Mila Clarke Buckley refused to let her doctor shame her. Instead, she launched a successful website that shares health and self-care advice with other diabetics.

By Corey J. Maloney
April 30, 2020
Advertisement

When Mila Clarke Buckley started feeling run-down in 2016, she did what most new college grads do—she chalked it up to her 60-hour workweek at her job as a social media manager for a non-profit group.

“For more than four months, I was always tired, always hungry, and thirsty no matter how much I was eating and drinking.," Buckley tells Health. "And I felt like I was going to the bathroom every 2o minutes. But my schedule was so crazy, I just assumed it was because of that.”

When the symptoms persisted, Buckley’s husband recommended she see a doctor.

“I went, and they took blood and ran a bunch of tests, all standard stuff. But the next day, the nurse called me and said I needed to come back immediately to talk to the doctor. They don’t do that unless something is wrong, so I was pretty freaked out.”

The doctor informed Buckley she had type 2 diabetes. He also told her that the numbers they were seeing were unheard of in a 26-year-old.

According to the American Diabetes Association, an A1C test is one of the most common ways to identify prediabetes and diagnose diabetes because it calculates a person's average blood sugar level. Anything under 5.7% is considered normal. A 5.7% up to 6.5% indicates a risk of prediabetes.

“A diabetic with managed diabetes would score around 6.5% to 7%. My A1C was 12%,” says Buckley. She adds that her doctor made her feel like she was to blame for her diagnosis, and when she asked questions about what to do now that she had type 2 diabetes, she was given no answers, just lectures.

“The way he spoke to me made me feel stupid. It was bad enough finding out I had a disease. But to be shamed into thinking I had done something to cause it really bothered me,” she says. "Without any knowledge about how to manage her condition, Buckley returned home, determined to find answers.

“Some of the complications associated with numbers like I had were really scary," she recalls. "I was kind of in shock. And after a day of feeling a little lost, I made the decision that I was going to change my life.”

Unfortunately, most of the guidelines for diabetics that she came across applied to people in their fifties and sixties. The lack of resources made her realize she couldn’t be the only young person struggling with a recent type 2 diabetes diagnosis and unsure of what to do next.

So she did what she had always done: she started writing. As a kid, Buckley loved stories. Growing up a first generation American in the rural town of Katy, Texas, she was always reading and would write plays, then act them out in the living room in front of her Jamaican-born parents. “They humored me,” she says. “But I’m sure it was pretty painful at times.”

Now, instead of writing plays, Buckley started a started a blog, where she talked about her experience with type 2 diabetes. “I was just writing about my experience, what I could and couldn’t eat. The process of trying to make sense of my new normal," she recalls. "I wanted to help find my way through by retaking the power over my life, and in turn, help other people.”

A few weeks later, a dinner with her husband ended up as a business development meeting for her blog. “I was feeling a little off, let’s call it cranky,” Buckley explains. “I was probably low, and my husband said I was being ‘hangry.’ I had never heard that expression before and when he told me that it meant someone who was hungry and angry, we both laughed about it for the rest of the night. The more I thought about it, I realized it would be the perfect name for the blog.”

To her surprise, the domain for The Hangry Woman was available, as were all of the social handles. Just like that, she had a brand. “I love that my husband is a part of my business story," she says. "He has been there through all of this with me, all of the ups and downs, and I wouldn’t be as successful living with diabetes without his support.”

It wasn’t long before The Hangry Woman was reaching other people experiencing the same struggles she had. “One day I posted a simple chicken recipe. Nothing fancy. Just something you could make in one-pot that was low-carb,” she recalls.

People started leaving comments about the recipe, and one stuck out. "For many people, diabetes can be isolating. The choices you have to make for your own health aren’t always popular with your family and friends" one woman wrote to Buckley, explaining how her family complained about “eating healthy” when she tried to make sound food choices to manage her diabetes. But they all loved the chicken dish Buckley posted on her blog, the woman wrote.

“My goal from the beginning was to bring everyone in," she says. "You don’t have to feel like an outsider in your own home simply because you have diabetes. It’s not impossible to be a diabetic and eat delicious foods.”

The more she shared with people on her blog, the more success The Hangry Woman found. Still, some people would leave negative or judgmental comments when she posted pictures or recipes of certain foods.

“So often people just see a picture and their immediate reaction is to type ‘You can’t eat that,’ meaning a diabetic can't eat that. And I think that’s been the problem with a lot of the perception around the disease. There’s a stigma," she says. "But if people read the ingredients and the recipe, they would see it was, in fact, diabetes-friendly. But they would rather just jump to the conclusion that they know my disease better than me.”

“I lead with my diabetes," she continues. "I’m not ashamed of it and I’m not hiding it. I’m proud to show people that you don’t have to hide from it. It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom.”

A few months ago, Buckley decided to quit her job to focus on The Hangry Woman and the media company she built around it. But she was nervous, and not just because of the loss of a steady paycheck.

“I was afraid to tell my parents,” she explains. “But my mom was also the person I turned to when I needed advice.” Her mom didn’t mince words. “She told me, ‘This is what you want. I don’t know why you’re second guessing yourself. Just go for it.’”

Since throwing herself fully into The Hangry Woman, Buckley hasn’t looked back. Because of people like her, who embrace their disease as a way to steal its power, the conversation around diabetes is shifting. It's moving away from the shame she was made to feel after her diagnosis and toward a future where people no longer hide having diabetes for fear of judgement.

To get our top stories delivered to your inbox, sign up for the Healthy Living newsletter