Justan Carlson was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes after a wrestling accident damaged his pancreas, the organ that makes insulin to help your body convert sugar into energy. Now, nearly 11 years later, Justan lives his life as he wants with only a few caveats.
Learn about what advice Justan has for other diabetics who are figuring out how to manage their condition in their everyday lives.
The most important tip Justan has for people recently diagnosed with diabetes: remain calm.
“Don’t let it overwhelm you,” he says. Listen to what your doctor has to say, realize the changes you’ll have to make in your life, and continue on with what you want to do with your life.
“It’s not a hindrance; it’s just a slight slowdown,” Justan says.
Diabetes means your body is changing, so it’s important that you listen to what it’s trying to tell you.
“Pay attention to how your body reacts to things,” Justan says.
This includes how your body responds to food, exercise, and other factors that can affect your blood sugar level. After more than a decade with diabetes, Justan is so in tune with his body that he can accurately guess his blood sugar within five points.
While diabetes is tied to obesity, it’s important to remember that being diagnosed with diabetes doesn’t mean you’re sentenced to a sedentary lifestyle. On the contrary, exercise becomes that much more important for those with diabetes.
A self-described “active person,” Justan isn’t a slave to the gym, but he’s always doing something. He recommends — along with researchers and doctors — all diabetics get off the couch.
“Don’t sit around,” Justan says. “There’s no reason to be lazy.”
Diabetics need to watch what they eat to prevent spikes in their blood sugar, but that doesn’t mean they have to avoid food they love.
“Don’t be scared to enjoy yourself,” Justan says. “You can still have cake; just don’t have a huge piece.”
The key, Justan said, is to be smart about it. After enjoying small indulgences, Justan knows he’ll need to inject insulin, so he does. And then he goes about his day.
Every day, we all wake up, brush our teeth, shower, and perform other parts of our daily routine. That’s how caring for your diabetes should be — part of the routine.
“I don’t let it rule my life,” Justan says. “It’s just one more thing to deal with.”
Not letting diabetes take the forefront of his life, Justan feels he’s able to accomplish more. Or as he put it, making diabetes maintenance a routine is the best way to “beat the ’betes.”
Justan isn’t ashamed of his diabetes, and although it may be hard to follow his lead, he recommends everyone approach their condition in this way. Instead of walking around feeling down, Justan uses humor when the subject of diabetes comes up.
It often happens when a clerk at a gas station will ask him if he realized he grabbed a diet soda. “I just say, ‘Yeah, I’m trying to watch my girlish figure,’” he says, laughing. “Then I tell them it’s better for my diabetes.”
Before Justan was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes—which requires regular insulin injections—the idea of getting a shot made him woozy. He knew he had to confront his fear to live. So he did.
“You gotta face the fear of something new,” he says.
Facing that fear of needles also turned into a profession. He’s now a tattoo artist in Rock Island, Illinois. One of his favorite tattoos he has is a Tyrannosaurus rex injecting itself with insulin. It says, “Rawr diabetes!”
Once you work diabetes management into your routine, there’s no excuse for not doing everything else you want to do. “Enjoy your life,” Justan says. “No one is going to do that for you.”