Bringing Birdy to the Friends for Life conference was awesome, because I was finally able to introduce my bonkers Birdzone to my friends in the diabetes community. (And by “finally,” I mean in a way that counted. When I brought Birdy to the conference when she was two months old, it barely counts, because she was more in the “burping and pooping and sleeping,” which she’s still into, but in a different capacity. Except the “sleeping” bit. She’s not really into that.) This year, my daughter was part of the party.
This year’s Friends for Life conference was different, for me. With my mom and my daughter traveling with me, my perspective was skewed, seeing the conference through my own eyes (as an adult T1D PWD and faculty member), my mother’s (the parent of a grown-up CWD), and my daughter (the kid of an adult T1D PWD – holy acronym). I watched as my mom worked to find her footing, immersing herself into a large network of other parents, even though her own kid was now grown. I watched my daughter reintroduce herself to some of my favorite people, like Scott and Christel, and hug them fiercely. I saw how Friends for Life could touch the lives not just of people living with diabetes, but for the people who care about the people living with it. Because they’re also living with it.
As part of the conference team, I was responsible for co-leading several sessions, including the impact diabetes has on dating, a discussion about pregnancy, one about parenting, and a session on social media and the diabetes online community. These discussions always serve to reignite my passion for connecting with other people who have diabetes, and talking about ways to improve our collective experiences. (That, and they’re fun.) More on these talks later, as I unpack suitcases and reclaim the parts of my brain that smash words together.
It’s a busy conference – lots of running around – and the breaks are brief and coffee/glucose-tab fueled. There are so many people there that I want to talk to, and so many that I want to give huge “thank you” hugs to. Running from session to session, with stop-overs at daycare to bring Birdy to the bathroom and then drop her back off with the other little kids, I felt like there wasn’t ever enough time to do or see it all. I wanted to slow everything down, but the week rushed by at an incredible pace that left me hoping for ways to stretch hours into days.
It’s sometimes too much, trying to find words to describe how this conference has changed my life over the years. I knew I wasn’t ever truly alone, but sometimes diabetes can capture you in a cage of isolation, making you feel like even small changes are too big to make. But then you look around, right? And you see the sea of green bracelets on the wrists of people whose pancreases are the same as yours, holding tight to family members with orange bracelets, and becomes more than diabetes. It’s more than insulin. It’s more than meters.
On Thursday night, at the FFL banquet, Scott and I were honored with the Friends for Life award, recognizing our work on our respective blogs, and also in helping to bring the “adults with type 1” track to life for the conference. That night, I couldn’t figure out what to say. Even now, a few days later, I still don’t know, other than a “thank you” that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. But I do know that those awards stand to recognize not just individuals, but what the DOC has done and changed over the last decade. Every voice matters, and every story heals. For me, sharing these stories has been part of the prescription for good health. Being part of this community has improved the way I manage my diabetes, and I am forever grateful.
Our lives are all different, from those without diabetes, and even within our own diabetes community. In a week at Friends for Life, we learn that our differences can be empowering. And our sames can be uniting.
“Mawm, I wuv confwences,” Birdy told me, spinning the orange bracelet on her wrist.
I touched her orange one with my green one, and she smiled. “Me too, love. Me too.”