Her Power Suit: Kindness

 

First up on our profile series is Libby Russell, a Brooklyn based New Yorker, who works on the creative team at Peloton as a copywriter, and is the creator of a type 1 diabetes lifestyle and advocacy platform called, “I Have The Sugars”. The Sugars is primarily an Instagram and online boutique that aims to empower young women living with type 1 diabetes to feel proud of and confident in themselves.

Beyond Libby’s infectious kindness and happy energy, her mission to empower women resonated deeply with us (and our mission) and made her the ideal candidate for our first feature. Read Libby’s story below to find out why she started The Sugars, how she juggles a full-time job and entrepreneurship, and why she thinks of kindness as her “power suit.”

Photo-Nov-05,-17-23-07.jpg
Photo-Nov-05,-17-42-29.jpg
 

Why did you start The Sugars?

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 17, a time that for most young women is very...fragile. Simply put, it all came at the time I was trying to figure myself out. I was a promising athlete, a musician, and busy teenager with social pressures and a lot of emotional growing to do, and had no idea what type 1 diabetes even was when I was diagnosed.

The faces of the disease at the time were either young kids, or pharmaceutical ads featuring Wilfred Brimley, his mustache, and his cat. I had a hard time relating to any of the messaging around how to live well with type 1, and couldn’t seem to find a tribe of peers that were anything like me out there. The marketing materials from my doctor’s office felt archaic, and every medical professional I spoke with gave completely unrealistic advice for a 17-year-old girl. So, for 1 year of high school and 4 years of college, I decided to bury my diabetes in a very private place, and just be “normal”. It wasn’t until after college that I realized hiding from something that wasn’t going to go away was a senseless waste of energy.

I decided to try and find some other young women feeling similar to me: lost, and not trying to be a “ra ra let’s raise money for a cure!” type of advocate. I was pretty unsuccessful at my mission, since I had no idea where to even begin looking, so I just did what every 21 year old girl in 2010 does: I created the space myself with a blog. I started a The Sugars on Wordpress and branded it specifically to young women looking for a safe, modern, environment to talk about diabetes. I shared super personal anecdotes and experiences about everything from travel, to my period, to managing stress and relationships all while manually operating a vital organ. Once Instagram became a popular app, I shifted my focus there, and started to gain traction really, really quickly, and before I knew it I had a community of followers almost 16K strong.
 

For those of us without a ton of knowledge on Type I diabetes, can you help us understand what are some of the biggest struggles, or even just inconveniences, you face daily?

Thank you for asking! When most people find out I have diabetes, they just say, “oh! My aunt has diabetes. Do you have to like, stab yourself?” and then I struggle to articulate the gross misjudgment in “lifestyle” that I live. It’s funny, but it’s also really frustrating.

Living with type 1 diabetes is a really big deal! Type 1 is an autoimmune disease that causes your pancreas completely stop creating insulin. Insulin is the hormone in your body that processes and distributes sugar/glucose/carbohydrates throughout your blood stream to all the important places it needs to go. Because I don’t have any natural insulin in my body to react to glucose in my bloodstream, I risk dangerously high and low blood sugars which impacts virtually every decision I make throughout the course of the day.

Type 1 diabetes has nothing to do with weight and lifestyle, and there is no cure. Type 1 diabetics are 100% insulin dependent, and either need to take multiple insulin injections (shots) daily, or wear an insulin pump to provide a slow drip of insulin throughout the day to manage blood sugar. We know what our blood sugar is by 1 of two ways. We either prick our finger and apply it to a test strip that’s inserted into a meter. Or, you wear what’s called a “continuous glucose monitor” which is inserted subcutaneously (yes, it hurts a little) for 10 days and it sends your blood sugar to an app on your phone. It’s a pretty baller technological advancement, if I do say so myself. When blood sugar gets too high it causes long term damage to our nervous system, eyes, and kidneys. When blood sugar gets to low, it’s urgently life threatening. We get shaky, disoriented, and ultimately could have a seizure or worse if it’s not treated right away. To treat a low blood sugar, we drink “fast acting carbs” so either juice, gummy bears, or my favorite, “Annie’s Gummy Bunnies”.

Our job as T1D’s is to walk the fine line in the middle of high and low, 24/7, 365. Food, sleep, stress, exercise, travel, time change, pregnancy, periods, and illness ALL affect our blood sugar, so it can be a pretty tough job some days. The physical challenges are pretty obvious: we have to be prepared for just about everything no matter what we’re doing, but the emotional challenge is where I really like to focus my efforts on The Sugars. A lot of us experience what we call “diabetes burnout”, where we just don’t want to “diabetes” anymore. It is mentally draining to constantly be counting carbs, factoring how much insulin is already in our body when we want to workout or go for a walk or even to the grocery store. People living with type 1 diabetes are 4x more likely to also have anxiety and depression, which I’ve experienced my fair share of. So, with The Sugars I try to talk really openly  about tools and ways to manage feeling overwhelmed, and how we can simplify our lives outside of having diabetes to allot more energy for some of the tougher days.
 

Since starting The Sugars, what's the most inspiring message you've received from someone or the most memorable?

Never lose sight of why you started” is one of my favorite pieces of advice. It can be so easy to become desensitized to my mission when I get carried away with petty things like posting about food partnerships, or hustling to get some promoted posts, or spending hours creating content to “please” people, or even just trying to maintain brand relevance on such a saturated social media platform. With success comes added pressure and stress, and sometimes I can get distracted by the “business” side of it. I have to ground myself with the memories of me sitting in my bedroom creating this blog because of how determined I was to change things for other women just like me, and at the end of the day, it’s not about being a recognizable person out in the wild, it’s about providing a platform that helps young women who have type 1 diabetes feel heard, seen, understood, and inspired to pursue the life of their dreams.
 

How do you balance having a full time job and The Sugars? Any words of wisdom?

Welllllll, I don’t know if I’ve quite mastered this. Has anyone!? If so, call me! There are some very late nights and early mornings where I wonder what I’ve gotten myself into. I over commit myself emotionally to pretty much everything I do, but have a hard time finishing things. One of the tricks I’ve learned over the past years is to say no, and simplify. For example: not washing or blow drying your hair everyday. Who has the time? Dry shampoo is your best friend. As much as I love to shop, I try to stick to a little bit of a “uniform”, I only have a few pair of shoes and jeans, and by eliminating options, I save brain power for other things. I also drink a lot of water, have the same thing for breakfast in the morning, and I sleep. I love to sleep.
 

Can you tell us about a time when someone has inspired or helped you in your life that's made a lasting impressions?

I hate asking for help. It has been my biggest weakness for probably...forever. I don’t see it as a weakness, I just have the hardest time articulating how people can help sometimes. I also get really emotional when people do nice things for me. Yes, acts of service is my love language! I’ll never forget when I moved to NYC 4 years ago and was a trembling little leaf for the first year. Everyone  was so eager to find their “side hustle” and I only had brand new friends so I was trying to seem like I had it together, even though I definitely did not. We were chatting over drinks and I sort of “outed” my goal with The Sugars. I was terrified to share, it was so personal and still such a disorganized baby of an idea, but they believed in me so wholeheartedly that it gave me the boost I needed to really invest myself. One of them designed me a logo, another helped me with some photography, they shared the blog on social, followed me on Instagram, told their friends, and so much more. None of them even have diabetes, but the fact that they were willing to donate some of their time to my idea was just that little ounce of validation that I needed to keep going. I am still so grateful to everyone who was a part of my first year in NYC, it was truly trans-formative.
 

What is your version of a power suit? When do you feel most empowered?

Kindness. I believe more than anything, that what this world needs to make change is people treating other people with respect, dignity and kindness. I find that more doors open for me when I navigate through life by being polite, compassionate, patient and friendly. You never know what kind of battles other people are facing every single day, and to approach all situations with an open mind and benefit of the doubt has also benefited me in return. Also my rose colored blazer. Ugh, I love that jacket
 

When work & life get overwhelming, what is your favorite way to decompress?

Cooking with a fat glass of red wine in hand. Cooking is something I never feel like I have time for until I start pulling a meal together. I get lost while I’m cooking, and time seems to slow down whenever I’m standing over the stove. My fiance is also the best kitchen DJ and blasts soulful classics to help us really get in the zone. I also love watching cooking shows, doing yoga, watching sports and snuggling my giant kitty.
 

Then finally, you're so successful at such a young age; however, we're sure your goals don't stop here -- What's next for you?

That’s a really great question! I’ve also never really thought of myself as “successful at a young age”, that feels really cool to think about! I’m a really big fan of podcasts, and am also intrigued by the idea of public speaking. I would love to try and take The Sugars off of Instagram and onto the road to host some events, pop-ups, or even record an episode or two of a podcast. Another piece of me just wants to slow down, simplify, and focus on one thing a time, but we’re New Yorkers, that would never last! I’d get antsy in 10 minutes. So stay tuned, I guess! Hopefully something magical will happen in the future.  

We want to give a big shout out and thank you to Libby for being our first feature (and guinea pig)!!

Through these profiles we hope you find some inspiration to make a change, go after a dream, or they simply make you smile. :)

Any positive, inspiring, and/or strong female role models you think we should feature?

Send us an email at info@shaynethelabel.com.

 

Xx,

R&S

 
 
rebecca lanmanComment