I have been a family physician for the past 16 years, and throughout my career I have always had a heart for wellness and chronic disease management. My passion for medicine started in childhood; my passion for helping people with diabetes improve their quality of life started over twenty years ago when my brother was diagnosed with type 1 and our family was thrust into a world we never knew existed.
My Surprise Type 1 Diagnosis During COVID
Fast forward to January 2020, years after I started a successful diabetes program in my clinic. I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes myself just prior to my 39th birthday. The call came with a lab value that had never belonged to me, but that I knew well. My diabetes diagnosis was followed by the global pandemic, and suddenly I was one of the highest risk categories with a red lab value Hgb A1c >13. I was supposed to manage patients and ease their anxiety at this time, but I could only muster fear, denial, and confusion about my own condition. I didn’t have a sense of community for support, and like many people, I was finding it hard to stay afloat emotionally by the end of 2020.
Finding Support & Motivation
Thankfully I found a registered dietitian and eventually a strength and fitness coach, both living with type 1 themselves. Things started to feel a little lighter. My children enrolled for type 1 testing through TrialNet, and I joined the online T1D Sugar Mommas group to discuss parenting with type 1. Another big positive change I made was when I started life coach school training in 2022. From there I formed my company, Coaching Chronic Disease LLC, to help other women live with chronic diseases. Meeting other people with type 1 in the medical space, coaching others, and creating a business all became ways I took back control from a disease that made me feel completely powerless.
The Turning Point
Even though I had had a medical care team at the time of my diagnosis, the best diabetes tech, and a supportive family (including a brother who had gone through his own diagnosis 20 years prior), it wasn’t until I found a community of people in the healthcare field living with type 1 and received coaching support on the power of mindset that things truly shifted for me. There was something about having time to listen and hold space for others that allowed me to grieve, process, and decide what I wanted for my future. It involved allowing myself to feel emotions, to feel encouraged to make choices from a place of love for myself and my body, and to make changes that aligned with me. Ultimately, I decided that being stuck in “why me” wasn’t a helpful way to live, so I chose to abandon that thought. I began training for a duathlon and I started eating foods I had given up when I was diagnosed.
How Diabetes Changed My Life and My Practice
I now feel more whole, and I am a more empathic family physician, a bolder human, and a better version of myself. I’m able to see that we are all just doing the best with what we are currently equipped with at a particular moment in time. The grace that my own chronic disease has given me has in turn allowed me to be more gracious with my time and energy for patients and loved ones alike. This is why I’m proud to continue to practice the art of medicine, expand my role as a life coach to women with chronic conditions, and say I am a woman living with diabetes.
In my practice as a family physician and life coach, I have found that optimism in general leads to a better quality of life. Isn’t that ultimately what we’re all striving for? When facing a challenging health diagnosis or dealing with a chronic condition like diabetes, you will likely experience a multitude of emotions including anger, fear, anxiety, and sadness – these are all very normal human emotions when facing cancer or any other chronic condition.
Ignoring these feelings can lead to a higher burden of disease, guilt, and feeling like “there’s something wrong with me.” The key is allowing these feelings and working through them. Doing so will ultimately lead to better outcomes and a more positive outlook on life.
The Following Five Principles Can Help Lead to a More Joy-Filled Life:
1. Know You Are Not Alone
Community is so important. As women, we thrive when we can be authentic. Historically, women have had larger networks for connection and turn towards their villages for support. Feeling like we’re isolated or are the only ones on this journey can be miserable. When you’re starting the journey of living with a chronic condition, it’s important to find people who will listen, who see you, and who will hold space for you. Find a community who allows you to be you – frustrated, sad, self-loathing – all of it. Others who are experiencing the same or similar situations understand where you’re coming from and can offer support. Online communities can be a great place for connection, and reaching out to your local JDRF chapter is a wonderful place to start. Online support groups like these Facebook groups from TCOYD®, T1D Mod Squad, Diabetes Sisters, Diabetes Connections, Type 1 Diabetes Support Group, and Women’s Support Group for Type 1 Diabetes are just a few you can explore.
2. You Can Change How You Think About Your Condition
Chronic conditions can be complicated on many levels. The good news is you are in control of your thoughts. So although your body may function differently than you planned for, you still get to choose how you think about it. And that can be empowering. Want to feel strong when you physically don’t have stamina? Just choose a thought that you are strong, and after all if you’re living with a chronic condition, you are strong! Physically we may be limited, but mentally, our thoughts are endless. Try on a “good thought” the next time you’re having a bad day, and notice how things can shift. Your mind is powerful, and optimism is what leads to a better quality of life, regardless of your condition.
3. Downtime Is Important
The modern woman is praised for multi-tasking, with phrases like “you can have it all”, “hustle”, “rise and grind”, and “never stop”. The mixed messages about maintaining a constant state of “doing” can cloud the need for rest, downtime, and mental breaks. Although each chronic condition has its own set of complications and possible physical limitations, the idea that we should handle our body more gently and with more grace is universal, and not talked about enough. When your body tells you to rest, listen. Quiet the outside noise and acknowledge that women need more sleep, and those with chronic conditions may require even more breaks and more mental space to process the added decisions we make each day. Acknowledge it and allow it. Just like shifting thoughts, managing expectations and building downtime into your schedule can be a game-changer.
4. Movement and Exercise: Find What Works for You
Most of us are told that exercise is important to maintain our health and to “manage” our chronic condition. But all exercise doesn’t have to be high-intensity cardio or maximum weights and reps. You can find what you tolerate and live there. Not able to run? No problem – how does walking feel? Does walking hurt too much? Consider something in water. Or how about seated movement and mobility? Your body will feel better and perform better with any movement it receives. Maintaining movement and mobility can come in all shapes and forms, and anything more than nothing is a win. Learn to set a pace and frequency of movement that enhances the management of your condition. When you aren’t fighting against it, you will find that your days feel lighter. Your body is capable and worthy just because you’re human. Movement was meant to be a benefit, not a punishment or a badge of worth.
5. Love Yourself Daily!
I saved the best for last! Your body is amazing and deserves to be celebrated daily. You were born for a particular journey, and you are doing the best you can each day with the tools you were given and the body that is currently in front of you. Be sure to show gratitude to yourself and acknowledge any and all wins. Didn’t get the lab results you were hoping for? It’s okay – they are simply data points in an experiment called life. See them, acknowledge them, and decide if you want to make any changes to impact them. There is no one way to do life, so maybe you are already doing it perfectly for you. For one week, I challenge you to write a daily list of things about yourself you’re grateful for, and you’ll see what a wonderful woman you already are!
*The terms women and woman are meant to be inclusive of any person female-identifying, and these tips can be applied to anyone living with diabetes.
Want more information and practical examples of how you can implement the strategies above into your life? Dr. Kimberly Jackson-Bekemeier can be reached through her website at: www.coachingchronicdisease.com
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I loved this post. I am a LADA lady diagnosed when I was 42. All that you said resonates with me, and I say a big “amen” to all of your comments. I often have trouble with #3 suggestion, the “Downtime”! Work ethic is strong in my family, and I often feel guilty for seeking out a little downtime. It’s always good to see some affirmation— like in your post. I’m 67 now, a retired high school English teacher; and, as such, I appreciate your taking time to write this articulate, encouraging post.
I imagine that your patients are lucky folks!
Best of luck to you,