What will they see?

“People were going to look. They were going to stare. I had to decide what they were going to see.”

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The moment that had the biggest impact on me during the recent Roche Social Media Summit did not come from someone with diabetes. It came from someone without a blog. It came from someone who has tweeted a total of 11 times in a year and a half.

Josh Bleill was serving his country as a Marine in Iraq when he was severely injured by a roadside bomb. The bomb caused a variety of injuries including the traumatic amputation of both of his legs. He spent the next two years in the hospital recovering from the physical and mental injuries.

As you can imagine, while Bleill was in the hospital he had many visitors. Doctors, nurses, social workers, physical therapists, politicians, celebrities, friends, and family all came to visit him. In his words, it was only another amputee “that inspired him to take his first step.”

Bleill spoke to us of the power of connecting with someone else sharing the same experiences.
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“Although I would never wish it on someone else, it was nice to have someone else there who understood. He doesn’t have the same story I have. But he was dealing with the same thing I was dealing with.”

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I found the diabetes community in stages. It was the message boards first when I googled some odd symptoms that I was experiencing. I noticed links to blogs in some of the signatures, which led me to the blogging community.

I had already started my own blog to stay in touch with family who lived across the country. As I read stories from other people living with diabetes, I began to hear my story too. They were sharing the same joys and struggles that I was experiencing, and their writing helped encourage me to find my voice too.

Suddenly I didn’t feel so alone. I had a community of people I could turn to for advice when I had questions, for a joke when I was feeling annoyed, for encouragement when I was feeling depressed, and for support when I was not sure how to continue living the life that I wanted to live with diabetes.
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“I wake every morning & my legs are still gone. But giving back is therapeutic.”

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The diabetes online community has changed since I found it. There are a variety of things that can be cited as reasons, but that is not what is important here. The community started because people needed to share their stories, because people needed to find support.

Before Bleill came to speak with the group at the summit, he searched the web for diabetes blogs. In this internet generation, he did the same thing that many people newly diagnosed with diabetes will do. They will find our community. It is up to all of us to define what they see.

Will they see a community of people willing to share the real stories of living with diabetes? Will they see a community of people who encourage each other through successes and support each other through challenges? Will they see a community of people who invite new members into the group and celebrate the diversity of voices that we all bring to this shared experience?
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“It’s not about telling MY story. It’s talking about when the bomb went off and the world went black. Everyone has that story.”

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Roche Social Media Summit Disclosure: Roche Diagnostics paid for transportation, meals and my hotel room during the summit. Participants were given a welcome bag with a few sample items and a few well-timed low treatments. I was not paid to attend or write about the summit.

You can read more about my disclosure policy here.

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