7 Life Lessons I Learned from 7 years with Diabetes

January 27, 2020

7 Life Lessons I Learned from 7 years with Diabetes

woman standing in front of two paintings

2012 was the year I’ll never forget. It was a mix of unexpected events that all came together to drastically change the course of my life. First, I got robbed. I vividly remember countless hours spent talking to the investigators, and fear has become a friend that never left my side. In the middle of the madness, my weight started falling down. Most mornings, I barely mustered the energy to get out of bed.

And then there was another strange thing: extreme thirst. I would drink gallons of water and still feel dehydrated. I started carrying a water bottle everywhere. “I’m a health nut” – I’d jokingly say to people. In fact, nothing could have been further from the truth. Little did I know back then, severe thirst is often one of the first signs of diabetes.

I got diagnosed in May 2012. That day my life, as I knew it, was shattered to pieces. I always considered myself to be an active, health-conscious person, so the diagnosis came as a total shock. A storm of thoughts rushed through my mind: “I’ll never be able to fix this”, “dark times are ahead of me”, “things will never be the same.”

I was right about some of it. Things were truly never the same again. But considering everything that followed (my blossoming artistic career, my family who got bigger and stronger, and decades-worth of lessons that I learned in just several years), I can confidently say: the dark times can sometimes bring the greatest light, too.

Agne Kisonaite

#1 FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL

There’s a harsh truth to life: sometimes things just happen, without fancy reasons or deep explanations. When I got diagnosed with diabetes, my initial reaction was not uncommon. I kept asking “why me?”, comparing myself with the other (healthy!) people and obsessing over things I couldn’t change. Here comes the brutal part: more often than not, it leads you nowhere.

The breaking point came when I realized I was putting energy into all the wrong places. Why waste time fixating on things you can’t control when you can be proactive about stuff you CAN control? Yes, in life we’re not always able to choose the hand we’ve been dealt with. But we can still design a delightful, juicy, high-quality life – as long as we focus on playing our cards right.

#2 YOU ARE STRONGER THAN YOU THINK

I’m not going to lie. Diabetes is a real challenge and requires careful life-long treatment. For me, the first steps were incredibly difficult—such as learning to shoot insulin myself (I had to do it 5 times a day). The psychological barrier was enormous. I couldn’t even wrap my mind around it: “Wait, what? Is this my new normal routine now?”

But guess what? Before long, it hit me. “I’ve got this.” I’m stronger than it seems. Chances are, so are you.

#3 IT’S ALL ABOUT BALANCE

The first year after the diagnosis was extremely stressful. I religiously followed medical recommendations. Only ate foods that were allowed. Calculated every bite. If my blood sugar went up, I’d only be able to sleep, if it suddenly plummeted, I’d have to eat something immediately just to stay conscious. It seemed like a never-ending rollercoaster. Terrified that everything may fall apart any minute, I became extremely averse to mistakes and micromanaged everything down to the smallest detail.

It took me some time to switch focus from “feeling ill” to actually “healing”. Over the years, I tried every treatment I could get my hands on. It ranged from traditional medicine to alternative means of self-care, including yoga, bioenergetics, intravenous laser treatment, green raw eating, you name it. Through trial and error, I was able to distill what really works for me. Today, I know which exercise best suits my lifestyle. I make sure I have plenty of rest. And—thankfully—I don’t obsessively analyze each piece of food anymore.

It’s not about being 100% perfect all the time—just like everything else in life, it’s about finding the delicate balance. The balance between pain and pleasure. Work and play. Journey and destination.

#4 YOU ARE NOT DEFINED BY YOUR DISEASE

When people ask me what helped me the most, two things immediately come to mind. First, family and close friends whose support was truly incalculable. Second, my favorite activity—artistic work. If I had stayed in bed, calculating blood sugar and ruminating about my disease, I would have gone insane right on the spot. Instead, not long after the diagnosis, I realized: “My disease doesn’t have to define me”. And I made a decision to start working again. Lightly, gently, with no pressure on myself.

I experimented with incorporating the theme of diabetes into my sculptures, paintings, and art installations. Helping to raise diabetes awareness seemed meaningful. It simply seemed like the right thing to do. One of my artworks I’m really proud of is a monument statue “Diabetes” made out of 5000 used insulin syringes. I collected them from multiple people with diabetes. If there’s one powerful way that can bring more faith to the lives of others, it’s sharing authentic personal stories. And I do it through each piece of my art.

#5  DON’T TAKE ANYTHING FOR GRANTED

Even though diabetes takes a serious toll on one’s life, my personal battles taught me a major lesson: how to live for the moment. And how to appreciate the little things just as much as the big ones. Dinner with family. Walk in the park with my kids. A bubble bath. Calm evenings without social media. Enjoying the delicious simple pleasures in life makes all the difference. And counting your blessings gets more and more effortless with time.

#6 TAKE A RISK IF THE REWARD IS HIGH ENOUGH

Some say diabetes makes you unstoppable. And they are not wrong. I and my husband wanted to expand our family with children. And even though everyone repeatedly gave us warnings, we decided to go for it. Back then, I didn’t know that pregnancy would make me relearn everything I knew about diabetes. For instance, insulin doses can change drastically: with my son, I had to reduce them by half, with the daughter—to increase three times. Being pregnant has taught me to always be prepared for the worst (and to expect the best at the same time!). Today, being the proud mother of two extraordinary human beings, I’m glad we made the decision to take the leap of faith.

#7 BEST SELF-HELP IS HELPING OTHERS

A lot of people with diabetes tend to keep it a secret. In many cases, it is still a taboo subject—and one of my goals as an artist is to change that. In my artwork, I love using non-traditional materials—such as used lipsticks, nail polish bottles, plastic straws from people’s beverages, insulin syringes. Unconventional means help to attract attention. They spark discussion. They allow shedding some light on sensitive issues that people are still too shy to talk about.

And new ideas keep coming up. Marking World Diabetes Day, I created a series of family-themed paintings from used diabetic test strips. This winter, I uncovered a two-and-a-half meter high installation "Heart of Sugar" in the city center. It carries an important message: nowadays people are more likely to die from complications of diabetes (such as cardiovascular disease) rather than high blood sugar itself.

My disease helped me to uncover new layers of creative potential that I never knew existed. Today I want to use this potential to make someone’s path to acceptance easier. Our stories are unique and different, but I believe that we all experience similar dark hours. And those hours are much, much brighter knowing that in this journey you are not alone.

ABOUT AGNE KISONAITE

As a professional artist, I transform everyday objects into creative art & design. My work includes paintings, sculptures, furniture and handmade rug designs as well as art venue staging.

I won the Lithuanian National Design Prize in 2015 and in the same year my art object ‘Lipstick Tower’ shown in Hong Kong achieved a Guinness World Record.

Being afflicted by diabetes, I also dedicate part of my efforts to projects looking at improving the lives of those affected by the disease.

My portfolio: agneart.com