Part of my work involves attending diabetes conferences both here and around the world. Sometimes I have a speaking gig, other times I’m there for meetings, and always I’m there to learn as much as I can about the latest in diabetes.

I love this part of my job in equal measure with not loving it. The ‘love it’ part is because I get to meet with and hear from some absolute superstars in diabetes research and get front row preview seats to what they’re working on. And I love it because I get to see other advocates who are there for the same reasons I am.

The ‘not love it’ part is because I spend a lot of time away from my family and ‘real life’. I feel enormous mother guilt (this time I missed the kidlet’s Winter Music Concert) and feel lousy for leaving lists of plans and schedules for people other than me to manage. Plus jet lag. I talk about jet lag so much because these days it is absolutely kicking my arse as it turns me upside down and into a bumbling, confused, unintelligible mess.

I realised when I was at ADA in Orlando that all my overseas DOC friends have only ever seen me at my jet lagged, time-travelling worst. They get exhausted, grumpy, vague, annoyed me. And they get me doing weird things like falling asleep in front of them only to suddenly get a second wind and become almost hyperactive where I speak a lot – and really quickly – about weird things such as Australian-isms that I believe they absolutely must start to use in their day to day vernacular. (Only click on this tweet if the eff word and spiders don’t offend you…)

And then, I reach a point where I abruptly stand up and say ‘That’s it!’and just leave and head to bed, often mid-conversation.  Why they still want to talk and hang out with me is actually a mystery!

But I am glad they do want to spend time with me, because sometimes, being at a diabetes conference is really hard going emotionally.

We sit there listening to some pretty tough stuff; scary stuff. We hear ourselves being spoken about as ‘subjects’ in research which takes away our ‘human-ness’ and makes us sound like rats in a lab.

We are referred to with words that make us sound like petulant children (‘non-compliant/non-adherent/failed’ etc.) and all we can do is tweet our frustration (and language positions statements) begging that presenters be considerate in the words they use.

We hear scary, scary tales of all the things that can go wrong with diabetes in a variety of different situations. I reluctantly walked into an 8am session on diabetes and pregnancy, and even though that ship sailed a few years ago for me now, I still brace myself for the research showing that diabetes can and will impact on our developing babies, and children once they are born. That mother guilt I spoke of early is gets turned into mother-with-diabetes guilt which is a monster of proportions all to itself. (Of course, the wonderful Helen Murphy’s talk at 8am was not scary or mother-with-diabetes-guilt-inducing. Instead it was full of interesting facts about how APS impacts positively on diabetes pregnancies. Hurrah!)

Diabetes-related complications are spoken about in matter-of-fact ways that zone in on specific parts of our body and suddenly we stop being whole. ‘The diabetic foot/eye/kidney’ is still attached the rest of us, and yet whole sessions dissect them from our bodies and focus solely on that part of us, forgetting how connected we are to them (literally and figuratively!)

We are told about how diabetes increases the risks of so many, seemingly unrelated problems that can only make me feel as though the cards are stacked so against us that, sometimes, diabetes just isn’t fair. (See also – or maybe don’t – this released today…)

We sit there listening to advice on how things could be improved and sometimes, shake our heads at the disconnect between what is reality to those of us actually living diabetes and the ideas from researchers and clinicians. We wonder what – if any – engagement there has been with the people this advice is meant to serve.

It can be – it is– emotionally draining, exhausting, frustrating.

Those moments when a friend’s sideway glance, or eye roll, or a snarky comment in response to yet another kick in the gut because diabetes is all bad news, is a reprieve from feeling a little shaken. (Of course, it’s not all like this. Often we sit in sessions and feel that those presenting are truly championing our efforts and we do high five through those presentations.)

And those evenings when the sessions have finished, and the official dinners are over and we simply sit together, debrief, refocus and put diabetes back in perspective, make me whole again. It’s the same at every conference. The people may change depending on the location of the conference, but there are always people there. And I’m grateful for that, because I may return home exhausted and jet lagged, but I’m not overwhelmed at what I have seen and heard. Which I fear is how I would be if it wasn’t for the caring, smart, understanding, wonderful people in this tribe .

Tribe at ADA

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