When someone says they have diabetes, what image comes to your mind? If your answer is “nothing,” that’s a good thing. There’s no one “look” or “type” of person with the condition. Still, diabetes is a serious disease with a lot of stigma associated with it — for no good reason.

For the following nine individuals, diabetes doesn’t control who they are, what they like or dislike, or who they spend their time with. It doesn’t control what they can do and what they have done. Having diabetes may impact how they go about their everyday life, but it doesn’t impact who they are or what they hope to become. This is what diabetes looks like.

People with diabetes can be any age, any weight, any race, and any sex. Things that work for me may not work for you. Experiment and learn what works for your body and your lifestyle.

I manage my diabetes by continuously learning about it and monitoring it. I read a lot about diabetes, lead a couple of support groups, educate myself about nutrition, ask my doctors questions, and participate in the online diabetes community. I test my blood glucose regularly, weigh myself every morning, and exercise at least five days a week (most of the time).

I’ve found that the more I eat fresh vegetables and fruits, the easier it is to manage my diabetes. If my numbers start creeping up, I log everything I eat until I get back on track. The most important thing to me is that food be both delicious and nutritious. If I try a new food, I make sure to take a blood glucose reading a couple of hours later to see how well my body tolerated it. This can be exhausting, but knowledge truly is power.

Diabetes looks like me and you. It looks like your neighbor, your best friend, or the kid down the street. It doesn’t discriminate based on age, gender, ethnic background, body type, or income. It looks like the health-conscious person and the person who buys what they can afford to eat.

If you’re living with type 2 diabetes, my first piece of advice is to realize your story is unique. Your needs are unique. This is not a one-size-fits-all disease. Many people will give you advice based on what has worked for others or what they read on the internet. Learn when you can educate. Learn to smile and nod. And finally, learn when you have to just walk away.

[Diabetes] is always there 24/7, but because of the dire consequences of not managing it properly, my attention to it has made me healthier than the average person. My life changed little for many years until I noticed age catching up to me. That is when I sharpened my diet and focused on exercise to dramatically improve my life! … For the relatively short amount of time and discipline required to exercise, you get paid tenfold by the life results of looking good, feeling good, and knowing you are the best you can be. It’s so worth it! With my dying breath this may be one thing I will impart on anyone who will listen: It’s worth it!”

“When I was first diagnosed, I was taking three medicines for the diabetes and one for cholesterol. I’ve lost about 20 pounds since my initial diagnosis two years ago and am now only taking one medication. I continue to watch what I’m eating by making my plates as colorful as possible and taking an afternoon walk 3–4 times a week. But I love French fries. I don’t eat nearly as many as I used to. I’ve also become more committed to teaching my children about the dangers of the disease.”

“Before I was diagnosed, my typical lunch would be going through a fast-food drive-thru, ordering a sandwich, large fries, and large sweet tea or soda. I do miss sharing desserts with my husband, [but] now I might take a bite. When you cut the carbs and sugar, your taste buds change over time and will find your old favorite treats are either too salty or too sweet. The other major life change is always being prepared. Even if you are running out for a quick errand, you always have to be prepared. Before leaving the house, I check to be sure I have my meter (alcohol swabs, test strips), snacks, [and] glucose tabs. You never know what might happen. … Always think worst case scenario and plan for it. It helps me decrease my anxiety knowing I’m ready.”

“When I was diagnosed with diabetes, I had spent most of my life overweight, which was exacerbated by my becoming a mom in my early 40s. Food was always central to my social life — where shall we meet for breakfast, want to try that new place for lunch, and what’s for dinner? Every social event, it seemed, revolved around food. It’s easy to get out of control that way. After having tried every diet known to man, I finally inquired about weight loss surgery. ‘I thought you’d never ask,’ said my doctor. And the rest is history. As my weight diminished, the diabetes medications did the same, and I was on my own with regard to diet and exercise. I became a gym rat (in the middle of the night!) and have been working out five mornings a week ever since. … I am healthy, energetic, and have been proclaimed ‘younger’ by my very smart surgeon.”

“Living with diabetes is sometimes difficult, and always a balancing act. You have to remember to put your nutrition needs first. I manage my condition by holding myself accountable: for what I eat, how well I listen to my care team, how often I check my sugar levels, etc. My go-to person is my certified diabetes educator. Without her I would not have done as well as I have. My life has absolutely changed since my diagnosis. I eat out less often. I’m much more aware of the nuances of nutrition labels and how to adjust recipes. I’m much more careful in what foods and snacks I serve my family.”

“Life with diabetes taught me adaptability and to persevere. Over the last 24 years, I have accomplished more with diabetes than I ever dreamed possible. Upon my diagnosis, medical providers informed me that I might not be able to do the many things I had dreamed for myself. I was heavily advised to pursue an ‘easier’ career, one with less stress and burden. I was also advised to never have children, as it would put me and my unborn children at risk. … Over the last 24 years, I have accomplished more with diabetes than I ever dreamed possible. I lead a healthy nonprofit organization that supports and educates women that live with all kinds of diabetes. I am an advocate for myself and others living with diabetes. I am raising a family. And I do it all victoriously with diabetes.”

“My life with type 1 diabetes is not without its problems. … However, it doesn’t mean my entire life revolves around it. I make sure to take care of myself, but other than that my life is pretty normal (as normal as anyone else’s anyway). I manage with insulin shots daily, multiple times a day. I also test my blood sugar and try to eat right and exercise (key word ‘try’!) and make sure I go to regular doctor, dentist, and eye appointments.”

“Opening my heart and mind to a change in personal perspective allowed me to recognize the potential within me to turn the pain I felt as a result of my diabetes diagnosis into something that fueled my purpose for existing. An integral part of the inner transformation that led to my commitment to self-care after years of neglect and abuse was the connection with peers I found within the diabetes online community. My conscious decision to evoke more positivity within my own life, and the world around me, has proven to be a unique and enlightening experience. Diabetes has given me an opportunity to become a peer support group leader within my community. It has led me to adopt the label of ‘advocate’ and has even inspired me to share my story with others through my T1D-focused blog, What Sarah Said. This may not be the life I expected to live prior to diagnosis at age 15, but it is a journey I now accept with pride and enthusiasm.”

“Life can change moment to moment with this disease. Managing it can be very stressful as there are times when the results you are trying to get are difficult to achieve and maintain. Stress, hormones, food, too little or too much insulin, other illness can all affect blood sugars. Worrying about complications adds more stress. But on the bright side, I do my best to be happy and enjoy life, and not allow diabetes to control me.”