Insulin therapy is a foundational aspect of diabetes management, especially for people with type 1 diabetes. However, starting and successfully managing insulin treatment can be a challenging process, especially at first. The journey is different for everyone. 

We sat down with Faith Riddell-Harding, a 22-year-old college student in Colorado who has had type 1 diabetes for almost 10 years, to talk about her experiences with beginning insulin therapy and how she has adapted over time.

Faith Riddell-Harding smiling at the camera

Key Points:

  • Faith Riddell-Harding discusses the challenges she faced in transitioning to insulin therapy as a young teenager, including overcoming fear and a lack of diabetes education.
  • She emphasizes the need for adaptability in managing type 1 diabetes with insulin, detailing how her daily routine revolves around careful food and insulin dose management.
  • The support from family, friends, and other people with diabetes plays a crucial role in Riddell-Harding’s ongoing management of her condition, highlighting both the practical and emotional benefits of having a supportive community.
  • Living with type 1 diabetes requires significant lifestyle adjustments, including diet, physical activity, and social interactions, all shaped by the framework of insulin therapy.

Can you share a bit about your journey with diabetes before starting insulin?

Riddell-Harding was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in early adolescence, which is a difficult time for many. 

She recounts,

“Before being diagnosed with diabetes, I had multiple concussions due to low blood sugars and losing consciousness. After seeing a concussion therapist, they still missed my diagnosis, and I went into DKA [diabetic ketoacidosis] a few weeks later.”

She continues,

“I was diagnosed at 13, so luckily for me, I didn’t have a lot of habits to break when it came to switching diets and my life. But it was much more carefree before living with insulin.”

What were your initial thoughts and feelings about starting insulin?

Because she was in DKA at diagnosis, Riddell-Harding desperately wanted to feel better, so she pushed aside her apprehensions about insulin therapy.

She shares,

“I was nervous mostly because I had never been educated on what diabetes actually was. The idea of giving myself shots and pricking my fingers was a scary thought. But also how much work went into calculating how much insulin I had to take for different meals was something that was completely over my head.” 

Read more in: Insulin Types: Their Peak Times and Durations.

Did you have any concerns or fears about insulin therapy?

Being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes was an overwhelming experience for Riddell-Harding, intensified by her limited understanding of the condition at the time.

She reflects,

“I think since I was so young and knew I didn’t have much of a choice I tried not to fear it too much. I tried to handle it head-on, but I think that was also because I wasn’t educated on it.” 

How did your healthcare team educate you about using insulin?

Riddell-Harding, like many others diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, was required to learn how to administer her own insulin before leaving the hospital. 

Reflecting on this experience, she explains,

“I had a two-day class with my mom where they gave us the rundown on what diabetes is and how to calculate dosages. They taught us about different food choices and how to take insulin for different foods.” 

Read more in: Insulin Injection Sites: The Best Places to Inject.

What resources were most helpful in learning to manage your insulin therapy?

Riddell-Harding highlights the importance of personal responsibility in her diabetes management. She found that

“trial and error was the best for me. I luckily had a healthcare professional in my family that I knew I could rely on if I needed help. But overall, it was made clear to me that this is my diagnosis and mine alone, so I had to learn to deal with it.”

She adds,

“I always had clear communication with my doctors and whenever I needed to adjust dosages I was given the confidence to do that.”

Can you walk us through a typical day of managing your diabetes with insulin?

Life with type 1 diabetes is a marathon, not a sprint, and Riddell-Harding knows that all too well.

She explains,

“Truthfully each day is different. A lot of diabetics eat the same thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner because it is predictable. For me, I like to change it up, and this has taught me that if I have Chinese for dinner I better take extra insulin and prepare for a low-carb breakfast. Otherwise, I’m looking at a stubborn high [blood sugar] day.” 

She also describes her routine around physical activities:

“Diabetes is so unpredictable no matter how well you manage it. Sometimes before the gym I ‘carb up’ and go in with a little high blood sugar because I’ll normally crash even with a light workout, but some days it’ll be a stubborn day and I’ll find myself giving myself more insulin even after the gym.” 

Riddell-Harding stresses the importance of patience in diabetes management, acknowledging that not every day can be perfect and adjustments are a constant necessity.

How has your daily routine changed since starting insulin?

Since her diagnosis, Riddell-Harding’s approach to managing her diabetes has evolved significantly. She explains,

“The main thing is my day revolves around food, which stinks for a snacker. I love to graze on food, but with diabetes, you can’t do that as easily. Luckily for me, I work from home and it’s easy to take my breaks at the same time each day. However, it’s hard if you’re in a rush because you have to give yourself insulin and wait 15 minutes before eating, which doesn’t give you a lot of time to eat if you’re in a time crunch.” 

Additionally, Riddell-Harding has embraced new technologies like continuous glucose monitoring (CGM), which helps her keep track of her blood sugar levels more seamlessly — a tool that wasn’t widely available when she was first diagnosed a decade ago. 

What challenges have you faced since starting insulin, and how have you addressed them?

Transitioning through adolescence and into college while managing type 1 diabetes has not been easy for Riddell-Harding. 

She explains,

“A lot of my challenges have actually been living with it in society. There are never many options for drinks for diabetics and restaurants can be so hard to order at, so you better know you like what you’re getting. For me, I often take my own drinks to places such as family gatherings or holidays and I like to do research on the menu if I go to a new restaurant.” 

She additionally addresses the personal impact of public perceptions:

“Also, it’s hard not to want to correct people when they say something tasteless about diabetes or the stares if I’m taking a shot in public. But I think after having it for so long it becomes such second nature that I don’t think about what people say or do anymore.”

Are there any tips or tricks you’ve found helpful in managing insulin injections or pump therapy?

Staying positive is crucial, according to Riddell-Harding.

She shares a specific technique to cope with the pain associated with insulin injections.

“I like to remind myself it’s five seconds of pain. Some days I get lucky and only have a little bit of pain when giving myself a shot, other days not so much. But it’s such a short amount of time that I’ll be in pain. I just clench my teeth and breathe through it.” 

How has insulin therapy impacted your lifestyle, diet, or physical activity?

Riddell-Harding is aware of the essential role insulin plays in her survival, for which she is grateful. 

But managing diabetes is 24/7.

“It practically runs my day and my life. All the choices I make are based on my blood sugar and how much insulin I’ll have to give myself or how my blood sugar will react to something I ate. Physical activity is the hardest. I was in martial arts when I was diagnosed and getting back to that was very new for me because I was used to working out through pain, but if my blood was going low I had to step away to treat it otherwise I could seriously hurt myself or someone else. And it’s a lot harder to travel because you want to explore new places, but I have to constantly think about having a low or high and making sure I have snacks on me at all times.” 

Have you noticed any changes in your overall well-being or energy levels?

Managing type 1 diabetes demands rigorous control and affects various aspects of daily life, including energy levels and sleep. 

Riddell-Harding experiences these challenges firsthand.

“Oh yes, my energy levels plummeted. Sleep is so important, and while my peers always want to stay up late, I usually can’t. Going to sleepovers meant I was the first one to fall asleep, and even now I stick to a strict sleep schedule.”

She emphasizes the impact of sleep on managing diabetes:

“Without proper sleep, diabetes can really get to you and it can be so frustrating because at the end of the day you really don’t have 100 percent control over it.” 

What kind of support have you received from family, friends, or support groups?

For Riddell-Harding, community and support have been vital in managing her diabetes. She appreciates the balanced approach her family has taken:

“I think for me, the support I had was just enough. My mom made me responsible for my diabetes because I’m the one who has to live with it. My partner is also a type 1 diabetic (which was totally random), and I never thought about how nice it is to have someone who at least can somewhat understand me. Not just with how frustrating lows and highs are but how frustrating the healthcare system was and how stressful it is to get insulin and even make sure you have enough money for it.”

She also reflects on the broader implications of parental support, noting,

“I’ve noticed that if parents are too strict, kids just want to rebel — but doing that with diabetes really causes a slippery slope. Diabetes is also a gateway to eating disorders as well, and no one talks about it. Half the time it’s not because they don’t want to look a certain way but because diabetes can be so overwhelming that they just don’t want to deal with it. Having support from family and friends, especially when you’re young and first diagnosed, is key to staying healthy.” 

What do you wish you had known before starting insulin?

Ridell-Harding views managing her diabetes as an ongoing learning curve. Reflecting on her transition into adulthood, she shares,

“As I came into adulthood I was still with a pediatric doctor and I started noticing a lot of weight gain I couldn’t find the cause of. When I made the switch, my new doctor explained that having such high doses of insulin can cause your body to retain weight. Especially as we get older because we are less active. I wish I had known more about how to work with my insulin and diabetes and make it work for my lifestyle.” 

Learn more in: Insulin & Weight Gain: Does Tighter Control Make You Loosen Your Belt?

What advice would you give to someone who is about to start insulin therapy?

Ridell-Harding reassures that life with type 1 diabetes, especially once you start insulin therapy, is manageable and not something to fear. She advises,

“I’d say not to be too afraid. We have a great community that is always willing to provide support. But also that it’s OK to be frustrated — you’re dealing with a disease that doesn’t care how you feel. Diabetes is so all over the place at times. It’s OK to work with it and try new things, it’s OK to be in a routine and eat the same thing every day. It’s OK to take breaks from working out all the time. And it’s OK to take a nap if you need to, too. Give yourself some grace, because not every day is perfect. You’ll have the next day to always try again.” 

Are you starting a journey with insulin treatment? Learn all the essentials in Insulin Explained: What Is Insulin and How Does It Work? Did you find this article helpful? Click Yes or No below to let us know!