I remember first hearing the name Joe Solowiejczyk many years ago, long before I got into the world of blogging and attending diabetes conferences or meet-ups.
You might call him "Joe Diabetes" -- the guy everyone walking in our shoes can relate to because he's been living with type 1 for decades, since he was was 7 years old in the early 60s, and he speaks in plain truths on what this D-life is all about. Joe also happens to be a diabetes nurse educator and family therapist, who's worked in the field for over 30 years, and an internationally known workshop organizer and motivational speaker.
The first time I saw video of him speaking at a conference, the opening line (one of his classics) hooked me in immediately:
Honestly, who can't relate to that 100%? I've been a fan of Joe's ever since, and one of the highlights of 2013 was meeting him in person for the first time at the Children With Diabetes Friends For Life conference in Orlando, and then a few months later getting a chance to see him again when he visited Indy, where I live.
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If you haven't had a chance to meet Joe or learn anything about him, you totally need to.
Now in his 53rd year of living with type 1, Joe is a beloved member of our Diabetes Community who mixes his personal insights and knowledge to help fellow PWDs cope with the tough emotional and psychosocial challenges we all deal with at times. He's been ahead of the curve on bringing more attention to the those key aspects of living with diabetes. And for the past year, he's been taking his advocacy to a whole new level.
Aside from the professional counseling and training he's been doing that includes serving as a faculty member for the CWD FFL conference, Joe has recently started his own diabetes business called A Mile In My Shoes, committed to producing unique and cutting-edge educational and psychological services. Meanwhile, he's been helping develop a new online D-Community called Welcome To Type 1 that is, among other things, creating a documentary film to help newly diagnosed folks adjust. And he's just about to launch a unique diabetes eBook that's been 30 years in the making!
"I draw on my personal experience, not for it to be all about me but to help other people. I feel like (diabetes) is my passion, and... really, I don't think there's anything else I would want to be doing," Joe tells us.
Joe says he's always known he wanted to be in the diabetes world, but he almost didn't end up here as a full-time career.
In the 70s, he got his degree in history and Southeast Asian studies and then worked for several years in family therapy under the late Lester Baker, famous D-researcher and clinician. After that, Joe went to Israel to study agricultural engineering. But when he got there, he found himself still volunteering in diabetes clinics, and his mentor then told Joe that his destiny was probably to become a family therapist and diabetes educator.
"That was a crossroads for me, as I'd never studied (diabetes care). Social work is where it was at back then, and that's what led me to where I am now."
A Mile In His Shoes
He's been in the field ever since, and for roughly the last seven years, he was working for Pharma giant Johnson & Johnson teaching diabetes care approaches to professionals, and traveling around the country and world speaking at conferences. In January 2013, Joe left J&J to start his own diabetes company called A Mile In My Shoes, to support his work independently doing pretty much the same thing -- teaching and consulting on family dynamics and the psychosocial aspects of D.
The mission: "producing fun, unique web-based presentations and learning resources for patients and their families wishing to increase their self-management knowledge base and emotional coping skills."
"Putting the emotional aspects into the warp and woof of diabetes management, that's my specialty," Joe says. "If you're my patient, you'd be getting therapy and psychological counseling without even knowing it because it's all worked in to the diabetes management aspects."
That's one thing I -- and the rest of the D world -- love most about Joe: he knows those two aspects are integrally intertwined and can't be separated. I completely respect the fact that he's been living with type 1 for 50+ years now, and isn't afraid to say that he hates it, and doesn't do well sometimes, and that's completely normal.
"It's OK to collapse, and falling apart is part of the process. That doesn't have to be graceful. What I try to do is help people focus on the fact that we're only human, and all you can do is your best."
— Joe Solowiejczyk, on coping with life with diabetes
"Book" Come Alive
Joe's new company is an offshoot of the community he's been helping to create for the past few years, Welcome To Type 1, with fellow D-Advocate Jonny White and business partner Oliver Brown. Together they've also created the Diabetes Chalk Talk online video series that Joe hosts, covering different aspects of D-management. The first of those went live in May 2013.
Last summer, the crew drove around Canada and the U.S. videotaping various families for both the website and for the new book Joe's been working on that's being released within the next two weeks, titled A Type 1 Diabetes Guide to the Universe. It's a first-of-its-kind interactive diabetes eBook including videos -- 160 pages designed completely in the new iBooks Author app.
The concept comes to life when you watch this video illustrating what Joe's book will look like.
It's currently being finalized for release on the iTunes store at the end of February (and the eBook cover design is still being hammered out). Joe says he's excited about his very first "book," made with new-fangled technology that allows a video intro in which he can tell readers what they can expect to find inside, and then launch into all the diabetes basics: food, exercise, insulin, and just doing your best at living. Videos are weaved throughout the pages, as the content outlines how to create a D-management plan for kids in school, and checklists that can be taken to a doctor's visit. Joe says there's no single chapter or section devoted to "coping" with diabetes, but rather that's weaved into every part of the book.
"This whole world of diabetes is about integration and coping, and you can't just put those into one chapter or section of a book," he says. "They're just as much a part of everyday life with diabetes as checking your blood sugar or taking insulin."
Many books these days include stories or brief tidbits highlighting other people in the D-community, and that's something Joe's book takes to a new interactive level: instead of just little boxes of text, you can click on videos featuring families Joe's met and interviewed, as well as celebrities and athletes such as Sebastian Sasseville from Canada, who's climbed Mt. Everest.
And Joe says he'll also be able to update the book periodically, adding in new videos stories from people he's talked to.
"I want people to feel healed, and that they aren't alone, by reading this," Joe says.
Joe has plans in the next year to create several more eBooks in the same format, which would focus on celiac disease and exercise respectively.
The first eBook coming out at the end of this month will be a bit pricey at $25 -- available to download onto an iOS device from the Apple Store.
Luckily, you all have the chance to win a free "copy" of this interactive publication...
A DMBooks Giveaway
Interested in winning a copy of Joe Solowiejczyk's new ebook, "A Type 1 Diabetes Guide to the Universe," soon to be released in the Apple Store? Joe's generously agreed to give away a promotional code to three lucky winners, to claim the book in the iTunes store for free!
1. Post your comment below and include the codeword "DMBooks" somewhere in the the text to let us know that you'd like to be entered in the giveaway.
2. You have until Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, at 5 p.m. PST to enter. A valid email address is required to win.
3. The winner will be chosen using Random.org.
Good luck to everyone!