By Hope Warshaw, MMSc, RD, CDE
The expression, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” encourages optimism and positivity in the face of life’s challenges. For sure, the diagnosis of diabetes can be a life challenge. For our blog series, Making Lemonade from Lemons, we’ll profile people with diabetes (PWD) who’ve squeezed lemons from the diagnosis of diabetes and made lemonade - they exemplify this expression. These PWD make living with diabetes just a bit easier for everyone and show the world just how well PWD can live. This profile features Mark Heyman, PhD, CDE.
Q1. Hope: Please share with us a few details surrounding your diagnosis.
A1. Mark: I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) in 1999. I was 21 and had just completed my junior year of college at UCLA. I was headed to Paris for the summer to put my French into practice. I had all the classic symptoms of T1D, but didn’t want to be told to scrap my summer in France. Eventually I saw a doctor and was diagnosed. One of my first questions was, “can I still go to France?” My doctor said, “Of course you can!” Three weeks after my diagnosis I was headed to Paris and spent the next two months there.
Q2. Fast forward. Tell us how you fit diabetes into your life today?
I live my life and diabetes comes along for the ride. It does not stop me from doing all the things I want to do. I play tennis and golf. I cook, travel and SCUBA dive. I’ve taken my doctor’s initial message, “You can do anything with diabetes” and run with it.
Q3. When and how did you make the decision to become a psychologist? How did having diabetes influence this decision/process?
I studied political science in college, and I thought I was headed to law school. That changed after my T1D diagnosis. I wanted a career that would be personally meaningful – one that would allow me to make a difference. Soon after my diagnosis, I realized there was a big, unmet need to address the emotional burden of living with diabetes. So I decided to become a psychologist.
Q4. What are the upsides and downsides of having diabetes and working with people with diabetes?
In my work the biggest upside to having diabetes is that it gives me credibility with my patients. I understand the challenges of living with diabetes first-hand so they know I understand them in a way that other mental health providers may not.
The biggest downside? Sometimes it feels like my life is 24/7/365 diabetes. There are days I talk more to people who have diabetes than to those who don’t!
Q5. At what point and why did you become involved with members of the diabetes community?
I got involved in the diabetes community about seven years ago. My motivations were both personal and professional. Personally, I wanted to meet people with diabetes in my local area for support and to feel part of a community and did so by going to local events. Professionally, I engage using social media and give talks at events around the U.S.
Q6. What activities are you involved with that feed your desire to give back?
I really enjoy speaking at events for PWD. The attendees are sponges for tools they can use to reduce the emotional burden of living with diabetes. The biggest benefit I observe at these events is the support people get from interacting with each other. I benefit from this support as well.
In addition, I’ve had the opportunity to write articles aimed at PWD and healthcare providers on the topics of emotional well-being and the value of peer support in diabetes. It’s rewarding for me, both as a PWD and a healthcare provider, to communicate this important content to other healthcare providers.1,2 I’m also pleased to see much greater attention to the topic of mental health and diabetes by national organizations and other entities.3
Q7: What is your advice to PWD who want to pursue a career as a healthcare provider in diabetes care and education?
Go for it! I’ll put a plug in for psychology. We need more healthcare providers who are passionate about helping PWD. However, two bits of advice: 1) Have interests outside of work to get at least a few hours away from diabetes, 2) don’t feel you need to be “perfect” in your diabetes care. Perfection with this disease is not possible.
Q8. What are your words of wisdom to other PWD and those affected by diabetes who are inspired to make lemonade from lemons?
It’s so easy to focus on the negatives of diabetes like constant mental energy it sometimes takes. But, when we do this we often miss the positives, like the awareness diabetes gives you about how things like food and exercise impact your health and the wonderful people in the diabetes community. I encourage PWD to see the good and recognize the positives of living with diabetes along with the challenges.
Q9. Hope: What has been your biggest “glass of lemonade” to date?
The emails from people who have read something I wrote or heard me speak telling me how my words have helped them. Their words make all of my hard work worth it.
If you’re a person who believes you’ve made lemonade from your diabetes diagnosis, or if you know someone who has, let us know at email@example.com for a chance to be featured.
1 Heyman M. Overview of common psychosocial barriers among people with diabetes. In: Addressing the mental health needs and psychosocial barriers to self-care for people with diabetes. On the Cutting Edge, Diabetes Care and Education Dietetic Practice Group. 2018;39(6):4-6.
2 Heyman M. Practical techniques to address psychosocial barriers among people with diabetes. In: Addressing the mental health needs and psychosocial barriers to self-care for people with diabetes. On the Cutting Edge, Diabetes Care and Education Dietetic Practice Group. 2018;39(6):16-18.
3 American Diabetes Association: Mental health diabetes education program, JDRF, AADE. In: Addressing the mental health needs and psychosocial barriers to self-care for people with diabetes. On the Cutting Edge, Diabetes Care and Education Dietetic Practice Group. 2018;39(6):30-33.
Hope Warshaw, is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She has spent her career involved in diabetes care and education and has authored several books published by American Diabetes Association (ADA), including Diabetes Meal Planning Made Easy. She was President of the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE) in 2016. She actively promotes the value of peer support to people with diabetes, caregivers and healthcare providers.
Hope Warshaw was compensated by Tandem Diabetes Care for her contribution on this topic. However, she created the content and it is based on her personal knowledge, experiences, and observations.
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