Meet T’ara: The Project Manager of Beyond Type 2
T’ara joined the Beyond Type 1 team in December 2018 as the project manager for Beyond Type 2. She’s excited to provide a platform for people living with Type 2 diabetes to find resources on diabetes management, connect, and share their stories with others within the Type 2 diabetes community. Diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in the summer of 2017, T’ara has dedicated her career to helping people live full lives with Type 2 diabetes.
Can you tell us about yourself?
I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. Born and raised, I am a Ravens, Old Bay, crab cake girl at heart. I went to school at American University and earned my graduate degree in 2018 in Nutrition Education. Before then, I was a marine science nerd and earned my undergrad degree in Marine Science from Coastal Carolina University in Myrtle Beach, SC. I wanted to be an environmental chemist and California was one of the places I wanted to live. Also, I love to cook and walk at the park with my dog. I’m a total movie nerd, too; I’m always watching something Marvel-related or Netflix or listening to my favorite band, BTS.
Can you tell us about your history with diabetes?
I was diagnosed with prediabetes the summer of 2010. I was 18 years old and my doctor told me I needed to lose 20 pounds. I lost that 20 pounds several months later and she said I was in the clear. It runs in my family too; my grandmother has diabetes, so diabetes has always been on my mind. At the time I still didn’t take it very seriously, and I ended up putting back on like 40 to 50 pounds after that.
In 2012, I was depressed and decided to change my life around. I dropped a bunch of weight and I got my blood sugar under control, but then about four and a half years later, I was still diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in the summer of 2017. It was my mom who was like, “I think you have diabetes.” I was in denial, but when I went to the doctor, he was like, “You have full blown diabetes now.” My blood sugar was in the 550s when I was diagnosed and my HbA1c was 15 percent. I think the emotional effects didn’t start hitting me until months later when I realized I had to really watch what I ate.
How did your diagnosis affect you?
It wasn’t a complete surprise. The symptoms were there, but I kept ignoring them because I didn’t want it to be true, which is interesting because I was getting my Master’s in Nutrition Education at the time. Among my circle of friends, I was the person who was always exercising and eating healthy foods. I thought if I had diabetes, I would feel like a fraud. The signs were there. It got to the point where my hair was falling out and I started kind of balding around the edges of my hair. I lost a bunch of weight. I was losing five pounds a week for months. My face looked gaunt and I realized I was hungry all the time, but I could never get full. I was drinking anywhere from one to two gallons of water a day.
How do you manage your diabetes?
In the beginning, it was just straight denial. Intellectually and academically I knew better, but I couldn’t fully accept it. I was prescribed insulin, about 20 units, and I was given long-acting insulin and Metformin. I am still on long-acting insulin and I am still on Metformin, but also I haven’t able to see an endocrinologist. It’s just my primary care doctor kind of doing a lot of the guesswork.
What inspired you to accept your diagnosis and become involved in the Type 2 community?
When I saw the support I got from my friends, family, and professors. They were supportive and didn’t treat me any differently. A lot of my friends are black so diabetes isn’t new to us. We’ve all seen people in our families who have had diabetes over the years and suffered from complications. My friends made it clear I could confide in them. It felt like I was given permission to accept my diabetes. After that, I dedicated the rest of my graduate school career to diabetes-related subjects.
What do you hope to accomplish with Beyond Type 2?
I want Beyond Type 2 to be the ultimate safe space for people living with or impacted by Type 2 diabetes . I want people to feel like they’re at home. We’re not just going to tell you to eat healthy and exercise. We’re going to tell you to do what works for you, but make sure that you’re in contact with your diabetes care team. I want people to come to the website and read our content and least think to themselves, “Wow. They get me. They understand me.” Understanding, inclusiveness, and community are the values of Beyond Type 2.
What does the online diabetes community look like and what are the ways that you got involved?
The Type 2 diabetes community is pretty dope. I’m mostly on Instagram and I’ve met several T2D people within the last couple of years — some who are around my age. I got to see how they live full lives with it. I was mostly exposed to the Type 1 community on social media. Now that I’m learning more about T1D, I’ve been able to see how different it is in the T2D community. I’ve been able to connect with those who live with it every day and they just live perfectly normal lives. It presented a sense of inclusiveness as well.
Who are members of the Type 2 community? How do you hope to connect such a diverse group of people?
I think one of the challenges of reaching the Type 2 community is the age issue and the stigma that comes with it. Type 2 is mainly known for people who are older, people in their 40s, 50s, and older than that. But you don’t see a lot of young adults who have it, or at least it’s not openly talked about.
What do you see as some of the biggest challenges facing the Type 2 community?
It’s a complex issue because once we start talking about the socio-economic aspects, we get into what access people need to prevent it. We need to talk about access to preventative care, where people can go to the doctor regularly and keep track of their blood sugar. Then there’s the management side of things; you have T2D communities who don’t have the option of going to a supermarket to buy the food that they need to manage it. If your only source of food is the local fast food restaurant or a corner store, managing diabetes will be difficult.
Some people don’t have enough money or insurance to receive preventative care. Sometimes, health insurance doesn’t cover your diabetes medications, which can be very expensive, especially if you’re someone who needs insulin. Those are just some of the challenges and I want Beyond Type 2 to discuss them. I can speak from personal experience because I was in that situation last year where I tried to buy insulin and the pharmacist said, “Ma’am, even with your insurance, your insulin’s going to be nearly $500,” and I walked away. It wasn’t until afterwards that my pharmacist called me and said they had a generic one that was $10. I know I’m fortunate in that regard, but there are a lot of people who aren’t.
From the cultural standpoint, there’s a sensitivity that I want Beyond Type 2 to bring. I’m black so I know I have a certain perspective, but there are other ethnic groups and people of different religious or cultural backgrounds who need to have Type 2 diabetes addressed in a way that’s sensitive to them. I hope to produce content that discusses managing diabetes with respect to others’ cultural values.
What do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions about Type 2 diabetes?
That we’re automatically going to get our foot chopped off. Another misconception is that if you have Type 2, you’re obese. That’s not true. When I was diagnosed, I was training to be a figure competitor; I wanted to be in a bodybuilding competition basically. I had a trainer, a diet and workout plan, and I was still diagnosed. Sometimes if you’re predisposed to it, it may just happen. Another is that you can’t be young and have it. I was 25. When you’re 25, you don’t think that you’re going to get Type 2 diabetes.
Can you talk about some of the emotional and mental aspects of being diagnosed or living with diabetes?
I’ve been open about my depression for years on my blog, mainly from an emotional eating standpoint. At times, I’ve felt fraudulent, like a failure in some ways, and hopeless because I fought to not get diabetes and got it anyway. Sometimes I get diabetes burnout, like this morning I gave myself an insulin injection and sometimes it’s the longest 10 seconds of my life. Other times, I’d check my blood sugar and it’s still high after I feel like I’ve done everything I could have to bring it down. It can be mentally draining.
To cope, I do an activity that makes me feel good. Usually that’s walking my dog or going to the park or listening to music. I also confide in friends. Then, I focus on on diabetes management not being fear-based. I have to think of diabetes management from a more positive place like, “Okay, if I go for a walk and if I make this meal, that’s going to be great for my blood sugar, then if I keep doing this just one day at a time, one meal at a time, one workout at a time, then I’ll start seeing the numbers match that.” It’s about taking things one day at a time and that’s how I deal with it now.
What advice do you have for someone living with a chronic illness and facing depression?
Find a person that you can talk to, someone who makes you feel safe. I don’t think it has to necessarily be a family member. It can just be anybody, anyone who you’ve been able to talk to before, who’s been there for you emotionally and mentally. Find that person and be honest. Use Facebook or Twitter if you prefer anonymity. Think about the ways that diabetes management makes you feel positive. There is no shame in living with depression and there is no shame in living with depression with diabetes. Keep doing the activities that make you feel like you’re getting the most out of your life. If you need someone to talk to, please come to Beyond Type 2. The times when my management is on point is when I know I can talk to others about it.
What has your experience been like working at Beyond Type 1 so far?
I’ve learned so much about T1D. I’ve never heard diabetes discussed in such a human, personable way. I think when you’re around people who don’t live with it, it’s always a touchy subject. It feels surreal that I get to lead a program for people who are just like me and get to be part of an organization that’s already made such an enormous impact. I want Beyond Type 2 to be as impactful for the Type 2 community as Beyond Type 1 has been for the Type 1 community. I feel honored and like I have this huge responsibility to serve the Type 2 community well. It’s a little frightening, but this is a great opportunity to amplify voices for people who have never been able to talk openly about Type 2 diabetes before. Our first campaign is #BeyondPowerful, so I hope Beyond Type 2 becomes the haven where people can tell us how they’re living that way or find something on our website that encourages them to feel that way.