I am always interested in seeing the sorts of campaigns other health organisations come up with – especially when trying to adequately express to people what it is like to actually live with whatever condition they represent.
In the diabetes world, we often focus on the debilitating complications when trying to communicate with the broader community, but that is really only one aspect of diabetes. There is so much more that we could talk about – the relentlessness of the condition, the fear we may feel, how our mental health and diabetes are intrinsically linked, the relationship we have with food and the increased rate of eating disorders, how diabetes impacts those around us. So, so much.
But what doesn’t get done all that well, is trying to actually explain the physiological side of living with diabetes. Our invisible illness makes it difficult to point to a bruised arm or a bandaged head to ‘show where we hurt’.
Diabetes is not alone here. Multiple sclerosis is another condition that is complex and has little community understanding. I know I for one have no idea about what living with this particular autoimmune condition would be like. So I was really interested to see how the campaign from MS Australia, which uses an interesting analogy to explain what life with MS, is all about. Have a look at This Bike Has MS:
Now I don’t live with MS, so I can’t say if this is in any way an accurate representation of the physical issues which impact on day-to-day life. Does it provide a true portrayal of some of the problems faced by people living with MS?
I know that I was quite scathing a few years ago when describing what I considered to be a well-meaning, but pretty useless simulation of a hypo. Perhaps people living with MS are echoing my criticism of the hypo simulator, claiming that this ad really doesn’t explain much. There may be ways to try to demonstrate – or even allow someone to experience – some of the physical aspects of a health condition. But they only go a little way to explaining the real life, day-to-day, emotional and psychological pieces that make up chronic health conditions.
But however flawed these attempts may be, I still think that they are important, because they go some way to explaining – or at least illustrating – the condition in a physical way. Getting on that bike will give someone a sense of the physical side of MS, just like the hypo simulator demonstrated some of the physical symptoms that accompany a low.
And any efforts that results in less stigma, more compassion and better understanding of why we need to continually lobby and advocate for more – for better – is a good thing.