Guyanese-American Tracy Barry-Austin, a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), who was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes in 1998, says her experience in dealing with the disease has helped her to solidify her “want to work with people and help them.”
“Growing up with diabetes helped me see the need for both children and adults to have help talking through their troubles — not only if they have a chronic illness, but everyday troubles that impact their daily lives.” Barry-Austin, 38, who was born in Orange, NJ but whose father was born in Guyana, told Caribbean Life exclusively over the weekend.
“Diabetes has challenged me daily since my diagnosis, but I have never let it defeat me,” added Barry-Austin, who currently resides in West Orange, NJ. “If anything, it has only made me stronger.”
Her dad, Clarence Barry-Austin, and her mom, Carol Barry-Austin, a German native, currently reside in South Orange, NJ. The couple met in New York, Barry-Austin said. A large number of Guyanese nationals and Guyanese-Americans reside in the Oranges, NJ, as well as in Irvington, NJ.
Barry-Austin disclosed that her mom has Type 2 Diabetes and her late grandmother, Joan Barry-Austin, her father’s mother, also had Type 2 Diabetes.
One who has Type I Diabetes is insulin-dependent; whereas one who has Type 2 Diabetes is not insulin-dependent.
“’You have Type 1 Diabetes’. Not something you hear every day, huh, but those were the words that changed my life forever,” said Barry-Austin, adding that, on Mar. 31, 1998, she was lying in a hospital bed, in Livingston, NJ, when doctors told her and her parents that her pancreas had stopped functioning and that she was no longer producing insulin.
“I was so zoned out. Diabetes? How is that possible? Why me?” she asked then. “I remember it like it was yesterday. It was around the end of January/beginning of February of 1998, and I was in the eighth grade.
“During that time, I was living life as any normal eighth grader, except I seemed to be getting progressively sicker and sicker,” Barry-Austin continued. “I learned a lot during that time, and I think it has helped me become the person I am today.”
As a licensed clinical social worker, Barry-Austin said she works full-time in a school in East Orange, NJ as a school social worker and part-time in private practice, providing therapy for children and adults.
In addition to her work, Barry-Austin said she is a mother of “an amazing daughter,” Ava Anneliese, who will be two-years-old in January.
“Having my daughter, while also dealing with diabetes, was a challenge,” she said. “But again, it is something that taught me how strong I am and how important it is to take care of yourself.
“I wasn’t just doing it for me, but also for this precious gift I had coming,” she added. “My main goal was to keep both myself and her healthy. I continue with this goal as she grows older, as I want to live a long and healthy life with her.
“While she does not suffer from any chronic illnesses, I hope I am a good role model, as someone who has been challenged and fought through such an experience,” Barry-Austin continued. “I strive every day to make her proud.”
So, what is a typical day living with diabetes looks like for Barry-Austin?
“I am lucky enough to be able to have a continuous glucose monitor [CGM] and an insulin pump to make my everyday management of diabetes easier,” she said. “I no longer have to finger prick, because the CGM monitors my sugar and communicates that information to my pump.
“My pump then delivers insulin to me whenever my CGM alerts that it is needed or when I input information for when I am eating,” she added, stating that diabetes technology is “constantly changing, and I am incredibly lucky to be able to have the technology I have today.”
Though technology makes life easier for Barry-Austin, she said she still has to be “conscious” of what she eats and how she balances that with how active she is on a daily basis.
“Diabetes has its ups and downs,” she said. “Some days, I think it’s too much to handle; others, I forget I even have it.
“I personally think diabetes has helped me grow as a person and continue to enjoy educating myself and others on the importance of making your health a priority by keeping up with annual exams, paying attention to even the smallest signs, and taking action when needed,” she added.
“I have many labels — mother, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, LCSW, therapist, etc.,” Barry-Austin continued. “I, however, do not let diabetes label me. I am just all those things, and more, living with diabetes. It may not be the easiest feat, but it has never been anything I let take over me. And I have to pat myself on the back because I think I’m doing a pretty good job.”