Here at the 'Mine, we're always on the lookout for new diabetes voices to highlight. Today, we're happy to feature Susan Baumgartner, a type 1 in Wisconsin who shares her creative writing talents on her blog, Verbostratis.
For much of this year she's been working on a new book titled "Diabetes Warriors" that she plans to self-publish for Diabetes Awareness Month in November, touching on the real struggles we face each day, and showcasing the artistic talents of others from around the Diabetes Community. We're looking forward to reviewing that book soon, but in the meantime, Susan has offered to share her D-story and her thoughts on calling ourselves "warriors."
The Slow Growth of Understanding, by Susan Baumgartner
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” - African Proverb
I first found this quote back in 2012 on Facebook via the Voices Education Project. Little did I realize then how its message would resonate with me today as a way of being, and not just a great slogan for a kids' school sign.
Its importance has grown on me, and I can now trace its influence back much further than 2012, like a seed that was sitting there, waiting for me to be ready for it. Today, I can say that it plays a significant role in my daily thinking and actions, including my life with type 1 diabetes (T1D).
I felt very alone and inadequate with this condition when first diagnosed in 1994, a year after graduating from college and beginning a job as an environmental technician, where I helped to identify wetlands by plant and tree species. I treated T1D like my work: scientifically and systematically, down to spreadsheets. I spent years dealing with it by myself, shielding its difficulties and influence on me even from close family and friends. Later, having children began softening my approach, but I didn’t have my big growth of understanding until making my way into the world of education as a classroom assistant. It was there that I began recognizing our need for and benefits from collaboration: Working Together.
Something struck me. If working together is the best choice in schools, why not in the adult world? We live in an extremely fractured culture, and many of us feel it's me-against-the-world. I wondered: are we asking too much of our children to emphasize the power of interpersonal skills and relying upon each other, or are we not asking enough of ourselves as adults?
Even teachers struggle with feelings of inadequacy and separation. While they can be incredibly skilled at nurturing those around them, they can ignore their personal care and worth. Using my interest in writing, I penned my first book, Dear Teachers, for them. It sought to provide a school year of supportive messages based on beautiful nature photos taken by my friend, Marlene Oswald, covering subjects like needing teamwork, being present in the moment, feeling safe enough to reveal oneself, making time for self, accepting that we all suffer, celebrating our diversity, and enjoying the tiny sweetnesses of life. I asked the readers to focus on themselves, and to further the team concept of the book, I added writing prompts and space for the reader to include their thoughts. In the end, I wanted all readers to feel and see their dearness and ways to move forward in their lives.
After that experience, I was finally able to look at diabetes through similar topic lenses. Could I reveal facts and stories from my own life that others might relate to and enjoy? Could I create an interactive framework for a book to help us all deal with this condition and see our dearness and place in the world? How could I make this book an example of going farther by going together?
I knew I wanted to stay with the “Dear ___” base, but for the longest time, I didn’t know what word or words to use, so I left it blank. The term “Warrior” has been promoted and fought over in the diabetes world for years. I’ve always been on the side of the argument as voiced by people like Craig Idlebrook in Why I Wince When People Say They Won’t Let Diabetes Stop Them (InsulinNation, 2016) and by Mike Hoskins in Why I’m Not a Diabetes Warrior (DiabetesMine, 2017). I didn’t like it because when I pictured a “Warrior,” I thought that was going back to that "alone" theme. I didn’t want that; I couldn’t go back there.
Then, I sat with the ideas of "Warrior" and “togetherness” some more.
Just as some people pointed out to me that "Dear Teachers" and the “Teacher” moniker apply to anyone who has kids in their lives, the “Warrior” term applies to anyone alive. We’re all Warriors. We can be Diabetic Warriors, Women’s Rights Warriors, Cancer Warriors, Homeless Warriors, Parent of a Child with a LIfe-Threatening Condition Warriors, Racism Warriors, LGBTIA Warriors, Environmental Warriors, and more. And any combination thereof.
Students practice working together to solve problems. Perhaps adults need to shift mindsets and do the same. From that perspective, I could embrace the Warrior concept.
It was always my intention to have a variety of people with type 1 diabetes provide the visuals for this book. If my message was legitimate, I felt I would see support in other people’s artistic expressions. For six months, I asked people on social media with T1D to send me images they felt represented who they were. I didn’t specify the subjects, style, or media because I didn’t want to influence their work and thoughts. As they came in, I placed one at the start of each section of the manuscript, ending with 12 artists and a total of 16 images.
One image stood out to me as symbolic of the Warrior spirit: Amber Hall’s Jamie, which is now highlighted on the cover. Two images in the introduction are my own, but I can’t take full credit for those. Actress Anita Nicole Brown, another person with T1D who reached out to my requests, inspired one. Sometimes, I had to edit an existing essay, but I never had to write anything from scratch. I shared the pieces with the artists as I placed them, learning more about each person as I continued building the book.
I could never have created this book without them. I could have written a book (fast) but not this one (far).
Dear Warriors grew to be my view of what ALL people deal with, a few things only people with T1D have in their lives, and the things we can do to live more fully within ourselves. It evolved to fold in the importance of togetherness into this term “Warrior” that sometimes feels so incredibly individualistic, unobtainable, and isolating. The subtitle even changed to be much more inclusive. I ended up choosing “A Memoir and Guided Journal for Those Touched by Type 1 Diabetes,” because this book is a bit about me, a bit about T1D, and a whole bunch about how we’re all in this as fellow Warriors.
We can do this. Each story is a bit different, but we can go far if we go together.