We watched the movie Looking for Alibrandi with the kidlet the other night. I remember when the book came out. I’d left school, was in first year at Uni, and still trying to work out who the hell I was. My mum, sister and I all read the book and couldn’t stop talking about it.
That book was one of the most important things I read when I was younger, because it resonated so much. The idea of not understanding where I belonged had shaped a lot of my adolescence, and was continuing to confuse me as a young adult. I know I wasn’t the only one feeling like that – many kids of post-war migrants felt the same way. Not that we really spoke about it, which was why Looking for Alibrandi was so important. It put into words the jumbled thoughts in my head.
My parents moved from Italy to Australia in the late 1940s (my dad) and early 1950s (my mum). They both grew up here – all their schooling was in Australian schools. They speak English perfectly without a hint of an Italian accent.
We didn’t speak Italian at home, and weren’t particularly involved in the Melbourne Italian Community. Most of my parents’ friends were not Italian, and I only had very, very few Italian friends. At secondary school, there were a number of Italian girls whose families would have been similar to mine, and yet they weren’t the girls I hung out with.
I wasn’t really sure where I fit. I didn’t belong with the Italian girls, because their parents were all a lot stricter than my kinda strict parents; they all spoke fluent Italian – often to each other – and were more involved in the Italian community. Equally, I didn’t really feel that I belonged with my ‘Aussie’ friends because they totally didn’t get the overprotective Italian father thing I had going on at home. Or my love of Fiats. (Or that we had Nutella in the cupboard at home!)
I was in this kind of middle ground that left me wondering where I belonged. And it is a position in which I find myself again today in the diabetes world.
I am a person with diabetes. But for the last 15 years (so, for all but 3 of my diabetes life) I have worked for a diabetes organisation. It leaves me in a unique position that brings great opportunities and privilege, but also makes me feel like a complete outsider at times.
HCPs are confused by me and sometimes suspicious of my vocal advocacy on engagement and the power of peer support; others with diabetes are sometimes wary because they wonder just how free I am to be open and honest about my diabetes; within diabetes organisations I am seen as someone who has fingers in many, many pies; global advocates are curious about how I manage to write this blog while still being in paid employment with a diabetes organisation. To avoid confusion (frequently my own), I speak differently depending on the audiences I stand before, and adapt my tone and language and stories slightly to suit HCPs, PWDs, industry reps or government people.
But essentially the stories are all the same and it is my voice telling the stories.
Next week, I’ll be in Munich at the European Association for the Science of Diabetes (EASD) Annual meeting. The EASD conference is an interesting one. It is very ‘rats and mice-y’ – the term I use for conferences where I look confused in most of the sessions because I have pretty much no idea what is being said, however understand enough to know that someone, somewhere has managed to cure diabetes. In mice.
Despite it’s very science-focused content which attracts very science-focused folk, I feel very ‘right’ at this particular conference, because there is a wonderful advocate, blogger and consumer satellite program that means the city is full of ‘my people’. And that is why I am there – for those events.
If I feel as though I don’t belong at EASD, it’s because I am the only Australian advocate there. I have travelled the furthest distance, I am jet lagged for most of the time and people have trouble understanding my accent. But the Italian contingent at the advocate events claim me as one of their own (albeit one of their own who doesn’t speak the language), so at least I feel that I fit somewhere.
So at least for next week, I’ll know my place. And it will be alongside some of the most dynamic, clever, passionate and dedicated people I know. My people. They will teach me a lot as I learn what they’ve all been up to since we last met and I’ll clumsily share what’s been going on here in Australia. That’s where you will find me.
(And you’ll also find me sitting down the back of science-y sessions looking confused. And wishing I was a mouse.)