On Monday and Tuesday of this week, I attended and facilitated Abbott Diabetes Care’s #Dx2Melbourne event which brought together eleven Australian diabetes bloggers. (All my disclosures can be found at the end of this post.)

(Just a recap – the DX (or Diabetes Exchange) series of events have now been run about half a dozen times. Other than #DX2Sydney and this year’s Melbourne events, the others have been held in hard-to-take cities including Stockholm, Berlin and Lisbon and have been attended by bloggers from the UK and Europe.)

#Dx2Melbourne reunited most of the bloggers who attended last year’s event, with some new faces thrown in for good measure. I was introduced to Alana Hearn for the first time, finally got to meet diabetes yoga guru Rachel Zinman, and caught up with Helen Edwards. (All the links to the blogs of the ‘repeat offenders’ who attended #D2Sydney can be found on this post.)

Some may believe that I am naïve in saying this, but the event is not about product. In fact, apart from a 45-minute presentation – the session that kicked off the two days – there was no other discussion about Libre or any other diabetes product unless it was specifically raised by one of the bloggers. Abbott did not have a new product to push; Libre has been out for over 12 months now in Australia.

(I am not, however, naïve enough to think that events like this are not part of the health industry’s 21st century marketing strategy. But, as I said last year when responding to a comment on my blog about this, this is the 21st century marketing. And I’m glad that consumers have a place in this strategy, because it would be far worse if industry was continuing with 20th century marketing strategies which completely excluded people with diabetes, and did not offer us any opportunity to directly engage and work with industry. Any device company NOT doing this is falling way behind and needs to catch up.)

As the Abbott team stated in their welcome, the idea of the DX events is to continue their commitment to bring together people living with diabetes to share ideas. And for Abbott to get an idea of what it is that is important to people with diabetes and what makes us tick – albeit a very select and privileged sample of advocates.

With this in mind, for me, the most valuable part of the event was the discussions that were completely driven by the bloggers. In an open session where we were exploring ‘why we blog’, I listened carefully as everyone articulated their reasons for going online and sharing their stories with strangers.

Reasons varied – some do it because they simply want to tell their story, some because they love to write, some have specific issues within diabetes they want to open up for discussion, some see it as an advocacy platform. What we don’t hear – ever – is anyone saying ‘Because I want to make money doing it’.  I can be all evangelical about it and say it’s because we’re a choir of angels, but mostly I think it’s because we’re smart enough to know the limitations of what it is that we do, as well as understanding the strength is in connecting, not money-making.

We also considered the shortfalls of having an online presence.

I’m an over-sharer and I know that there is a lot I write that many others wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing – and some people have told me that it is sometimes difficult to read. I also write about issues that are of no real concern to others, and they are more than happy to let me know that I’m wasting my time and energy on such irrelevant (language) matters. I also know that as soon as I put something out there, I am opening myself up for comment – both positive and not-so-positive. We had a discussion about how we manage unwanted attention and, in the most extreme cases, trolling.

I have never regretted anything I have written or shared, and have never taken anything down because I’ve felt it was too personal. But I have had some very unwelcome and sometimes nasty comments sent my way.

I found this a really useful, but somewhat challenging, discussion. I have written about some very personal experiences, probably most notably, pregnancy loss. I’ve also written a lot about how diabetes impacts my mental health. These are two topics that are frequently hidden away, surrounded by shame and secrecy – precisely the reason that I am committed to writing about them.

However, the times I’ve been trolled – and fortunately, that hasn’t been often – it has been when I’ve shared very personal stories. They’ve been the times where I have found myself at my most vulnerable, and being so exposed makes any sort of negativity harrowing.

It was reassuring to discuss – and remind each other – that even though we are voluntarily putting ourselves online, we are not inviting people to be nasty and disrespectful. Online is real life, despite what some people may think. This is the space where many of us convene to work together, support each other and share information; it’s not a place for personal attacks.

I left the event on Tuesday feeling utterly exhausted, but also filled to the brim – a feeling that only comes after spending a solid period of time with others treading the blogging and advocacy boards. I was reminded of the similarities as well as the differences we experience living with diabetes. I felt buoyed by the various issues that draw our attention. I felt desperate at the access issues I still hear about – both here in Australia and overseas. But most of all I felt part of something that is much bigger than me, much bigger than my blog and much more powerful that anything I can do on my own.


DISCLOSURES

Abbott Diabetes Care covered all my costs to attend #Dx2Melbourne, and provided all attendees with two FreeStyle Libre sensors and, if requested, a scanner. There was no expectation from Abbott that I would write about the event or any of their products, and everything I do write about it is my opinion, in my own words, and in no way reflects those of Abbott – or anyone else, for that matter.

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