Internet, I’d like you to me meet Grace. Some of you may know her by a little website called Design*Sponge, or by her book, Design*Sponge at Home, or maybe by her other book, In The Company of Women.
But despite many of her high profile “known for’s”, over the last few months, what I’ve come to learn about Grace, is that her energy radiates through everything – even just an email. She comes across as the warmest, most open person. She makes time for people. She is hysterical. And her entrepreneurial spirit is a force to be reckoned with.
Oh, and on top of all that, she’s a Type 1 Diabetic.
Grace’s professional life is one that I’ve become particularly obsessed with. She runs shit. And has always run shit. But she does so in a sweet, kind, and funny way that I’m totally, and utterly inspired by. When she and I spoke the first few times, she would respond to emails within the hour. Come to find out, she’s right in the middle of launching her new book. Like, WHO HAS TIME FOR EMAILS FROM STRANGERS at that time. She’s clearly a very considerate and thoughtful gal, and in my opinion, embodies the essence of what #MeFirstMonday is all about.
Grace has a very unique story. Unlike my last #MeFirstMonday lady boss friend, Liz, Grace has only had diabetes for about 10 months. So she is experiencing the very strange, and at times very painful process of absorbing the new and extremely confusing health challenge into her already very established adult life. She’s gone through roller coaster emotions, both crippling and enlightening, but where she seems to be focusing her energy now, is what makes her so special: acceptance. Here’s a conversation with Grace.
Alright. Hi Grace! Can you describe yourself in a sentence or short blurb for me?
I’m a Virginian-turned-New Yorker who writes and blogs from the Rondout Valley region of New York. I spend most of my days working alongside my wife, who is an amazing cook and cookbook writer, and our three pets.
Sounds insanely peaceful. But you’re a pretty well known lady! For those who aren’t as familiar with your work, what do you do for a living?
Right after college I started a design blog, called Design*Sponge, because I wasn’t happy in my regular day job. I didn’t know blogs could be a “real” job, so after writing for a few print magazines and watching them all (sadly) close, I decided to throw myself into Design*Sponge full time. I used to write mainly about product design, but these days the majority of my blogging is about the people behind those designs- and their homes.
Who knew blogging could be a real job! (…ugh, maybe someday for me.) I absolutely love Design*Sponge, and spend a lot of time on the page that tells me it’s okay to fail, and that when my life feels flipped upside down not to freak the F out. You know the one…
Anyway, enough about me! What do you do for fun outside of your professional life?
We moved from Brooklyn to the Rondout Valley before I was diagnosed with Type 1, but I had already begun feeling a really strong pull to get out of the city and into the fresh air. So these days I try to spend as much of my non-work life walking with our dogs anywhere outside. We live really close to Lake Minnewaska and a few state parks, so when we get the chance I try to spend time there and give my eyes a break from screens. But to be totally honest, I also really (really) love TV. I try not to watch it as often as I used to, but I devour just about every type of TV show, from Modern Family to Narcos.
A girl after my own heart. Puppers + water…do you really need anything else? Even after moving out of Brooklyn, though, both you and your wife have pretty demanding work schedules. What’s one thing you do for yourself to stay sane?
I’ve gotten a lot better at, politely, saying “No” to things. It’s pretty simple, but it took me about 30 years to realize that I had built my world-view around what other people needed from me. I could be exhausted, but if someone emailed me and needed help or advice at midnight, I would stay up to do that.
When I was diagnosed, it felt like the universe tapping me on the shoulder and saying, “Hey, you weren’t listening before, but now I’m going to show you that you HAVE to slow down and take care of yourself.”
Not saying that over-working caused my diabetes, but it does feel like part of a bigger reminder to prioritize myself and my health.
OH MY GOD, YES. IT TAKES SO LONG TO LEARN HOW TO SAY “NO”. (Ask everyone I know). It’s an insanely important thing to figure out that saying declining plans and commitments is actually one of the most positive things you can do for yourself. Period. Aside from learning what you need most from yourself, what do you love the most about yourself?
My resilience. I’ve been through a lot of huge life changes over the past 5 years, and each one has felt like a mountain I wasn’t sure I could climb. But slowly and surely I made it over the top of each one (with a lot of help) and I feel really proud of that. I totally (I mean, completely) disintegrated when I was diagnosed and letting myself have those months to cry, fall apart and grieve were a really important part of moving forward. I’ve realized that letting go, giving in and feeling things is really necessary to being able to bounce back and move on.
Grieving is such a perfect word to use in this context. When you were diagnosed, life as you knew it would be forever changed. I’m such a firm believer in how crucial it is to go through the process of embracing that. Whatever helps you feel able to accept things and move forward, boo yeah, do that!
So now that the word diabetes has been thrown in to this conversation. When were you diagnosed with diabetes?
I was diagnosed in January of this year (2016). I had started feeling sick the previous November but had every doctor in my life tell me I was just “overworked” and “needed to relax”. But I knew something was wrong. After basically forcing my way into a doctor’s appointment, I was tested for everything under the sun (MS, a heart problem, West Nile, Lyme) and they discovered that my A1C was 14. They mis-diagnosed me with Type 2 and a month later, thanks to some encouragement from my friend Sara (whose son, Henry, has Type 1), I asked to be re-tested for the antibodies and found out I actually had Type 1.
I’m still so new to all of this, so right now I would say Type 1 is a big percentage of my daily thoughts and life. Like 50%? But that’s progress for me. January-May it was easily 100%. I read a lot of scary things in books and online (I know, never do that!) and was convinced I was going to die in 10 years and lose my chance to do so many big things I wanted to do, like start a family. But since getting my Dexcom and getting a GREAT endocrinologist, I feel calmer and more in control.
Holy shit, I am so glad you followed your intuition! Sometimes I think we’re our own best doctors, to be honest. Not that we can treat or cure our selves. (Although I’m a big fan of weird at-home remedies…) But we always know best what we feel. I’m so impressed that you pushed so hard to get an answer you knew was right. I guess that’s one advantage of being diagnosed later in your life. You are able to articulate what you were experiencing and you knew in your heart/gut when the problem was being solved or not.
Now that you’re almost a year in, what type of diabetes stuff do you use to manage everything?
Right now my only tech is my Dexcom and an Apple Watch I splurged on to wear during workout classes so I’m not constantly running back to the counter to see if I’m going too low. Figuring out how to balance carbs, insulin and strength training has been a tough challenge so I try to keep an eye on my numbers during class since they tend to swing a lot. It was hard to adjust to wearing something on my body all the time, so I think I’m going to focus on getting used to all of this this year and consider a pump next year.
I got to see Craig Stubing’s (from Beta Cell Podcast) Omnipod last month and I was delightfully surprised that it was much smaller than I thought. I guess I’d only ever seen them on kids before, and they look much bigger on a tiny child’s arm. But for now, I’m super tight with my Luxura Humalog pen 😉
It took me 6 years to commit to a pump, so I commend you for taking your time and feeling out the process. I think you were super smart to go Dexcom first. I’ve learned so much from this thing, and now when I don’t have it on or it’s not working, I’m like UMMM HOW DO I DIABETES?
Getting this diagnosis was a lot for you to process. Like, wind right out of your sails, lay on the floor and cry type of “a lot”. But you seem to be on the up and up! What do you do to keep a healthy relationship with yourself and with your diabetes?
I’m still learning, but I honestly think getting a Dexcom made all the difference. I didn’t feel like I had any understanding of how, when and why my numbers would drop and getting that device to help me predict and prevent anything too scary made a huge difference.
I grew up with an eating disorder and, at first, managing numbers and watching every damn thing I ate was a major trigger. So I went back into therapy to talk through a lot of things and that was really helpful. I remember telling my therapist that I wanted to just have one session one day where it wasn’t all about diabetes. And then one day a few months ago that started happening, and it was a really nice milestone to realize I was starting to reclaim my life and my identity a bit more. Now I try to remember that things will never be perfect and that accepting that some days will just suck is ok.
A big scary trigger, indeed. I feel like the mental health, body image, and relationship with food elements of diabetes are something we keep a little too quiet sometimes. I can’t imagine how hard that was for you, and love that you put your foot down to find a way back to a meaningful conversation that made you feel stronger. Thank the lawwwd above, whoever she is, for therapy, man.
You seem, despite the whole diabetes bomb drop last January, like a totally upbeat, light hearted person. Do you think that getting diagnosed with diabetes has actually taught you any positive lessons?
Man, if this isn’t one huge lesson in patience and staying present, I don’t know what is. I was the world’s most impatient person, always with 10 million things going at once in my brain. But now I literally have no choice but to stop, slow down and pay attention to what’s happening right now.
I still feel like I have something always running in the back of my brain (whoever said diabetes was like getting a full time job you didn’t sign up for- and don’t get paid for- was right on), but it’s helped me realize that I need to cut back on what isn’t important and focus on what is: my health, my family and enjoying my life as much as possible.
I guess they call patience a virtue for a reason. And I couldn’t agree more. It’s helped me slow down and asses then problem solve so much better than I was ever able to before. Especially with Dex! What a pal.
It sounds like you’re really good at surrounding yourself with other warrior-types. Are there any people that you keep in your happiness toolkit that make living with diabetes easier for you? If so, how do they make it better for you?
Honestly? You. (Um wut, I’m crying now, thanks.) We don’t know each other well and have never met in person, but I know how it can be when people feel like they know (at least a part of) you when you share your life online and when I found your Instagram feed I felt like I’d finally found a friend who understood me.
I fell into a really intense group of T1 people on Facebook when I was first diagnosed and their level of scrutiny and intensity wasn’t a positive influence on me. It’s totally ok, that’s their thing, but I needed to have more role models or examples of healthy, happy people living with T1.
You and your feed have been that for me in such a huge way. My wife follows your feed now and is always showing me your Dex jokes. “New site, who dis?”, gets her every time.
Okay, now I’m blushing. I’m so glad we found each other! I ignored everyone with diabetes for almost 8 years because I was so unwilling to consider myself a part of that “community”. Now that I’ve finally given in, the world seems a little more colorful. There is SUCH a cool collection of people to associate myself with now, that have changed my life and outlook significantly. I’m happy you’re no longer feeling frightened by the “intense” types on the interwebs, and instead uplifted by the hooligans like me that are addicted to Instagram.
Now that you’re a pro at this. What ONE piece of advice would you give someone who was just diagnosed, so that they could feel empowered to punch diabetes right in the face?
Find a friend, online or in person, who has T1. They will be your lifeline, your connection to new information and powerful tools and the reminder everyone needs that this is just something we live with. I’ve been fortunate enough to talk to people online like my friends Sara, Anastasia and Caroline who have shared their first-hand experience of living with T1. I can email and text them embarrassing questions and it makes me feel more like ME again.
Also, find a good doctor that makes you feel confident and will stay on top of advances. My heart breaks every time I read something on a FB group about someone’s doctor who knows NOTHING about T1 and leads them astray- or leaves them without any tools to live a normal life.
Having a good doctor on your side makes a world of difference. I had to pretty pushy and went through 3 doctors before I found mine and I’m so glad I overlooked my worries of appearing “difficult” to get where I needed to be.
That’s amazing advice. Where were you 12 years ago when I was a pouty teenager getting this news?!
As someone who lived most of their life without diabetes, your perspective has likely shifted pretty significantly. If you could give a message to the people in this world who don’t have diabetes, what would you want them to learn now that you’re on the other side of it?
That, like any part of a person’s identity, this is something that is better to ask about and listen to- not assume you know or understand. If there’s one thing I’ve heard universally from people I’ve met with T1, it’s how frustrating it can be to be blamed for somehow causing our disease or having told fake cures shoved down our throats. So basically, please stop telling us you know about a pill/treatment/herb that will “cure” us.
Preach. Like, NO MORE CINNAMON SUGGESTIONS PLEASE.
So, back to Design*Sponge. You’re a brilliant writer, design lover, creator, and entrepreneur…if there’s one thing you could do to rebrand diabetes and market it differently to the world, how would you do it?
How much time do you have? (Muahaha, seriously….) For starters, some cuter gear cases would be great. Myabetic has some great designs, especially if you’re someone who wears a purse, but I’d love to see some sleeker more gender-neutral styled cases with patterns, different materials or textures. I’d of course probably get blood on some cool suede kit and ruin it, but I wouldn’t mind having the option to have something a little more design forward. I keep wishing Uniqlo or some brand that does cool modern neutrals would tackle diabetes equipment. (Love that.)
Also, maybe cooler patterns and colors for Grif Grips? I usually need to tape things up during my 2nd week of my Dexcom sensor, and while I loved the hot pink at first, I wouldn’t mind something in that felt more fun, without being made for kids. Kids have some awesome options, but I’m always looking for something a little more design forward.
That has been my shtick for years. Everything felt like it was for kiddos, and when it was marketed for adults, it was so clinical I couldn’t stand it. I’m so grateful for Myabetic and the companies that are trying with all their might to make it work as a fashion-forward brand for these things, but I totally understand the limitations. Some day we won’t even need diabetes stuff and none of this will even matter anymore, right?!
So there you have it, folks. The one and only Grace Bonney of Design*Sponge. Her ability to stay true to the person she’s worked so hard to create after having this bullsh*t diagnosis thrown her way is amazing. Grace’s story is a grounding reminder that a career path doesn’t have to be a straight road, that relationships are the most important thing we have, and that allowing ourselves to grieve completely in the face of change is the only way we’ll ever save up the strength to push forward. Thank you so much for being a part of #MeFirstMonday!
Be sure to check out Grace’s new and INSANELY COOL book, In The Company Of Women, and be on the lookout for her signing events around the country!
- Oct 5: New York, NY (Tickets and details here!)
- Oct 6: Boston, MA (Tickets and details here!)
- Oct 7: Austin, TX (Tickets and details here!)
- Oct 13: Atlanta, GA (Tickets and details here!)
- October 16: Chicago, IL (Tickets and details here!)
- Oct 17: Los Angeles, CA (Tickets and Details here!)
- Oct 18: Seattle, WA (Tickets and details here)
- Oct 22: Rhinecliff, NY (Tickets and details here!)
- Oct 25: Washington, D.C. (Tickets and details here!)
- Oct 27: San Francisco, CA (Tickets and details here!)
- Oct 28: Marin, CA (Tickets and details here!)
- November 10: Philadelphia, PA (Tickets and details here!)