Our identity is the first to suffer the complications of diabetes. It changes how we see ourselves–normalcy and belonging grow distant. Limitations germinate quietly like mold beneath the occluded layers of personality we create every day in order to just survive. It’s the hairline fracture in the foundation of who we are. The deeper it goes the worse it gets.
I started LivingVertical to share Project365–my goal was to change the story of diabetes and show that we don’t have to accept the narrative of a predetermined outcome of victimhood. I still believe in that same message, but I don’t think the best way to communicate it involves creating content about diabetes anymore. I’ll always have diabetes and I’ll always be happy to answer questions about my experience with it–if I can help, I will do so gladly. Where it’s relevant, diabetes will still be visible but it’s not going to be the focus of what LivingVertical is creating. It will always be in the picture but it won’t be the focus. I believe it’s more important to demonstrate that life with diabetes is about LIFE. This is the most powerful advocacy I can offer. It’s also a choice I am making because I’m frankly tired of trying to pack my world into the topic of diabetes. I’d much prefer to make diabetes fit into the world I’m choosing to explore.
I’ve always had a hard time gaining a foothold in the diabetes online community. I suspect that’s because my approach has been to encourage people to detach their identity from their diagnosis–because that’s what worked for me. It’s a tough sell though. A diabetes-free mentality is why I never stopped to think that I couldn’t climb mountains as a teenager. It’s why I thought it was perfectly acceptable to spend a month hiking the Appalachian Trail and take on solo adventures without trepidation in college. It’s why I’ve driven across North America more than a dozen times (half of them solo) and I don’t fret about changing my lancets daily. I didn’t have olympic athletes and professional spokespersons with diabetes to assure me that I could do anything. I didn’t see myself as a diabetic who climbed or who hiked. I didn’t see myself as a person with diabetes. My identity had ZERO inclusion of diabetes–so why wouldn’t I be able to do anything I put my mind to?
I wasn’t in denial about my diabetes–no more than I’ve been in denial about brushing my teeth daily. I just never placed that task inside of my identity. Diabetes was a task–one that I realized was incredibly significant. I detached from it emotionally and executed it to the best of my ability so that I could have the freedom to pursue what I loved. Others might call this unhealthy, compartmentalization or repression. I call it freedom through discipline. I have staked my life on this philosophy repeatedly in the mountains and elsewhere. It’s not a perfect science but it’s been able to give me a winning average. I believe that it’s the greatest value I have been able to share here.
Why is this all written in the past tense?
Sometime in 2012 I found that I had to include diabetes in my identity in order to reach others living with diabetes. I had to create space for it where it none existed before. I became the “diabetic guy who climbs things”. I’d introduce myself to people that way. It changed the way I saw myself. It changed the subtext of the story I told myself about who I was. It wasn’t healthy–literally. I know that many people have found value and connection through an inclusion of diabetes as part of their identity–and I don’t begrudge them.
For all the value, impact and success that came with my diabetes advocacy, my own independence from diabetes atrophied. Spending 7-12 hours a day for the last 5 years writing, filming, posting, blogging, emailing, pitching, podcasting, publishing–all through the lens of diabetes–multiplied the weight of diabetes in my life. I wasn’t just living with it–I was living IN it.
So what’s the point?
- First, protect your identity. Be someone outside of your diagnosis. Maybe the “person with diabetes vs diabetic” debate is asking the wrong question altogether. The terminology isn’t the biggest concern–it’s the inclusion of a malevolent entity in our self image that should raise red flags. Execute the physical tasks necessary for your body to gain independence on behalf of your mind.
- Second, I’m thankful I’ve had an opportunity to dig deeper into my diagnosis through my advocacy here. I’m not regretful about what it cost me. I’ve gained a different perspective on just about everything and that has enabled me to make some wonderful friends. That’s what I consider you.
- Third, when you reach the last page in the chapter–start a new one. Don’t keep rewriting the last paragraph for years until you wither in frustration. Find what excites and motivates you and go unapologetically towards it even when it seems impossible.
Photography and adventure will be the focus of LivingVertical content moving forward. I believe this is the greatest value I have to give–unpacking the tools that have given me my life back. I think this is less a change of priorities and more of a return to them. There’s a reason LivingVertical doesn’t have “diabetes” in the name. It never occurred to me to put diabetes in the name of my endeavor when I arrived on the scene 5 years ago because it wasn’t meant to focus on the problem but rather the solution. Walk the walk–even if it interferes with talking the talk.
I’m grateful for your readership up till this point. I hope you’ll join me for this next chapter. I suspect that many of you who actually read my posts all the way to the end aren’t here because of factual information I share as much as my interpretation of what I see in the world around me. If that accurately describes you then it’s a good bet you’ll enjoy what comes next!
I want to thank specifically Blake McCord, Ashika Parsad, Sysy Morales, Maria Qadri, Fatima Shahzad, Ryan Little, Matt Spohn, Andres Arriaga, David DuChemin, Rob Muller, Tyler Smith, Joel Livesey, Mark Yaeger, Carter Clark, Christine Frost and Nate Duray for inspiring me to have the courage to return to a diabetes-free mentality. There are many others who have contributed to my liberation–knowing or otherwise. Far too many to list here–but these folks have listened and shared in the deliberative process over a long time and I want them to know how much I appreciate their example and wisdom.