We recently shared the story of Mitchell Schare, who was featured in Dr. Beverly Adler’s book, “MY SWEET LIFE: Successful Men with Diabetes.” Will Ryan, aka The Joyful Diabetic, was also included in Dr. Bev’s book, and today we’d like to share his story with you.
As for many, Will’s type 2 diabetes diagnosis came as a shock. “In 1979 I was 39 years old, and thought I was in good health,” he said. “I didn’t even have a doctor at the time. So when I started experiencing excessive thirst and frequent urination, I went to see my son’s pediatrician. He gave me a traditional blood sugar test and then asked me to wait in the waiting room, which was filled with mothers and children. Before long, he popped his head out of the door, made eye contact and hollered out that I had diabetes. I was mortified and wanted to disappear because it was very embarrassing. I went right into denial, hoping he had made a big mistake and maybe it’d go away.”
After a year, Will found a new doctor who encouraged him to start taking care of himself. “I was 41 and the doctor looked at me and told me I might make it to age 50,” he said. “That was a real turning point for me. His advice and counsel made a lot of sense and that’s when I actually began the road to taking responsibility and ownership for my condition.”
Taking the doctor’s advice to heart, Will soon started making his health a priority. “For the first time in my life, I changed my lifestyle and became very involved in managing my health,” he said. “I feel I’m in partnership with my diabetes. My pancreas is not doing its job anymore, so we’re partners, me and my pancreas. I test my blood sugar six to eight times a day. I watch the carbohydrates I consume. The joyful part of it is that once I started to achieve what I call self-care mastery, I recognized over and over how important it is for me to be seriously engaged in my own health.”
Will also joined a Road Runners club and is an avid hiker. “To me, exercise is not a ‘nice to have;’ it’s mandatory,” he said. “Depending on the season, I walk or hike, much to the amazement of some people because at 73, I’m not supposed to do these things. But I do them anyway.”
Will refers to himself as “The Joyful Diabetic” because of how he believes his attitude has affected his health. “I realized that my attitude can have an enormous impact on how successful I am in my own management,” he said. “I’m an instrumental part of this. That makes me feel really good and I feel joy. Every day I wake up breathing, that’s a good day.”
Over time, Will has also learned more about diabetes, so much so that he has felt motivated in the last few years to help others who live with diabetes. “That’s why I started my blog and also speak professionally about diabetes,” he said. “I’ll go anywhere, anytime to meet with a group of people who live with diabetes to offer what I can to help them.”
In his speaking sessions, Will sometimes likens managing one’s diabetes to driving a car. “When someone says they don’t test their blood sugar, I ask them if they would be willing to join me in an experiment. I tell them I’m going to blindfold them and then I’ll guide them as we walk out to the parking lot. We’ll get in their car and I’ll hang on while they drive their car blindfolded. Everybody starts to laugh. Obviously, none of us would ever do that, so then I ask them why is it okay to blindfold yourself in terms of your diabetes?”
Will’s wife plays an important role in helping him stay on track. “Susanna is a classic ‘type 3,’ as we call them,” he said. “She’s not a nag. She’s like my alter ego who reminds me to take care of myself. When things start to go haywire sugar-wise, she’s right there with me. For example, if we’re going out on a walk, she’ll ask me if I’ve tested and if I have sugar with me. It helps to have more than one brain working on it. She’s my confidante and my coach and that gives me a level of security that I wouldn’t have otherwise.”
Our thanks to Will for sharing his story, insights and joy. His positive attitude is infectious and he makes a point of sharing it with others. How do you find and share joy in your diabetes journey? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.
Head of Patient Insights, Sanofi US Diabetes
Disclosure: Will Ryan received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.