Andrew Young is a 38-year-old UC Berkeley-educated engineer and experienced finance expert. Meeting him, he looks like the ultimate buttoned-up, left-brained, all-business-and-no-fuzzy-stuff type. WRONG. He’s become so passionate about the psychological struggle of dealing with diabetes, in fact, that he’s devoted his professional and personal life to making an impact where help was sorely overdue, he believes.
I was lucky to have a virtual chat with him this week:
Andrew, what made you decide to launch a blog focusing on motivation and self-discipline in diabetes, and start networking in the community?
My grandmother, Kate Payne, was the inspiration for my blog, Mind Over Mellitus. She was my original role model for insulin-dependent diabetes and lived over 50 years with it to the age of 93, in large part because of her discipline and consistency in diabetes self-care.
Earlier this year, my wife and I spoke with other attendees at a Taking Control of Your Diabetes (TCOYD) conference and were amazed at how many remarked on their internal struggles — there’s a gap between what we know we need to do to handle diabetes, and what we actually do to take care of it. In my own small experience, that gap shrinks with dedication to personal motivation, self-discipline, and good habits.
I struggle with personal motivation and discipline every day, but they have also brought me some of my greatest blessings.
So is it essentially “The Little Gold Book of Yes!” for people with diabetes? Or something with more nuts and bolts suggestions for managing blood sugars?
My blog is more about the nuts and bolts of managing that internal dialog that steers us away from healthy choices. But Mind Over Mellitus is evolving, and I am still trying to find my voice.
For me it is a therapeutic expression of myself. It raises my consciousness of what I’m doing and thinking. An underlying message, however, is that our will is a universal muscle. We are “blessed” with many opportunities to strengthen it. We do so when we follow through on our self-care, regardless of our constraints or circumstances.
And you also have a diabetes-related day job?
Yes, but this is new. Since July 2008, I am the VP of Marketing for DiabetesinControl.com (a site for medical professionals). Our weekly newsletter goes out to about 140,000 subscribers who treat diabetes. It draws from over 200 journals, research studies, and periodicals every week to help busy clinicians stay on top of the latest. I would also recommend it to any curious, motivated person with diabetes.
Backing up for a minute: You’re a LADA like me, correct? What’s your diagnosis story?
I admit, I’m a “Juvenile diabetic” at times (ask my wife)…
At age 26, in 1996, I noticed my vision had blurred and I was exhausted on my morning runs. The ophthalmologist at George Washington University looked at my retinas, assured me I did NOT have diabetes, and sent me on my way with a prescription for eyeglasses.
At home I discovered I had lost 15 pounds I couldn’t afford to lose. Was it cancer, diabetes, something else? Luckily I persisted, and turned to an endo for a second opinion. The next thing I knew, a nurse was prompting me to stick needles where they don’t belong. She gave me an armful of pamphlets about all the ways diabetes will kill or maim me, and sent me on my not-so-merry-way again. “Don’t eat anything with sugar or fat in it until you see a dietician!,” my new endocrinologist called out as I left the office.
What makes you an expert on “the inner game of diabetes”? Were you a psychology major or counselor in the past?
I wish I were an expert — this subject fascinates me. I identify with it. I value it, and it creates results for me. It got me into and through engineering school at UC Berkeley. It helped me achieve my career goals, and brought me my dream job with the World Bank, working in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and South Asia. It is the basis of my Zen meditation practice.
I believe we can all reach for and achieve better results, even when everyone around us is telling us to play small. I am convinced that we all have deep and valuable insights to share and contribute. I hope anyone who reads Mind Over Mellitus will share theirs.
What’s your current diabetes regimen? Are you a pumper? Do you have any “co-morbidities” like thyroid disease or celiac as well?
I am on what I would call a low-insulin diet. I limit my carbs to reduce the bigger ups and downs that come from bigger insulin doses and bigger errors. My kidney damage reversed completely when I took to this diet, prescribed by Dr. Richard Bernstein.
I switched back to Regular from the fast-acting insulins when I chopped down my carbs. I take Detemir for basal. My thyroid function became lower with diabetes, so I tank up on that with Liothyronine.
I exercise daily or do Tai Chi. This is one of my no-exceptions policies. Right now I am training for a 225 mile mountain biking trip from Teluride, Colorado to Moab, Utah.
What plagues you personally the most about living with diabetes?
Night time hypoglycemia is probably the worst. I plan to give the continuous glucose management technology another whirl now, after recovering from that big disappointment with the GlucoWatch Biographer early this decade…
What do you hope to accomplish through your blog and your work?
Our strength of will allows us to keep promises when they’re inconvenient, to go the extra mile in order to make a difference for someone, or hold back when impatience prompts words we may regret. In short, through awareness and strength of will we become better partners, friends, co-workers, and citizens, and live healthier lives with diabetes. That is what my little blog aspires to.
I’d also like to mention a project I’m working on and am *very* excited about, a diabetes-friendly dating site, Your Best Sugar. As a formerly single diabetic I had my share of dating adventures, disasters, and humorous indignities with non-diabetics.
I dearly wished to be understood. I wanted so much to stop explaining – Why are you doing that? Can you eat that? Why are you grumpy? Why doesn’t my diabetic grandfather do that? I longed for diabetes to seem natural. It dawned on me to ask my endocrinologist, Dr. Anne Peters, if she knew any single, female diabetics I could meet…
That’s the story behind Your Best Sugar. Like you with your husband, I teamed up with my wife, Joanne. She’s a web designer, and along with our friend, Eric, a terrific software guy, we will launch www.yourbestsugar.com on November 14th! I really hope we can help people with diabetes find their lifelong love. (Eric met his fiancée online…)
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Thanks a million, Andrew. It’s so exciting to see the D-dating idea coming to life. btw, Andrew wrote to me: “Amy, thanks so much for having me as your guest. Your blog is an inspiration!” That means a lot coming from a guy who’s made inspiration his treatment of choice.