19 years.

Lala Jackson T1DToday marks 19 years since my type 1 diabetes diagnosis. It’s meant a lot of needles. Guesswork when my life is on the line. Lost sleep. Insurance fights and ignorant doctors. Fear. An incredible weight that threatens to break me sometimes because this thing that so deeply affects my life and my well-being and my future is never going away.

But it’s also meant resilience. Empathy. Learning how to shine my light brighter for myself and others. Understanding the strength of my voice. Learning how to fight harder because, in so many cases, our lives depend on it. A deeper faith in myself and those who care for me. Having people in my life who seek to protect me in ways humans don’t typically have to do for one another.

But mostly, it’s meant learning that type 1 diabetes – that having a chronic illness – doesn’t define who I am. I wrote a book about living with chronic illness and I work for the national headquarters of JDRF so I get that sometimes it can be hard for people to see me as anyone other than the diabetic girl. They see my life and assume that I am living my dream because of the spaces I work within.

But in reality, I am living my dream because all of the spaces I get to occupy that have nothing to do with my disease. I respect the people in the T1D and diabetes online community who throw their entire selves behind speaking almost exclusively about type 1 diabetes and all of the things that come with it. But it’s not me.

I am fortunate – there has always been space held for me to speak about what I want. Everything is colored by my experience and so much of my experience is affected by life with chronic illness, but it’s not all I want to talk about.

So today, 19 years in, I am reminded that I am someone who lives with type 1 diabetes and there’s a lot that comes with that. But I am also a driven woman, an indomitable spirit, a creative, a scholar, an activist, someone who strives to be a prolific writer, a painter, a fighter, a millennial, and a myriad other things that don’t fully define me but make up who I am.

And most importantly, I am reminded of the strength and empowerment that comes from fighting for my own well-being. Type 1 diabetes has made me more of who I probably would have been – it has amplified my nature because I have a daily reminder of just how much is on the line – and for that I am thankful.


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