It's always nice to greet new faces in our Diabetes Online Community, so today we're happy to hand the blog-mic over to Tad Roberts in North Texas to share his story.
Tad was diagnosed in his '20s more than two decades ago, and just recently started writing and producing video blogs over at this cleverly-named personal blog, A Tad Diabetic. This father of five (!) has a remarkable personal story about his childhood long before diabetes came into the picture, and all that played a part in overcoming diabetes depression and eventually taking his D-management by the horns. Now, he proudly preaches a message of hope to anyone who'll listen, and plans to publish a new book in 2018 with the title, "The Gift of Diabetes: How a Problematic Pancreas Helped Me Conquer Fear, Find Hope, and Discover the Truth of Destiny!"
Take it away, Tad...
The Diabetes Magazine That Made a New Man of Me
Some people are just born lucky. They’re gifted with perfect looks, win the lottery, hit every green light on the way to work, or are endowed with some genius intellect. Unfortunately, that’s not me. My story has a far less auspicious beginning.
My childhood was pretty ugly and not one I would wish on my worst enemy. I was raised from the age of 3 in a religious cult that beat me down and taught me to live every day in fear. I was taught that aspiration and competition were evils and that I needed to stop thinking for myself and just do what I was told. School was no refuge, as I was often bullied and beaten up because I was the weird kid with the strange religious beliefs. I didn’t make it far in high school before I’d had enough and just dropped out. Eventually, I escaped the bonds of this oppressive organization, but the 12-year experience left me damaged, with no self-confidence and no direction in life.
So when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 24 in the early 1990s, I thought my life was over. I’d jumped out of the proverbial frying pan and straight into hell.
All of the poking and pricking, having to measure out everything I put in my mouth according to something called an exchange list, and watching a clock all day to make sure everything was done at the proper time catapulted me into a state of depression that almost ended me. Relationships, family, and all of the things I had dreamed about were never going to be. I would spend the rest of my life alone in my apartment with a measuring cup. I surmised that there were some people who were meant to have happy lives and there were some people who were meant to live a life of suffering, and I had been relegated to the latter group.
But even the perpetually unlucky get a shot of good fortune every once in a while -- and mine came from a magazine.
When I was in the hospital following my diagnosis, one of the nurses had given me a copy of a magazine called Diabetes Self-Management. It was a bi-monthly periodical that had some great articles on healthy living and current diabetes research without being so technical that you got completely lost in all the medical jargon. I really liked the issue the nurse had given me and decided to get my own subscription.
My first issue came several months later.
It was the September/October 1993 issue, and I remember feeling brightened in spirit by its arrival. I glanced down at the cover to see what stories were highlighted and noticed that this issue conveyed a sense of urgency that was probably out of the ordinary. There was a bold sub-heading in all capital letters that read, “SPECIAL REPORT: DCCT—BEATING THE ODDS.”
Above that heading was a short excerpt from the main article, highlighting the 10-year research study on type 1 diabetes that had been stopped a year early of completion. Only nine years into the study, the results seen were so astounding and so pertinent to millions of diabetics that the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) couldn’t wait to announce their findings.
I sat down on my sofa and quickly turned to the beginning of the article and started reading, learning it was called the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT). This trial put several theories to the test regarding the potential benefits of tight blood sugar control for diabetics. It examined two key groups: one using the conventional therapy of the time; and a second group using a more intensive therapy that involved checking blood sugar levels more often, taking smaller and more frequent insulin shots, and making exercise the rule rather than the exception. Ultimately, this landmark study revealed the benefits of more intensive therapy as this group had drastic reductions in the destructive diabetic complications of retinopathy, neuropathy, and kidney disease.
I think I must have read that article five or six times, savoring each delicious statistic and committing to memory how those using intensive therapy had structured their daily diabetes management. On my final reading, something from the beginning jumped out at me that I'd completely missed each time before.
The DCCT results were first released on June 13, just twelve days after I checked out of the hospital. I may not have had much luck in my life to that point, but to have the single most important scientific discovery in the history of diabetes research revealed within days of my diagnosis certainly was a step in the right direction.
That day was the beginning of a major transformation in my perception of diabetes and the course of my life.
A Diabetes Transformation, Physically and Mentally
I had already begun a workout program to regain some of the weight lost in the weeks before my diagnosis. Now I was determined to learn how to implement intensive therapy into my own diabetes self-management. In the process, I learned how to balance my insulin and meals in a way that didn’t force me to keep both eyes on a clock all day and do so much measuring. After devoting myself to learning about how diabetes affected me on a biological level, I eventually regained much of the freedom I thought was lost forever.
Over the years, I went from a bench press of 115 to 425 pounds and a body weight of 150 to 275 pounds at my powerlifting peak. But this transformation was more than just physical. The confidence I gained from my success in the gym and diabetes self-management gave me the confidence to go back to school and pursue my dreams. I earned multiple bachelor’s degrees and went to grad school for business. In college, I met the love of my life and began a relationship that has never suffered a single day due to my diabetes.
We were married in 2000 and now have five wonderful children who bring me more joy than I ever thought possible. Fortunately, none of my kids have been diagnosed with diabetes and there are no other diabetics in my family as far back as we can trace.
I'm an entrepreneur, writer, baseball and soccer coach, and now diabetes advocate. Regarding advocacy, I suppose you could say that I've been a diabetes advocate at the local level for two decades. More recently I have started a personal blog, A Tad Diabetic, and am sharing my story there and trying my best to spread a message of hope.
That is also the reason for my writing a new book that I hope to publish in early 2018.
'The Gift of Diabetes' Book
With my personal experiences and that message of hope in mind, I am writing a book with a working title of, "The Gift of Diabetes: How a Problematic Pancreas Helped Me Conquer Fear, Find Hope, and Discover the Truth of Destiny!" Here's a description of my upcoming book:
"The Gift of Diabetes is my upcoming book, which is actually two books in one -- Book 1 is a fictional story that is, indirectly, about living with and coming to accept diabetes as a part of our lives; Book 2 is my personal story of how a troubled childhood was followed up with the diagnosis of diabetes as a young man. I had lost all hope and was on the verge of suicide when one good decision and one amazing piece of news changed the entire course of my life. Ultimately, I found a beautiful life that I never could have envisioned or dreamed possible when I sat in the depths of despair, sure that my life was over. So, from my perspective, diabetes was a gift to me. Diabetes got me on track, helped me find hope, conquer fear, and discover one of the greatest truths of all -- the truth of destiny!
There isn't enough belief out there that successful diabetes self-management is real. But it is real, and I know because I've done it and every day I am finding more examples of others who have persevered, figured it out, and transformed their lives in the process.
More than two decades ago, I watched a young co-worker with type 1 struggle day after day with control problems. I tried to talk with him about this, showing him how I had combined knowledge with physical fitness to improve my diabetes management. But it didn't matter, as he'd had completely given up on life. Four months later he was dead, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Why couldn't he embrace hope? Why couldn't he see a better future? Why didn't he listen to me? He didn't have to die.
I hope that people will relate to my story because I felt about as hopeless as one can get. But we have the power to reshape our perspective in a way that allows us to see the world more truthfully, with new and more confident eyes. For those who are struggling with their diabetes self-management, that new vision is what I want for them.
These days, my diabetes is under excellent control with A1Cs in the low 6’s, and I can juggle family, business, coaching and diabetes because now I see diabetes for what it really is -- a manageable challenge.
I once thought that I lived in hell; what I found was heaven.
What it took was a decisive step in the right direction and a commitment to learning about my condition (and, well, a little luck).
Now I’m just anxiously awaiting my next life-changing issue of Diabetes Self-Management with the title: “Diabetes – Cured!”
Thanks for sharing your story and being part of the community, Tad. We appreciate the motivational messages and look forward to your book once it's released!