I’m still getting my head around the #HealtheVoicesAU conference – there was so much that happened over the event that it’s taking time to write about it all and really nut out what I took away from each session. (Previous posts here and here.)
When I looked at the program, I was probably most excited to hear from Nick Bowditch. I knew nothing about Nick other than what the program told us: He is the only person in Asia Pacific to have worked at Facebook and Twitter; he’s an entrepreneur who helps small businesses here and across the globe shape their online presence. And his personal health story is that Nick is a mental health advocate as someone who has lived with depression for many years.
I knew Nick’s talk would have lots to offer, and title of his talk that had me excited: ‘The Art of Storytelling’.
I’ve written before about why I love story tellers and story-telling. And telling my own story. It’s reading and hearing the stories of others with diabetes that helps put in context my own experiences. Others’ perspectives shape my own and I learn so much from how others deal with the clusterfuck that diabetes can be.
The first slide Nick showed us was of the wonderful Jamaa el-Fna in Marrakech. He told us how he spent an evening captivated in the square. There amongst the snake charmers and the men walking around with monkeys on leads and the little girls selling tissues and the vendors hawking fresh orange juice, were story tellers. And although he couldn’t understand a word they were saying, he was enthralled as they animatedly told their stories.
That’s the beauty and magic of a good story teller – you don’t necessarily need to understand the detail; just getting the gist of the tale is enough.
And then, Nick gave us the snapshot of his story. In a nutshell, he told us this:
It’s easy to make assumptions and think that you know what Nick might be living with if you see that list. But you’d probably be wrong. I know I certainly was. My initial ideas of what life must be like for Nick were turned on their heads as he put into context what each of the above aspects of his life actually means to him:
By turning our assumptions on their head and reframing how he lives with mental health conditions shows us that Nick is not ‘just coping’, he’s living. His words were: ‘These are not my defects. These are my superpowers.’ And it challenges us to reconsider our preconceived ideas. I know that those of us who speak about diabetes often challenge what others think.
The image of T1D being all about kids and needles and blood is not really what it’s about for me. And the far-too-easy idea that T2D is all about older, overweight, inactive people is wrong too.
When we tell our stories – and reframe the narrative – the truth comes out.
Possibly the most powerful thing Nick said was this: ‘Telling the truth is not brave. It’s easy. The hard thing is not being authentic.’ We’d come full circle back to the first speaker of the day who implored us to find authenticity in what we were saying. And it reminded me of why I have always been an advocate of having people with diabetes sharing their stories in any forum where people are talking diabetes: the legitimacy of lived experience cannot be found in any other way than actually having someone tell their story.
I see first-hand the power that having a person with a health condition stand alongside a healthcare professional and put into context the theory and research that they have just presented.
There is an art to storytelling. We do it every day that we tell our story. We do it every time we put words on a page for a blog post, or in a diary or in a letter, ot when we stand up and tell it like it is. Some do it far more elegantly and eloquently, but the things is; it doesn’t matter. As long as we’re authentic.
Thanks to Janssen (the pharma arm of Johnson and Johnson) for covering my travel and accommodation costs to attend the #HealtheVoicesAU conference. There was no expectation by Janssen that I would write about the event and everything expressed here (and on Twitter Facebook and other social feeds) is mine and mine-alone! To read more, check out the conference hashtag, #HealtheVoicesAU, on the socials.