I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) at age 11, shortly after starting the sixth grade. The diagnosis only exacerbated the feelings of being unsure of yourself that come with making the transition from elementary to middle school. While I was fortunate enough to have friends and teachers that did their best to understand what navigating life with T1D meant, I still had the lingering feeling that, despite the best efforts of those around me, nobody was ever completely going to “get” it.
That all changed in the spring of 2002 when my endocrinologist told my parents and me about Camp Little Shot, a camp based
near where we lived for children 6 to 18 living with T1D. My parents registered me on the spot, and about a month afterwards, the school year ended and I headed off to camp. Arriving, there was definitely some nervousness on my part, but about an hour after my parents dropped me off, that quickly subsided.
Coming in, I didn’t really know what to expect, but I was thrilled to discover that Camp Little Shot was just a regular camp, we went swimming, hiked, played field games. Except I wasn’t the only one having to say, “hold on, I need to check my blood sugar” because everyone around me was doing the exact same thing.
The friends I made, the counselors and the medical staff became like a second family to me, and all quickly made the list of my greatest supporters. The comfort that came from knowing I could text one of my friends from camp at any point during the other 360 days of the year, to do something as seemingly simple as venting about having a high blood sugar that just wouldn’t come down was invaluable. Unlike one of my friends at school, or a parent, my camp friends would understand how I was feeling in every aspect–physically, mentally, and emotionally.
After I aged out of being a camper, I decided that I wanted to return as a counselor, and have done so every single summer since 2010. It’s been such an amazing experience. Because several of the kids I grew up going to camp with have returned as counselors, as well, I get to maintain the friendships I cultivated back then. As a counselor, I am able to see things from a different perspective, and watch my campers cultivate those same important relationships with other people who understand exactly what they’re going through.
I think that one of the most vital tools that people living with T1D should have access to–aside from things like insulin and test strips–is a supportive community of other people who understand exactly what they are experiencing on a day-to-day basis. For me, that was, and still is, Camp Little Shot. Fortunately, we live in a time where technology and tools like social media make accessing these communities even easier for a wider range of individuals.
I would encourage everyone with T1D, as well as parents of children with T1D, to take the time to look into the options available to you that will allow you or your child to cultivate a supportive community, either in person or digitally. JDRF has a number of great resources that can help with this, including our social network typeonenation.org, live events called TypeOneNation Summits, and opportunities to connect with your local JDRF chapters. I promise that putting the time into finding your “T1D tribe” will be well worth it, after all, you can never have too many supporters.