I’m back on deck at work today after a whirlwind ten days in Europe for meetings and a conference. I started in Amsterdam, then flew to Florence and finally flew to Copenhagen (via Pisa). Those ten days were busy, long and interesting. And, perhaps best of all, packed full of others from the diabetes community.

Spending time with others living with or around diabetes is restorative. I know I get jaded at times, and burnout – in all its forms – takes its toll. I’ve been feeling a little advocacy burnout lately, and that has the tendency to make me feel that I need to step away from diabetes for a bit. Plus, I wasn’t sure if I could be bothered with the inevitable onslaught that comes when these sorts of activities happen.

Instead of hiding away (which is what I half wanted to do), I got on a crowded plane to Europe to spend almost two weeks ‘doing’ diabetes advocacy in different forms. By the time I got to Nijmegen – an hour and a half out of Amsterdam – for HypoRESOLVE I was already feeling better. I felt the darkness of burnout slip away as I sat in meetings, speaking up and providing PWD input into the project. And there, alongside me, were others living with diabetes. We leaned into each other, stepped back so another could take their turn, and supported each other to feel comfortable and relaxed. We reminded each other that there was a reason we were there – because people with diabetes must have a seat at the table and that we must be heard. We lived, breathed and ate ‘Nothing about us without us’ throughout that meeting and by the time I boarded a hideously early flight to Florence for the next meeting, I was raring to go – further boosted by a diabetes in the wild encounter.

Two days of meeting in Florence with friends and peers from the diabetes community talking about our experiences in the diabetes community continued to see my mojo return. We spoke about difficult topics, how the community works best and the place everyone has in there. I was reminded that the community ebbs and flows, and that it is not static. Sometimes, that rut that I find myself in means I forget that all communities change and grow and develop. This is actually a positive, because as it shifts, more people come in, some people step away (for good or just a bit), we reconfigure how it fits us, and diabetes makes sense in new ways.

Some much needed downtime meant that I could reconnect with peers and feel myself being completely and utterly filled up in a way that only comes when surrounded by people who get diabetes and this weird diabetes space. We don’t all have diabetes – we represent different corners of the community, but we know diabetes in a way that is particular to those who live close to or with it. Our dinner after the second day of the meeting saw us finally able to breathe and take some time out of diabetes speak, and instead revert to a steady flow of laughs (shrieks, actually).

The next day, a friend from Italy just happened to be in Florence. We met up and I met her family, including her son who has diabetes. As we drank coffee just over the Ponte Vecchio, diabetes was spoken about a bit, but mostly, I got to learn about this young man who is clearly going to take on the world. He is smart, funny, delightful and inquisitive. His questions about Loop were intelligent – far more so than anything I would have thought to ask before I started using the tech! I hugged his mum as we said good bye, noting that she had just introduced someone else to our tribe.

By the time I arrived in Copenhagen (at 2.30am thanks to high winds in Florence, a bus ride to Pisa to take a diverted flight and some first-rate Italian disorganisation), I was exhausted, but at the same time felt more enthusiastic about the diabetes space than I had in some time. The next morning when I arrived at the conference venue, I was ready for a packed day of speakers, and to do my own presentation in the afternoon. I looked around and saw that there were a number of people living with and around diabetes that I knew, as well as a whole lot of new faces in there. The event was for HCPs, but as always, those of us with a truly personal connection to diabetes searched each other out. I met members of a support group known as ‘Diabetes Dads’ who meet regularly to speak about their kids with diabetes. They were there to support their friend who was speaking about his Looping son.

At lunch, I sat at a table with two PWD I knew. Two other people joined us and we quickly found out they too have type 1 diabetes. The conversation flowed – we understood each other, and our shorthand of diabetes speak easily fitted into our stories. We nodded as we heard stories that sounded familiar, even though they were being told by someone from another country who, until we sat down with our overflowing lunch plates, we had never met before. One of the women at the table had asked during an earlier session about how to wear the devices required for Loop, and I pulled out my RileyLink and showed it to her. She held it and weighed it in her hands. She’d wanted to know how to wear it with a fitted dress and I was able to show just how easily I could tuck away everything, even with the straight dress I was wearing for the day.

We may have all been there because of an interest or curiosity in DIY diabetes, but there is far more than that to draw us together. Just like as at the earlier meetings. As always, diabetes brings us together, but it’s far more that keeps us that way.

By the time I boarded the Dreamliner at Heathrow, all traces of burnout, and questions about how to manage in the sometimes tricky maze of diabetes community had completely subsided and were replaced with the reminder that when we find out tribe and surround ourselves with them, the burnout is replaced by feeling supported. And that’s how and why we show up. We do what we do, we show up, we speak up and we try to get stuff done. Ten days of that and I feel so much better. Which is good. Because as it turns out, those ten days are just the start …

DISCLOSURES

My flights to Amsterdam and accommodation while in the Netherlands was covered by HypoRESOLVE. I am on the Patient Advisory Committee for this project. My flight to Florence and two nights’ accommodation were covered by Lilly. I was in Florence for a DOCLab Advisory Meeting. My accommodation in, and flight home from Copenhagen was covered by the Danish Diabetes Academy. The Academy invited me to speak at their Diabetes DIY Movement conference.

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