There were some really important and impactful sessions in the Living with Diabetes stream at #IDF2017 in December last year, but perhaps one of the most significant was the final session. Chaired by Professor Jane Speight, the session was titled ‘Diabetes and mental health: distress, diabulimia and emotional wellbeing’.

Talk about finishing with something to get people thinking and talking!

Bill Polonsky kicked off the session with a talk about how emotional wellbeing is affected by diabetes, and offered some ideas for addressing these issues.

(Can I just say what a stroke of genius it was to have Jane Speight and Bill Polonsky on stage together?! To have two champions of diabetes behavioural psychology in one place was definitely a highpoint of the Congress, and anyone who chose to go to a different session missed out. Big time! … Credit where credit is due to us all, Manny, Mary, Hakeem and Kelly!)

The session ended with Erika Backhoff from Mexico who gave an outstanding presentation on diabetes distress and the importance of appropriate training and understanding of the difference between diabetes-related distress and depression.

But for me, the highlight of the session – and one of the highlights of the entire stream – was Georgie Peters speaking about diabetes-related eating disorders. (Georgie writes a great blog that you can read here.)

Georgie began by sharing her own story of insulin manipulation. I’m not going to write anything about this part of Georgie’s talk, because you can see and hear it all here. (You’ll need to have a Facebook account to view it.)

Often, when people speak about living with a health condition, they are called ‘brave’. I absolutely hate it when people refer to me as brave because I live with diabetes (and all that comes with it). I’m not brave, I’m just doing what I need to do to stay alive.

But Georgie WAS brave and I’ll explain why.

Often, when we hear from people living with diabetes, what we hear about is people conquering mountains (literally and figuratively). We hear tales of the super heroes running marathons and winning medals. These are the socially acceptable stories of living with a chronic health condition: the ‘I won’t be beaten’ anecdotes. They give hope, are meant to inspire and make those not living with diabetes feel better about things because suddenly, it seems that this health condition is manageable and everyone with it is a champion.

But the reality for most people with diabetes is the same as most people with diabetes – we don’t run marathons, we don’t climb mountains, we don’t win gold medals. We are just doing the best we can with the hand we’ve been dealt. And sometimes, we deal with difficult stuff.

Sharing stories of the tough times and the challenging things that often go hand in hand with diabetes is not always easy – for the person sharing the story or for those reading or listening to them

But perhaps that’s exactly why we do need to hear about these stories, and ensure stories like Georgie’s are heard and given a platform.

Just because something is difficult or uncomfortable to listen to doesn’t mean that it should be hidden. This is why people don’t seek the care and assistance they need. It’s why people think they are the only one’s struggling and why they don’t know where to turn.

I could see some people in the audience shifting uncomfortably in their seats as Georgie eloquently, determinedly – and completely unapologetically – shared her experience and, most usefully, offered suggestions for how to work with people with diabetes and eating disorders. I know that I left with a far better understanding of the topic. And an even more resolute desire to keep these types of issues in the public domain.

Disclosure

I was the Deputy Lead for the Living with Diabetes Stream, and an invited speaker at the 2017 IDF Congress. The International Diabetes Federation covered my travel and accommodation costs and provided me with registration to attend the Congress.

Georgie owning the stage at #IDF2017

 

 

 

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