I am blunt and I am direct. I am often criticised for my lack of finesse and accused of having the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Guilty, guilty, guilty as charged.

But I have always believed that the best way to address any issue is to get it out in the open, talk about it and normalise it so people feel comfortable discussing it.

New Yorker Cartoons.(Click for image details.)

This has resulted in some uncomfortable times. There was the time I spoke at a healthcare professional event about some research we’d conducted on diabetes-related eating disorders, and the subsequent information resource we’d developed about the issue which provided information for people could seek help. A dietitian stood up during the question time and told me in no uncertain terms that this work was irresponsible and that we had just written an instruction manual showing people with diabetes how to develop an eating disorder. I reminded her of the research I’d just presented which showed that over 60% of the women in the survey had explicitly stated that they had omitted, altered, or restricted insulin for the purpose of weight loss and suggested that no one needed an instruction manual – we already knew how to do it. I also pointed out that over 80% of the women had never had a conversation about it with a HCP, so perhaps it WAS time we started talking about it so people knew how and where to get help.

Then there was the time at ADATS when I introduced the concept of DIYAPS to pretty much everyone in the room, terrifying them all. That was fun. As was the bit where a couple of endos suggested that I needed to be ‘reined in’.

After writing a booklet on diabetes and pregnancy. After being awarded a grant to publish it as a national resource, we sent the booklet out to all women with type 1 diabetes aged 16 – 40 years. The response we received from a bucket load of parents was that they did not want this issue raised with their daughters and how dare us for sending them information suggesting they have sex and get pregnant. (For the record – the booklet did neither of those things. It did, however, reassure young women with diabetes that a healthy pregnancy was possible, and that pre-planning said pregnancy was the best way for that to happen.)

When I was at Diabetes Vic, my team developed two resources about diabetes and sexual health and contraception (one for young women and one for young men). We knew that this information was desperately needed, and that young people wanted to know about how to be safe having sex, but there were concerns that the response from some quarters would be that we were promoting promiscuity. (Surely that word should only be accompanied by someone who has teleported here from the 1930s.)

And, of course, the pieces I’ve written on sex and diabetes have elicited a huge discussion about how they had never before even seen anything about diabetes, women and sexual health – and, it turns out, it was the first time many women had even seen the topic raised.

There is so much more: I write about pregnancy loss, because as hard as it was to live through it, it was harder to feel alone. I write about the emotional toll of diabetes because too often all we hear about is the impact of numbers. I write about burnout because it is a reality for me – and so many others.

These taboo topics are elephants in diabetes rooms around the world and it’s time we did more than just acknowledge them – we need to change that.

Disordered eating behaviours, concerns and problems with sex and sexual health, diabetes-related complications, mental health conditions are facts of life. People experience them. There is nothing shameful about any of them.

NOT talking about them makes them seem shameful.

How do we get to a point where those topics that have been so difficult to broach previously become as everyday as a conversation about a broken arm in a cast; that when we need to discuss something about our sexual heath or mental health with a health professional we are as comfortable as talking about an earache?

I’d quite like this SHAG elephant in a room!

 

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