got to the crossing, I realized that I was low and I knew that I could not attempt the crossing until I felt steadier on my feet. The teammates that I had been hiking with offered me low snacks and waited with me. I accepted their company and understanding while I waited for my blood sugar to rise without the guilt that I would usually feel when slowing people down. There were several times over the six-day hike that my teammates provided me with the support (whether they knew it or not) that I needed to finish the trail.
Being part of a Diabetes Community has had an immensely positive impact on my mental and physical health. Family and friends provide a lot of love and support, but it’s hard for someone to understand the challenges that someone with T1D faces unless they have experienced those same challenges. Feeling like I belong again; being able to share my emotional rollercoaster; learning from others living with T1D, and feeling supported and understood have been critical to my ability to manage my diabetes. I think back to the time when I didn’t know anyone else with Type 1 diabetes, and it was really lonely. I would strongly encourage anyone living with Type 1 diabetes to seek out a diabetes community – either in-person or online – and get involved!
About Allison Mitchell
Allison lives in Guelph, Ontario, Canada with her husband and two kids. Her world changed when she was diagnosed with T1D 5 years ago while in her mid-30s. In an effort to create a community and sense of belonging, Allison started a local Meetup group for adults living with T1D to provide an opportunity to connect with, learn from, and share with each other. Professionally, she leads a charitable organization that provides career exploration programs to youth. She is eternally curious, love challenges, and always looking for growth. The hike through Cape Scott is outside of Allison’s comfort zone and she can’t wait for the challenge!