Riva Greenberg is a New York-based global inspirational speaker, author, and diabetes advocate. She developed type 1 at the age of 18. Having won the International Diabetes Federation Lecture Award for education, Riva helps people with diabetes flourish and teaches health professionals to work from a more humanistic perspective.
Diabetes is hard. But we at Hedia believe that anyone with diabetes should be able to flourish. To encourage that message, we’ve interviewed the bolusing blogger herself.
Check out the interview, get inspired, and find your strength in diabetes!
Hi Riva! You believe people with chronic illnesses, such as type 1 diabetes, can live great lives not despite diabetes, but because of it. We love that idea. Can you elaborate on that?
Sure, whether you have a chronic illness like diabetes, or not, most of us do not get through life unscathed. I’m quite convinced that if I’d never gotten diabetes (I got type 1 at the age of 18), that I would still be 30 pounds overweight, living out a shy existence and wondering how to fulfil my life’s purpose. I was very clear at an early age I had one, I just couldn’t figure out how I’d be living it.
I could thank my diabetes for changing all that. You may think that’s crazy, but it’s true. Diabetes gave me the impetus to ratchet up getting and staying healthy – I lost that weight, I walk an hour a day and I eat wholesome, healthy foods and not a lot of sugar or carbs. And it changed my career.
Almost twenty years ago I went to a diabetes educator for the very first time after having diabetes for 32 years because I was getting married, and I thought hmmm…maybe I can help other people who have diabetes. Maybe that can be the work I do.
First I pursued helping others with diabetes as a writer. After all, that was how I’d always made a living. Since, I’ve written three books and hundreds of articles.
I started going to conferences to learn more about diabetes and meet people in the field. Since, I’ve been invited to lecture at diabetes conferences, to teach and inspire people with diabetes how to flourish with this condition and share with the health professionals who care for us a method for helping us flourish.
None of my personal and professional achievements would have happened if not for diabetes. It’s like the quote, “It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” If you’re looking at your diabetes as a horrible frustrating, maddening beast, which it can sometimes be, also ask yourself has it brought something positive into your life. When I ask this question at conferences invariably, after people get over the shock, they say indeed it has.
Try as best you can to be kind to yourself; recognize you do two jobs, whatever you do for a living, or maybe raising a family, and managing diabetes. Pause to notice and acknowledge yourself for what you do well. Pat yourself on the back and really take it in. We all have things we shoulder, managing diabetes well can also give us a reason to feel proud.
You’ve written a well-known book about diabetes do’s and how-to’s. We’re quite sure our readers would love to hear a little bit about that. Could you share with us your own personal “diabetes do” favourite?
I’ve written three books. My first one, The ABCs of Loving Yourself With Diabetes, I also illustrated. It’s totally an inspirational page-turner to help “readers discover and expand on their inner power. To emotionally live from courage, confidence and commitment with this condition.
My second book, 50 Diabetes Myths That Can Ruin Your Life and the 50 Diabetes Truths That Can Save It, provides all the information you need to know to do well with diabetes, given in the fun format of myths and truths. The ice cream cone on the cover should tell you that all have some misconceptions about diabetes.
The book you’re referring to, Diabetes Do’s & How-To’s, my third, is recommended action steps for living healthily with diabetes. It covers food, fitness, medicine and attitude. This trio of books creates a three legged stool to support anyone living with diabetes.
As a recovering perfectionist, my favorite letter in the ABC book is P.
It stands for, “P is for perfection and knowing it’s not the goal.” My favorite myth in the 50 myths book is, “Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness, heart attack, kidney disease and amputations,” and my favorite Do in the Do’s & How-To’s book is, “Set yourself, and your home, up for success.” While it may not sound exciting, this is the entry ramp onto the highway of doing well with diabetes.
Routine for me is the magic ingredient that sets me up for success. On any given day, except if I’m travelling or away from home, I eat similarly, the same foods or the same type of foods and pretty much the same amount. While someone may shout, “BORING!” I love it.
Doing this takes an extraordinary amount of work, effort and unpredictability off my shoulders and gives me the best opportunity to keep my blood sugars in range. Besides, what’s not to love about a bowl of yogurt, nuts and tahini and a home-baked, low carb scone made from almond flour for breakfast every day?
That sure sounds like a solid plan, Riva. And we have nothing bad to say about your breakfast! Could you tell us how you’re coping when having a tough day with diabetes?
Bad days take the wind out of me. I’m disappointed or frustrated by my blood sugars, they’re doing something totally unexpected, or I’m worried that a twinge or a tingle somewhere in my body means I’m getting a complication.
I remember when I first learned I had some hearing loss. It was right before I flew to the Netherlands to meet my husband who was there on business. We were sitting on the train platform when I told him about the diagnosis and I couldn’t stop crying.
Then the train arrived, the weeping died down, and while I still knew I had some hearing loss I said to myself, okay, well deal with it. We all have bad days. It’s okay, it’s normal.
Cry, shout, kick something, grieve, feel whatever comes up for you. If you’re lucky to share it with someone, share it, and then as you can, get back to your day to day.
We human beings are adaptable and remarkably we get used to most things, and then we notice they’re just like passing dark clouds and it’s sunny again.
We’ve spoken to a lot of people from our community about misconceptions of insulin dependent diabetes, mainly type 1 diabetes. It seems like diabetes type 1 is not always understood correctly. How do you explain the difference between type 1 and 2’s to people who know nothing about it?
This is probably the best article I’ve ever written about type 1 diabetes and how it’s different from type 2. It went viral on HuffPost.
If you could give advice to 18-year-old you, the day you got diagnosed with diabetes, what would that be?
“Hey kid, this diabetes thing is going to be quite a trip – you’ll hate it at times, but when you’ve been living with it more years than not, you’ll wonder who you’d be without it.
You’ll make a significant contribution helping people flourish with diabetes and teaching health professionals how to help their patients flourish. After all, you came into this world to help others. I know right now you can’t imagine getting diabetes is the thing that one day you’ll appreciate in an odd way, but it will be the fulfilment of your purpose. Also, through this crazy disease, you’ll meet some of the most amazing people.
So get to know it, befriend it and you won’t believe this but it’s going to take you to the Middle East, India, Israel and Europe and an amazing man will come into your life, marry you and carry glucose tablets in his pocket for you.”
Let’s wrap this up. Any last advice you’d like to give our readers?
Breathe, learn everything you can, if something didn’t work, ask yourself why might that be? If something isn’t working, fix it. That includes getting another doctor if need be.
Life is short. When I hear or read about a truly awful rare condition that others must endure I think diabetes isn’t easy but it’s something we can live with. And as many people I’ve interviewed told me, it made them stronger, more, compassionate and healthier than they would otherwise be.
Thanks for your time and inspirational advice, Riva!