Finding True Love: Diabetes Style

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A lot of people ask me how I met my husband. It’s a fun question to answer (especially on Valentine’s Day) because type 1 diabetes is what brought us together.

Artist Ben Wilson painted this for us. He paints tiny masterpieces on old chewing gum in the streets of London!

I moved to London a few years ago to complete my Masters Degree at the London School of Economics (LSE), bringing my diabetes in tow, as always. I made the journey completely on my own, and didn’t know a sole in London.  Since my diagnosis almost 22 years ago, I’ve found my blood sugars particularly difficult to stabilize, despite my hard work.  So, I knew moving to a different country was going to be a challenge. That’s why, immediately after my arrival in London,  I began to look for support networks. I knew meeting people was necessary for my survival, and meeting other people with diabetes would be a big bonus.

Months went by. I made friends with the students in my program, studied hard, volunteered, and explored the wonderful the city I now call home. Still, something was missing. I was handling my diabetes as I always do, but I still had fears and stressors that my LSE friends just couldn’t understand. I wanted to find others who would just ‘get it’ without me having to go into all the nitty gritty details about life with type 1 diabetes.

Finally, about six months after my arrival in London, I visited a new diabetes nurse, and repeated what I had been telling every healthcare professional about my desire to get involved in a group of people living with type 1 diabetes. Lo and behold, she knew someone who could help, and two days later I received an email from a lovely young woman named Claire. She was kind and welcoming – happy to chat and support – and she invited me to the North London Young Diabetics (NLYD) group on Facebook, founded by someone by the name of John Rowley.  I was so happy to find out, at long last, that what I was looking for actually existed.

I remember distinctly my first time meeting up with NLYD, because it is the first time I saw my now husband, John. I had gotten lost and had trouble finding the location of the meet-up. On top of that, I had a low blood sugar and was sweating like mad – half due to the low blood sugar and half due to nerves. I managed to contact John, who helped me find the pub, and I was the first to arrive after him. John was very friendly, but I was still low and sweaty; that combination in the presence of a very cute English guy made me what John later described as ‘very quiet and shy’.  The others arrived and we headed to dinner and then bowling. It was such a relief to meet terrific people with diabetes, and to finally have the opportunity to freely complain about diabetes problems with others.

A photo from the first evening I met John.

Over the next three months, I continued to attend group meet-ups, and John was an enduring presence. He was supportive and friendly, and made a point to meet with me one-on-one so that we could get to know each other better. I had a crush on him, but didn’t know if our time spent alone together was his way of being a good group organizer, or if it was something more. Skipping over the mushy details, he eventually made his intentions known – through many home-made baked goods and a few excellent drawings – and we started dating. Soon after, we knew we didn’t want to be apart. Ever. We married on December 7, 2012, and we wore our type 1 diabetes wristbands on the day. Mine was my ‘something blue’.

John and I on our wedding day.
Wearing our Type 1 Diabetes wristbands and new wedding rings.

This story is my best example of how diabetes – something initially terrifying – has brought me something incredible. Diabetes is always a challenge, but with my best friend next to me, it isn’t so bad.  John and I understand each other, and we don’t let diabetes consume us. We love being plain old goofy together, and John can be so supportive. For example, I recently decided to try a low-carb diet to help stabilize my blood sugars. I have seen great results so far, and John makes me breakfast and helps me ensure I am staying on track.

Goofing around at our wedding reception
Goofing around at our wedding reception.

We also try to support each other in our individual and shared passions. John is a runner and is currently training hard for a crazy race where he will run 60 miles over the course of two days! I try to make sure he has his time and space for training because it’s important to him, as he does with the things that are priorities for me. My passion is diabetes around the world. I started a blog, T1 International (www.t1international.com), which covers issues about access to insulin and education (which many people with diabetes around the world are still lacking). I also conduct interviews with people and organizations who are working to make the world better for people living with diabetes. John has been so encouraging in all of this and he is there for me when I feel that the problems are too big and the battles are too tough.

We have found a way to combine our diabetes and one of our mutual interests of creating art through the T1I Marketplace. On the page, we offer original paintings, drawings, cards and other items in exchange for donations. The donations go directly to  amazing international diabetes causes.

Visit the marketplace via t1international.com/t1i-marketplace

The current cause is my journey to the Dominican Republic this summer to support and organize camps for young people with diabetes, which will promote leadership and offer education. For some of the children in the Dominican Republic, it will be their first experience receiving diabetes education and meeting other people living with diabetes. Every donation goes towards making the programs possible so that kids in resource-poor settings can learn to survive and thrive with diabetes.

Young campers at last year’s diabetes camp in the Dominican Republic
Young campers at last year’s diabetes camp in the Dominican Republic.

I have tried to ensure that this story isn’t just about how great it is that my husband and I both have type 1 diabetes, but instead about how great and beautiful things can come out of almost any situation. I hope it demonstrates that diabetes can give you purpose, especially when your support networks are strong. We hope that by supporting each other we can use our combined ‘diabetic powers’ to make something that will (hopefully) make things better for other people, too.

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