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Laura Pavlakovich can't remember her life without type 1 diabetes.
”I never get a day off from diabetes. For the rest of my life. Every single day, it will always be with me,” she says. “Some days are better than others. But even with the best technology and care, I still get frustrated and overwhelmed.” The emotional impact of diabetes is as real as the physical one.
Diagnosed at the age of five, Pavlakovich is acutely aware of the physical and emotional tolls the condition plays on the human body and psyche, a reality that is infinitely more difficult for those without adequate resources and support.
For years, Pavlakovich kept conversations about her condition siloed within the endocrinologist’s office, private family settings, and select friends. Although never physically alone in her diabetes journey, something was missing: a type 1 diabetes community.
”Diabetes has always been a part of me, like the color of my eyes, so it felt odd to talk about it publicly,” she says. “Instead, I relied on guidance from my care team and unwavering love from family members. Their support was invaluable. It still is. But they never fully understand. They can’t. They don’t have diabetes.”
Creating a Type 1 Diabetes Community
In 2016, Pavlakovich started an Instagram account, @YoureJustMyType1, and began traveling the country, camera in hand, in search of others living with the same condition. What began as a collection of photographs and stories that puts faces to an invisible condition quickly became a thriving type 1 diabetes community as the people featured on the account reached out to one another. (To learn about another young woman who’s bringing people with diabetes together online, check out our article, “How One Woman Is Carving Out a Community for LGBTQIA+ People with Diabetes.”)
Relationships formed. New friends shared their daily struggles and victories, encouraging one another through the highs and lows of diabetes. There were meetups, supply donations, and cross-cultural connections.
Today, You’re Just My Type (YJMT) is an incorporated 501(c)(3) non-profit determined to break down stigma, spread awareness, and build meaningful connections between people living with type 1 diabetes worldwide.
Paying It Forward to the Next Generation
Pavlakovich’s next step in expanding the type 1 diabetes community she created focuses on supporting the next generation.
On September 18, 2021, she hosted the inaugural YJMT Girls' Retreat in Santa Monica, CA, focused on female empowerment, mental health, and emotional well-being. A group of girls with type 1 diabetes (T1D), ages 12 to 17, attended a full day of community-building activities, mentorship sessions, and creative workshops led by an all-female team. Every staff member—mental health professionals, art therapists, nutritionists, yoga instructors, and performers—was also living with type 1 diabetes.
YJMT Girls' Retreats are complimentary for all attendees, ensuring these events are accessible for young girls from households with low or moderate incomes.
Why? Because income can significantly impact quality of life (QOL) and blood glucose control among T1D youth. For example, research shows that adolescents in low- and moderate-income families report higher A1C, greater perceived stress, and more depressive symptoms than those from high-income families. Many of these individuals also experience diabetes stigma, which disproportionately affects those with a higher BMI, higher A1C, and poorer self-reported blood glucose control.
"I am well aware of the kinds of challenges faced by young people living in a society that rarely understands how taxing it is to live with type 1 diabetes—a condition that requires constant attention and resources,” says Pavlakovich. “Unfortunately, the emotional and psychological toll of diabetes is most pronounced among those lacking adequate access to support and accurate information. I want the YJMT Girls' Retreat to help change that by empowering one girl at a time."
Moving forward, Pavlakovich hopes to host The YJMT Girls' Retreat quarterly and continue building a type 1 diabetes community that uplifts, supports, and connects people around the world.
To learn more, visit yourejustmytype.com.