Check out our interview with Kayla Brown, the founder/co-creator of the Type 1 Diabetes Memes Page, blogger at Kayla’s Life Notes, team member of World Diabetes: 2013 Kilimanjaro Climb, and creator/leader of T1Empowerment.
Kayla is a Canadian blogger who started Kayla’s Life Notes after her diagnosis with type 1 diabetes in 2009. She is also the creator of the awesomely witty Type 1 Diabetes Memes pages on Tumblr, Facebook, and now an online store, a project she runs with Meredith Miller. We met at the 2015 International Diabetes Federation Young Leaders in Diabetes Training in Vancouver, a program that has allowed Kayla to influence and improve the type 1 community in Canada and around the world.
If it sounds like she couldn’t possibly fit more into her schedule, think again: we recently caught up to discuss Kayla’s exercise journey through the #cto5k workout plan. The #cto5k is a trend that stands for Couch to 5k, an app that encourages users to gradually increase their activity level until they can successfully run a 5k. And as Kayla tells us, the challenge doesn’t stop there:
What’s the Kayla Brown diabetes story?
I was diagnosed in 2009 with type 1 diabetes at the age of 18. I became involved with the diabetes community almost immediately through an organization called Connected in Motion. From there, I began blogging through my blog, Kayla’s Life Notes, which ultimately led to more amazing opportunities along the way, including the [International Diabetes Federation] Young Leaders in Diabetes Programme. I did my first training with the IDF YLD in 2013 in Melbourne, Australia, and finished my training in Vancouver in 2015.
While I volunteered with both JDRF [Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation] and the Canadian Diabetes Association, my favorite diabetes organization would have to be Connected in Motion, as I credit them greatly for inspiring me to do what I do in the diabetes community today.
Your project as a Young Leader led you to form a diabetes community in Canada. What inspired that project?
The more that I volunteered my time in the diabetes community and got to know local families, I realized something major was lacking: support for teens living with type 1 diabetes.
I felt like there was a huge disconnect between the teens and their medical team as well as with their families and friends. After discussing this with one of the mothers of a teen with diabetes, I knew that a local teen support group was going to be my project. Over two years ago, I started T1Empowerment specifically for teen girls living with type 1 diabetes. We meet weekly at the local library and it has been one of the most rewarding projects I have taken on.
I’ve followed the most recent chapter of your 5k training on Instagram (#cto5k) and on your blog, Kayla’s Life Notes. How did you get started blogging? Tell us about what it was like making the decision to share such personal stories with the world.
I actually started informally blogging just after my diagnosis. I was diagnosed on March 13th, 2009, and my first post is March 16th 2009. I started by writing ‘notes’ on Facebook to let my friends and family know what was going on. I was in the hospital for five days after diagnosis and as much as I had no idea what was happening to me, I figured I could at least share what little I did know and possibly someone on my Facebook would be able to help me, if not encourage me along the way.
From there, I decided to move my notes to a formal blog, Kayla’s Life Notes. I always loved writing. Long before my diagnosis, I used to write stories all the time. I did not realize how much it would grow from that moment and how many ‘life notes’ I was going to share. From moving away from home to go to college, to partying in dorms, to going on dates, to breakups and new relationships, this blog has really encompassed my life in the past seven years.
You’ve gone into a lot of detail by checking in for each day of your #cto5k journey. That takes a lot of discipline, as does sticking with the running program itself! Is there anything that you think is too personal to share?
Regardless of sharing my running or not, I knew I needed a way to keep on track. The program is helpful in doing that, but more so sharing on social media holds me 100% accountable, so that’s partly why I decided to share my journey. I also felt like sharing the details of each run would also be encouraging for others. As you can see, I don’t always have perfect blood sugars pre/post run and that’s life.
Sharing the details is key for me, and I wanted to be as real and honest as possible, which is something I stick to throughout my blog. I feel like there obviously is some line that you shouldn’t cross when sharing personal details, but I think that all comes from boundaries you set for yourself.
As a fellow PWD, I understand the constant scientific experimentation that goes into working out and generally living a balanced lifestyle. What has your relationship with exercise and nutrition been like throughout your life?
Since I was diagnosed a bit later in life, I have an idea of how diabetes drastically changed my views of health and nutrition. Prior to my diagnosis, I didn’t have to think much about my carb/sugar intake. While I have always struggled with weight-loss, healthy eating, and fitness, I do now know more about how those things affect me. I still can be all over the place with health, and over the past year I have really taken it seriously, especially the eating part. I feel better than I have in a long time. But it truly is a daily scientific experiment, and the majority of the time I have no idea what to do except try my best to make things work out to the best of my ability.
What’s been the toughest part of the #cto5k program? The most rewarding?
The program itself has been incredibly amazing and truly my motivation to run has been fairly high, and I credit that to holding myself accountable on social media. The program reminded me that I could go beyond my own expectations. In 2013 I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with little to no climbing or hiking experience—and zero camping skills. That gave me so much insight into what I can achieve. I relate that to this program as I see myself beating times and pushing harder each time I get out on the trail.
The toughest part about #cto5k at first was trusting that it was going to help me improve. After certain sessions I would feel drained and wonder if I was ever going to be able to run 5k in the short amount of time. Putting my trust into that program and really believing in myself was tough, but I have now successfully completed a couple of 5k runs in less than 30 minutes.
Have you noticed any changes in how you feel about yourself now compared to when you started this challenge?
Yes! My confidence has skyrocketed, not in the sense of how I look but how I feel mentally. My head is much clearer, and, to be honest, before I started running I was suffering with mild (undiagnosed) anxiety. I have noticed my mental well-being has been a lot brighter and free. My mood has greatly improved and running has given me another thing to be passionate about, which is always a great feeling.
Now that you’re onto the #cto10k phase of your workout plan, what advice do you have for other PWDs who are looking to start something like this and might think they aren’t cut out for it?
I was nervous about fitness and diabetes because I felt like every time I tried working out I would end up going low and it would be a waste. I was giving myself an excuse to do nothing and that wasn’t fair. While sometimes I do go low and have to shovel candies into my mouth, that doesn’t mean anything is ‘wasted.’
I recommend people with diabetes to really explore fitness in any way that they like, and to find something that isn’t a task, but rather, a passion. Yes, you will likely go low once, twice, ten times…but look at each run, walk, climb, as an opportunity to grow as a person. Learn, create, and enjoy the time and effort it takes.
Fitness and diabetes is a difficult combination, but it is not impossible.
Any exciting adventures coming up that we should look for in Kayla’s Life Notes?
Since I am working on the #cto10k challenge now, I’m featuring that on the blog, along with a new section after each run that talks about lessons [I’ve] learned. I added that on because I felt like each time I went out for a run there was something that I learned along the way and I wanted to share that. I am training for a 10k run in Disneyland, California in May 2017, so that is the ultimate goal for the 10k training.
I also will be going on a road trip to California in the next couple of weeks, which I am sure will bring all kinds of adventurous stories along the way!
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.