Kerri Sparling's Diabetes Book on Finding Balance

If you're looking for a balanced and unbiased review on this particular book, you're not going to find it here.

Nope, sorry. There's just no way to distance myself from the fact that Kerri Sparling is not only a good friend, but someone I've had the privilege of reading for many years now through her blog Six Until Me.

We in the DOC (diabetes online community) know and love her as an eloquent and funny blogger, one of the first to launch her site in 2005, who was pivotal in connecting our voices and bringing us together as a community. Of course, aside from her biggest role as a proud mom to a near 4-year-old, we also know Kerri as a diabetes advocate who travels the world speaking at conferences and events and continually being a great voice in our D-Community.

And now we can add diabetes book author to the list!

Her first-ever book, "Balancing Diabetes: Conversations About Finding Happiness and Living Well," is now available online and is hitting book shelves this week.

I've heard some say that Balancing Diabetes is basically a book-version of her blog... so naturally I couldn't wait to get my hands on this new 200-page volume, described this way on the book jacket:

In Balancing Diabetes, diabetes online community blogger Kerri Sparling compiles strategies used by people with diabetes and their caregivers to bring that elusive balance into their lives. Whether adult or child, type 1 or type 2, spouse or caregiver, male or female, people in the diabetes world will find themselves in this book and be inspired by the commonality of that continuing search for balance.

And the book does not disappoint!

Just like all of Kerri's writing, I found that Balancing Diabetes captured me; her words paint a picture, draw you in, make you smile, and do what all good story-telling is supposed to: "Show, don't tell."  You can hear her voice from the pages (or computer screen) just as if she were there talking to you in person.

The book delivers on the extended title reference to "conversation" -- because Kerri brings in other voices to not only address the particular subject matter of the chapter at hand, but for her to actually build off of and converse with. Many books of course feature vignettes of community voices to help emphasize points, but Kerri does this in a way that feels like she's actually conversing with those voices. In other words, they're not just pop-out boxes of content that could be easily removed; they're weaved into the narrative and are just as integral as what Kerri is writing from her own perspective. Everything feels connected, as the myriad voices blend to tell a compelling story.

Yes, clearly I am a fan, who went into the reading of this book with a bias that I was going to like it. I'm a longtime follower of Kerri's, as she was the first diabetes blogger I'd ever found back in 2005. She's now in her 28th year of living with type 1, diagnosed at age six in 1986, just a couple of years after I was. Her writing spoke to me from the start, before I eventually connected with others writing about diabetes online (including Amy here at the 'Mine), and I've always appreciated her ability to write so magically. I compare her to my favorite newspaper columnists and authors who always make me grateful to have the privilege of reading them. In fact, she's such a gifted writer, it makes one wonder what took her so long to get around to writing a book? ;)

Chatting with her on the phone the other day, Kerri told me that she'd always wanted to write a book, ever since she was a little girl. Of course, finding a topic was always the question, but as her diabetes blogging and writing progressed, the topic seemed clear. And then she was contacted by Spry Publishing about the possibility, and after some initial hesitation, everything just kind of fell into place.

"My thought was that writing my blog takes a lot of time, and I wondered if there was really anything new to say after writing a blog for almost 10 years," she said. "But the catalyst was being asked, and having the opportunity to re-connect with why I'd started writing a blog. To provide those perspectives that others might be looking for, so that they feel less alone and more empowered. I learn something new from this mess everyday, and that may be a common theme for many of us. And it connects us."

And truly, that point about community connections is the most striking aspect of this book -- the way it uses the D-Community's collective voice to talk about all the phases of life with diabetes. In fact, Kerri brought a total of 39 voices together in this book aside from her own -- ranging from fellow bloggers and advocates with type 1 and type 2, parents, spouses, siblings, doctors, old roommates and friends, and experts like the ADA's legal advocacy chief and some fellow PWDs who are actually physicians.

Reading it, you really feel like you're a part of a Diabetes Community conversation between friends.

That is what makes this book different, to me. The chapters run through all the familiar D-topics like growing up with diabetes, exercising, sibling relationships, parenting with diabetes, work and travel, school and friendships, going off to college, diabetes advocacy, and the fear of complications. So you might think it's just another "how-to" book, yet that's anything but the case. The inclusion of so many voices, all tied together by Kerri's unique writing style, makes this stand out as a grab bag of wonderfully different perspectives, both positive and negative.

It's real and true, with the same appeal of blogs that serve up the personal perspectives on diabetes that so many of us crave -- not the horror stories we get so often from physicians, mainstream media or the general public that doesn't "get it" when it comes to life with diabetes.

From the very first chapter aimed at the newly diagnosed, titled "Making Sense of the New Normal," it's clear that Kerri isn't offering a "how to" guide here and that there's no "silver bullet" for living ideally with diabetes.

"Instinctively, you'd think there isn't a shred of balance to be found in focusing... on a disease. Shouldn't a person living with a chronic illness ignore it at all costs, save for the necessary medical management required to stay alive? Doesn't focusing on it too much make it overwhelming -- a dominating factor? What grace and balance can be achieved from bringing diabetes into the 'other' parts of your life -- your hobbies, your job, or even the friendships you forge? You'd be surprised. I am constantly surprised," Kerri writes.

In an early chapter about friendships and diabetes, Kerri recounts a heart-breaking story about how an elementary school classmate left a note in her locker. At first, little Kerri was so excited to get a note. But we soon learn that the note starts out with "Dear Kerri, The Dirty Diabetic" and goes downhill from there. My jaw dropped, reading this, and tears welled up as I shook my head in disbelief about how cruel kids can sometimes be to each other.

But from there, you hear from other friends, college roommates, and people in Kerri's life through the years and other PWDs in much more positive tones. The whole book is packed with emotion, and it's an understatement to say I felt a range of them going through the chapters.

One of the most surprising chapters was about parenting with diabetes and preparing for pregnancy, a chapter that I thought wouldn't be the least interesting to me because: A) I'm a guy; and B) My wife and I don't yet have kids. But aside from sharing her own story, Kerri brings in many other female and male voices, including Harry Thompson and Sean Oser who talk about the perspective of preparing for parenthood as a man with type 1.  Plus fellow early D-blogger Scott Johnson and others talk about their experiences in navigating the whole "What If" line of thinking when it comes to having kids, i.e. worrying about a future diagnosis for your children. I found myself nodding, and even learning new things about myself and how I felt about such sensitive issues.

When I reached Kerri's final chapter, I found myself a little bummed -- that the book-reading experience was coming to a close.

She "Wow'd" me in these last pages, talking about the delicate balance between scare tactics and a reasonable dose of healthy fear, and how those play into diabetes management. And she ends with a reassertion that this is all a journey, and community perspective and support is one of the most valuable things.

"Twenty seven years with type 1 is a good chunk of time, but I'm not done yet," Kerri writes. "Diabetes is always there, but it's not me. It will never, ever be the core of me. Not if I have it for 100 years. I remain in pursuit of balance, and always moving forward."

And so, IMHO, Kerri's book is totally worth a buy.

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Originally published on DiabetesMine


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