July 07, 2022
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Guille Faingold/Stocksy United
In many ways, my month-long walk reflects what I’ve done since my diagnosis: I’ve continued to move forward, listen to my body, and honor the need for rest.
About 4 years after I received a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes, I decided to embark on a project. I was going to walk from my home in Cincinnati, Ohio, to Memphis, Tennessee, which is where I grew up. The distance is about 470 miles, and my plan was to complete the trek in a month.
My journey with diabetes had already been unpredictable, so that’s reflected in this project — but as an artist, I appreciated how it would highlight the concept of what “home” stands for.
Home is interwoven in my identity. This walk gave me the ability to think about what I’m carrying mentally and emotionally from my childhood, while also giving me plenty of time for introspection and conversations with people about what it’s like to be a woman with diabetes.
I wanted people to know what it looked like to be a person with diabetes who’s trying to manage their health. I wanted that to be visible.
In many ways, my month-long walk reflects what I’ve done since my diagnosis: I’ve continued to move forward, listen to my body, and honor the need for rest while still challenging myself and focusing on my health in ways that are meaningful.
I’ve come a long way since I first found out about my diabetes diagnosis at age 29. But I still remember the office visit clearly.
As someone who has worked in food service and retail for a long time, getting annual physicals wasn’t a priority for me. I didn’t have insurance, and it was expensive to pay on my own. I also felt generally healthy, so it didn’t seem like there was a need to see a doctor.
Then I finally landed at a workplace where I had insurance coverage. During an appointment to check on a shoulder injury, the doctor suggested we do a checkup, just to see how I’m doing.
When I came in a few weeks later for a follow-up visit about my shoulder, the doctor showed me my lab results and said I had diabetes. He handed me a referral to an endocrinologist, and I left absolutely shocked and overwhelmed. I hadn’t seen that coming at all.
I realized I hadn’t been prioritizing my health, but at the same time, I felt like I didn’t know how to.
Looking back on it, I could recognize some symptoms, like being tired all the time and peeing often. But I was in my 20s, and I’d been traveling all over the world and then working as a live-in nanny for a while. I thought I was tired from all that I was doing.
I didn’t think it ran in my family, but when I told my parents, my dad said he’d been in and out of prediabetes and that my grandfather had type 2 diabetes. I had no idea.
I realized I hadn’t been prioritizing my health, but at the same time, I felt like I didn’t know how to. I grew up thinking the food pyramid was still the main recommendation for nutrition, and I didn’t realize it had completely changed. I’m fortunate that my endocrinologist and diabetes-focused dietitian helped open my eyes to what balanced eating really looked like.
When people think of diabetes, I’m guessing they usually think about sugar, like soda and cookies, but that’s such a small portion of management. I realized I had to overhaul everything — not just what I was eating, but how I lived my life.
I prioritized drinking enough water, exercising regularly, eating properly, and managing my stress and sleep. Receiving my diabetes diagnosis was a totally life changing situation. Now I do what feels best for my body.
As an artist, I’d investigated larger concepts in the past, like time, money, nature, domesticity, and shared spaces. Now I wanted to investigate the concept of home. Since walking had always been a way I coped with uncertainty, it seemed like the ideal way to explore these ideas.
It also allowed me to collect data. I wore a Dexcom G6 continuous glucose monitor (CGM), which sends alerts to my smartphone — and the phone of anyone else who follows me — if my levels get too high or too low. At first, I was freaked out about wearing something on me all the time, but it’s really small and it turned out to be so useful.
Ten people, including family members, followed me through the Dexcom app. I wanted them to know what it looks like to be a person with diabetes, to have this number in front of you all the time, and to make decisions based on what that says.
At the end of the walk, I sent out a survey and found out that my followers spent time researching diabetes as a result of seeing these numbers.
It was interesting to see what affected the numbers as I was walking — factors like eating poorly, stress, and even ovulation.
I found out more about managing diabetes this way, too. It was interesting to see what affected the numbers as I was walking — factors like eating poorly, stress, and even ovulation. This walk wouldn’t have been possible without the GCM. It would’ve been impossible for me, with so many uncertainties about how much I was going to walk and what I was eating.
In the end, the walk took 24 days, because I did take a break for a day to rest when my body needed it. I received so much support from strangers along the way, which was fantastic.
At one point, I was even invited to stay in a firehouse in Kentucky. That was the epitome of home for me — strangers sharing their space and being welcoming. And maybe that’s the biggest lesson here: Share your story when you have diabetes and find a way to be heard.
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