Meagan Banks is a sophomore at the Georgia Institute of Technology studying biochemistry and global development. She founded Georgia Tech’s chapter of College Diabetes Network and currently serves as a chapter leader.
Having something like type 1 diabetes can often make you feel alone. But I can say, with full confidence, that I have never felt more encouraged, more supported, more understood than I did joining the College Diabetes Network (CDN) Retreat in Maine this summer.
With the guidance and support of the national CDN staff, I founded a chapter of CDN at Georgia Tech this past spring. Although I’ve been tapped into the diabetes community through Camp Kudzu since the age I was diagnosed, starting my school’s CDN chapter was a complete game-changer. Still, I had no idea what to expect coming to the retreat. It turned out to be exactly what I needed to ignite the passion, motivation, and ideas to push my personal leadership to the next level.
What struck me most throughout the week were the profound connections we all made. Amongst the early-summer heat, our little space in Bridgton transformed from a city-light free night sky, mosquito accompanied smoky bonfires, and CDN-centric programming, to a family. I learned about the struggles of being diagnosed as a young adult and navigating type 1 without a competent healthcare team. I got to know the amazing people working to advance CDN’s mission at the national level, tackling the many obstacles that come with being a nonprofit, and I networked with inspirational professionals in the diabetes community.
In moments of incredible bravery, people shared their most vulnerable experiences: struggles with mental health, body image, and feeling alone in this constant battle with type 1 diabetes and the ignorance that so often surrounds it. In a few of our most powerful sessions, the subject of mental health generated many issues that are hardly ever addressed and even more potential solutions. We even spent nearly an hour one evening recording a raw, honest conversation about our individual experiences and personal thoughts surrounding mental health, which can hopefully be a springboard for future projects. There are so many things that affect blood sugar – in fact, I can’t think of anything that does not affect my blood sugar – so the sense of a lack of control in addition to the typical struggles of living with type 1 can lead to issues such as depression and eating disorders. Although these issues are common in the type 1 population, not many mental healthcare professionals are trained to handle the specific needs of someone living with type 1, particularly at colleges and universities. I loved all of our mental health discussions not only because they made me feel less alone, but also because they gave me hope that we can improve these problems together. In a mere 5 days, I gained an army of passionate, ambitious individuals from all over the country to aid in the battle for a better world.
As a diverse group of living, breathing human beings, we really do have the power to change things and make the world a better experience for those who will come after us. Throughout my life, I’ve felt virtually voiceless in the fight for change. The CDN retreat not only gave me my voice and a platform to share it, but the staff at CDN actually valued it in our conversations and actions plans to make change a reality. Christina Roth and the rest of the national CDN staff listened to our issues and concerns, placing our needs at the top of their priority list and giving us the resources and encouragement we need to continue advocating for our communities. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity. Now that I have my voice, and the power of CDN leaders working everywhere from California and New York to right here in Georgia, I will use it. There is nothing we cannot accomplish if we work together.