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Welcome to January when suddenly the only thing that I seem to see on social media feeds, giant billboards around the city, and TV advertisements is details of weight loss programs. Because, of course, that’s what we should all be aspiring to, right? If we were happy to see the back of 2018 after a hard year, losing a few kilos will obviously set us on the track to eternal happiness in 2019.

Right?

Of course not.

Nevertheless, wellness gurus, celebrity chefs, local gyms, celebrity trainers, everyone who drinks green juice and has an Instagram account come into their own when January ticks over, heralding the birth of a new year and, while the fireworks are still bright in the sky, urging us to start a new (and completely unsustainable) diet, detox, and/or exercise plan to lose weight.

Under the guise of pressing us to be the best person we possibly can, they remind us that we have been slobs for all of December and need to shed weight because that will make us happy. Oh, and buy this teatox/12 week program/juice cleanse/lemon fast for a small monthly fee of $39. That’s not much, right? And what value can you put on your happiness, right? Lose weight; be happy. The equation is simple.

Except, it’s not. And when the emotional burden of diabetes is added to this – when there is something else that we are made to feel we need to fix – the start of the year suddenly doesn’t feel full of shiny and bright and new promise. It feels like we are about to fail. Yet again

I like the idea of stopping and hitting the reset button (oh – did you read yesterday’s post?) and if weight loss is your goal, then that’s fine. But we need to stop equating happiness and perfect health with a number on the scales. We need to stop being made to feel guilty because we may have eaten a little more than usual over the holiday period. And we need to stop being made to feel that we should be seeking redemption for our sins of enjoying the holiday period. We need to stop being sold the idea that the road to happiness and health is signposted by losing kilos

Because the reality is that all these messages actually add mental weight. And no one needs that shit in January. Or any time of the year.

But, I have found some ways to shed that weight.

You could start by getting of social media completely. But that’s as laughable to me as suggesting I should be running 5Ks a day and consuming only kale and kombucha. It is, however, worth acknowledging social media – actually, any media – is a fucking nightmare at this time of year, maybe even more so than at other times. But, there are some bright lights out there that, instead of suggesting that we are full of faults and problem areas that need fixing, encourage us to just damn well like (or even love!) who we are. Here are just some things you may want to check out:

Nina Mills is a Melbourne-based dietitian who just gets it. Her blog, Twitter and Insta feeds are well worth following for their no-nonsense approach to eating and anti-diet messaging. She nourishes the SoMe soul with delicious recipes and sensible ideas, and a healthy dose of self-deprecating humour too (her food fails posts are hilariously honest!). It is no secret that I have had very few positive experiences with dietitians – both personally and professionally – in my 20 years with diabetes, but had I met someone like Nina years ago, I would have a very different story to tell.

You can follow Nina at Feel Good Eating on Insta.

Body Posi Betes is run by my mate Georgie, who thankfully has returned from Paris and made Melbourne feel right again. The diabetes thread that weaves its way through her posts is life-affirming, as is the complete and utter refusal to subscribe to any sort of diet culture. She is sassy, sweary and fucking fabulous.

Start with Body Posi Betes on Insta.

Claire Christian is one of my kid’s favourite writers and her Insta stories are full of great ideas and strong feminist messages. She is a high school teacher as well, and if you have teenagers, (especially teenage daughters), check her out. (I have no issue with swearing…obviously…but if you do, you may find some of her posts a little confronting. But if you can push through that, she is just such a great role model for young girls, and 45 year old women too!)

Follow Claire on Insta here.

Watch Dumplin’ on Netflix. And then watch it again! It is so, so gorgeous. It’s completely PG, and totally appropriate for kids. Plus, Dolly!

It’s not hard to love Jameela Jamil, and her amazing #IWeigh campaign continues to remind women that we are so, so much more than a number on the scales. She tore strips through celebrity weight loss products at the end of last year with a hilarious video of her spruiking a (fake) detox program. Her posts are brilliant, she is brazenly feminist, and calls out any bullshit she sees.

Her Insta is here. And here’s what I wrote about the #IWeigh campaign last year.

Obviously, there are so many other great thing to check out, and if you have any suggestions, please share them in the comments. This is a great time to curate what and who we follow by removing anything that makes us feel that we have faults or need fixing. Because we don’t. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be better or to find ways to make ourselves feel happier and healthier. But shaming or guilting us into it, or focusing purely on how we look is not the way to happiness. That just weighs us down.

Ice cream is not a reason for guilt. Tastes good, though…

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Well, it’s been a year. It’s always the same. Come December, and as Mariah is blaring in every store I walk into, I start to feel exhaustion. But it’s not all bad news. Holidays loom ahead. Sunny weather means more time outdoors. And long, warm nights out with friends and family seem like the perfect way to spend my time away from work. Oh, and perhaps most excitedly, my mother is going to make her famous zippoli – my favourite Italian Xmas food.

The happiest time of the year is when mum serves up zippoli. What a time to celebrate being from an Italian family!

The diabetes world remains comfortingly – and frustratingly – static at times. There are constants that shape each year, but there are also changes. Some are positive, some lead me to wonder just who is making decisions that impact on PWD and why do they seem so far removed from the realities of living with this condition?

I’m ready to draw a line under 2018 – a bold, thick, solid line – farewelling the year with the knowledge that there will always be some things about diabetes I know to be true.

Diabetes is hard. The relentlessness of it doesn’t really subside. As much as we have tools to try to make things easier, it permeates, something I realised back in July when the wind was knocked out of me as diabetes unleashed itself into every part of me, taking hold and trying to pull me under.

There is no silver bullet. Loop does seem magical to me, but my diabetes is still there. It is just here in a different way – a new normal.

The inequalities of diabetes continue to be an important theme throughout our community and we can’t turn our backs to the fact that access to the most basic of diabetes medications and treatments remains out of reach to many. There is no one way to advocate for change, and I commend everyone working at the front line to improve the situation.

Which brings me to the point where I remind everyone that it is absolutely not too late to make a donation – however small or large – to Life for a Child. Saving the life of a young person at Xmas time seems like an absolute no-brainer to me.

Peer support remains a cornerstone of my diabetes management toolkit. Of course the shape of that support changes – I’ve met some incredible new people this year and been involved in some remarkable projects. At the same time, there have been some important collaborations with diabetes friends I’ve known for some time. It’s those diabetes friends that continue to help me make sense of my own diabetes, make me realise that my village is global, and know that wherever I turn, someone will have my back. I can’t explain just how reassuring that is.

Despite feeling that there have been times that the community has been splintered and a little disjointed, I still believe that the diabetes community is something positive. I also know that it can take time to find your tribe in there, and accept that not everyone has to be best buddies. But when you do find those people who you just click with (and that doesn’t mean agreeing on everything, by the way) you do everything you can to hold on to them, because that’s where the magic of working with peers happens.

While co-design seems to have become a bit of a buzz phrase, there are some examples of it that just make diabetes activities and projects so much better! This year, I’ve had some incredible opportunities to work on projects with a vast array of stakeholders and what can be achieved is incredible.

Sometimes, (a lot of the time?) we need humour in diabetes. And sweary birds. Finding Effin’ Birds earlier this year was a source of such joy and happiness, especially as I realised that (unintentionally) the clever folk behind it have made it all about living with diabetes. I cannot tell you how many moments I have come across one of their pics on my social media feeds and it has perfectly nailed my diabetes mood.

We can’t be afraid to have conversations that can be considered difficult. This was the foundation of the Australian Diabetes Social Media Summit this year, but it went far beyond that. Women, diabetes  and sexual health remains an issue that needs a lot more attention. And we need to keep talking about mental health and diabetes.

Language matters. Whatever people believe, the way we speak – and think – about diabetes has far reaching effects. It affects everything from the treatment we receive, the public’s perception of diabetes, where fundraising dollars are allocated and how governments fund diabetes.

And so, I think it is fitting that I round out the year and this post with one of the things I am so proud and honoured to have been involved in. It is one of the best examples of co-design; it involves diabetes peers, it acknowledges that diabetes can be a difficult monster to live with, and it holds people with diabetes up. Oh – and it reminds us that absolutely, completely, utterly, #LanguageMatters.

I’m taking a little break from Diabetogenic to do … well… to do nothing. That’s what I have ahead of me for the next three or so weeks. No plane travel, no speaking engagements, no media, no dealing with the diabetes things that get me down. Except, of course, my own diabetes thing. But I asked Santa for a pleasant few weeks of diabetes being kind to me. I’m sure that’s what I’ll be getting under the tree. As long has he can work out how to wrap it. 

I hope that everyone has a lovely festive season. I do know for many it is a really difficult time of the year. Thank you to everyone for reading and sharing and commenting. I’ll be back some time in January. Ready to go again, and to rant and rave, celebrate, and shamelessly talk about what’s going on in my diabetes world. I hope to see you then. 

It’s Research Wednesday again. Still not a thing, although Jane Speight from the @ACBRD disagreed with me after I said that last time, so maybe it is a thing?

Anyway, here are a few research studies you may be interested in getting involved in. Remember, participating in research is a great way to help contribute to and shape diabetes care, as well as provide insights that only those of us living with (or around) diabetes truly can. Please do consider getting involved if you can.

Women Loopers in Australia – we need you!

The Australian Centre for Behavioural Research in Diabetes is currently recruiting women for a research project on DIYAPS.

This one has been open for a while and for some reason lots of blokes have participated, but we need some women to get involved. Women are a truly significant part of the DIY world. I know that when I want information about DIYAPS, the first person I look to is Dana Lewis. And for Loop specific info, Katie DiSimone. I also know that there are a lot of women loopers in Australia. And we need you!

So – if you are female, living in Australia, aged 18 years or over, have had type 1 diabetes for at least a year, and using Loop, OpenAPS or AndroidAPS , please consider getting involved. This study involves a phone interview which will take 45 to 60 minutes, and you’ll be asked about your looping views and experiences.

CLICK HERE TO CONTACT THE PROJECT MANAGER FOR FURTHER INFORMATION

(Disclosure: I’m involved in this study.)

Loopers everywhere – we need you!

The OPEN project is a collaboration of international patient innovators, clinicians, social and computer scientists and advocacy organisation investigating DIYAPS. The first piece of work from this consortium is called DIWHY (get it?) which is looking to provide a better understanding of the reasons that people with diabetes decide to take the DIYAPS road, as well as examine barriers and motivators to building and using these systems.

You can participate in DIWHY by taking the online survey which is open to adults with diabetes as well as parents/carers of children with diabetes. The survey is available in English and German.

CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT MORE AND DO THE SURVEY

(Disclosure: I’m involved in this one too…)

Social media and diabetes care

Jacqueline, from the University of Hamburg, is currently looking for people to complete an online survey to help with her Masters thesis. She is looking at the importance and use of social media in diabetes.

The survey is anonymous and will take you about ten minutes to complete.

CLICK HERE TO TAKE THE SURVEY

Still open – new mums with diabetes

Women with type 1, type 2 or gestational diabetes who are either pregnant or have been pregnant in the last year are still needed for a survey from the NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre at Sydney Medical School (from the University of Sydney).

This is a twenty minute survey and the aim of the research is to better understand the glucose monitoring preferences and experiences of women with diabetes during (or planning for) pregnancy.

CLICK HERE TO TAKE THE SURVEY

Look, I could write a whole post here about why and how you can just put aside the idea of buying silly little Xmas gifts for Lois in accounting, and how Reginald in HR really doesn’t need more boxes of Lindt balls because people only truly like one type (dark chocolate for me) and the rest get thrown out.

I could remind you that it’s freaking hot in Australia right now, so the idea of gifting a rose, basil and chai scented candle is ridiculous because why would anyone want to light it and add another heat source to their already overheated house? (Also, stop making candles scented with chai.)

I could moan about how I despise the whole idea of Kris Kringle/Secret Santa, because honestly, I do. It’s nothing more than a waste of time and money.

I could tell you that I am pretty sure that the $30 gift voucher you are thinking of shoving into an envelope for Uncle Angelo is going to languish in a drawer and probably be forgotten.

I could tell you that the book of inspirational quotes that you are going to buy for the cousin you only see once a year will never be opened – and probably be re-gifted (possible back to you) next year.

You know, so I don’t need to tell you, that the half-wilted poinsettia you’re buying at the last minute at Woolies as a gift for the person hosting one of the three hundred Xmas drinks things you’re going to will wind up in the bin after the next three-day heatwave because your host can’t remember to water themselves, much less a seasonal plant.

I could urge you to put down the bath bomb because no one, and I mean NO ONE, needs or wants a bath bomb.

I could do all these things. But there’s no need; I’ve done it before and you know it all. If you really need to read those posts: here’s one. And here’s another. And Grumps has written about it here.

Basically, the message is the same. Think about forgoing those little gifts, and instead make a donation to Life for a Child, and know that THIS gift is actually meaningful. And by meaningful, I mean it will save the life of a young person with diabetes. That’s right: Save. Their. Life.

Insulin is expensive. And yet the dollars you were going to spend on a pretty mindless gift will provide life-saving insulin for around six months. Which sounds a lot better, right?

Good thing you know all this, and I don’t need to write about it again. And it’s also a good thing that you know all you need to do is click here to save a life.

P.S.

On Monday morning, I was invited to an event at the Novo Nordisk facility in Malov to hear about the latest in diabetes and stem cell research. (Disclosures at the end of the post as always.) 

We heard from researchers from the site, as well as Sanjay Dutta from JDRF, and were given a tour of the labs to get a better understanding of the research process. Going into this event, I knew very little about stem cell research and its application in curing diabetes. (I should point out I still know very little…) Before I write more, I do want to highlight that the ethical sensitivity of stem cell research was addressed, although was not a focus of the event. It is undeniable that there are some people who refuse to accept stem cell research, or any treatments that come from it. I am not one of those people, but I was pleased to see the researchers acknowledging that this is an issue for many people around the world.

One of the speakers was Novo researcher Louise Winkel who gave a fantastic overview of stem cell research and how it applies to type 1 diabetes. If Louise was a senior school biology teacher, her students would all go on to study science at tertiary level. She made it interesting, understandable, and translated just what this very technical area of research could mean to those of us living with diabetes.

Jacob Sten Petersen shared how he has been working with Novo in diabetes research for 27 years. That’s a lot of time examining and investigating type 1 diabetes, trying to get a better understanding of just how diabetes works. Despite all the years of experience, and all the time spent with leading researchers and healthcare professionals, Jacob made a point of saying that it wasn’t until he actually met people with diabetes that he realised just how little he truly understood about life with diabetes.

That understanding increased exponentially when his young daughter was diagnosed with diabetes. You might think that having a child diagnosed with diabetes after you’ve given most of your career to researching it may make things a little easier. But listening to Jacob tell the story of his daughter’s diagnosis it was clear that the impact and devastation was no less at all.

As Jacob outlined the timeline of research, I was a little startled when he starting talking about this being the way forward to curing diabetes. I was even more startled at just how confidently, and almost casually, Jacob was talking about the cure. He was putting timeframes out there, saying that he firmly believed that no one in the room would die from, or because of, type 1 diabetes. I could tell that I wasn’t the only one surprised by this declaration.

Both Louise and Jacob were discussed the challenges of finding treatments, and ultimately a cure, for type 1 diabetes. Plus, there is the autoimmune response – you remember, the one that destroyed our beta cells in the first place – that needs to be addressed. Encapsulation will assist with that, but that also has challenges that need to be overcome. (It probably should not have come as a surprise when Louise told us the beta cells are the most difficult and sensitive cells, posing a number of trials, including how they stop secreting insulin the second oxygen concentration drops. Precious? You bet!)

However, despite the difficulties, Louise and Jacob were very clear about their goal and where their research was going: to cure type 1 diabetes.

I am very wary when it comes to talk of a diabetes cure. I don’t know one person with type 1 diabetes who has not heard some version of ‘The cure is just around the corner’. Sometimes that’s quantified with a timeframe. The old ‘five years’ chestnut is popular. At diagnosis, I was told five years; ten at the most. Well, here I am at twenty years and either I’ve not turned the right corner, or my first endocrinologist was being over-optimistic. I think it is probably the latter.

But I thought I’d made peace and accepted that that there would not be a cure in my lifetime, instead turning my hope – I have so much hope – towards better treatments, smarter devices, improved meds. I do not feel sadness or despair when I say I don’t believe I will be cured. I feel hopeful that thanks to ongoing research, my life will be less and less limited by diabetes.

Yet here I was, holding onto each word, and unlocking the part of my mind that I had, perhaps reluctantly, packed away many years ago. Would I allow myself to even think that a cure in my lifetime was a possibility?

The event concluded with a panel discussion, and as questions were invited, I raised my hand to ask how we balance talk about curing type 1 diabetes with managing expectations. Hope is important, but so is not being disappointed.

The discussion that followed was candid. I loved that the researchers could understand my apprehension – and that of a number of others in the room who also shared their reluctance to use the word cure. And that ‘cure’ meant different things to different people.

Because: what is a cure? I don’t think there is a simple answer to that. For some, it would be a fully functioning closed-loop automated insulin delivery device. But that would still involve an element of ‘user input’. Even if calibrations are not required, there will still be the need to change sensors, refill cartridges, change infusion sets.

For others, a fully implantable closed loop device which only needs ‘topping up’ with insulin occasionally would be considered a cure.

I know people who have had islet cell transplants, and pancreas transplants, but they require immunosuppression therapy and I don’t know that necessarily constitutes a cure.

Encapsulation may negate the need for immunosuppression, but would the cells need to be topped up…and how frequently would that need to happen? Would glucose checking still be required?

It is subjective and each person with diabetes would have different criteria they use to accept what is and what isn’t a cure. I don’t know what my criteria is yet.

I like the idea of not dying with – and certainly not dying from – type 1 diabetes. Do I think that is a reality? I don’t know. I feel that my adamant claim that there will not be a cure in my lifetime has been challenged this week and I’m okay with that. Because what hasn’t been challenged is the hope I have.

If in my lifetime with diabetes, the day to day tasks are reduced, the emotional burden is lessened, the fear and anxiety can be diminished, treatment of diabetes-related complications improves, then I feel that I am still somehow out in front. I may not be cured. But each step forward is a step in the right direction. Even if I don’t make it the finishing line and handed a cure.

DISCLOSURE

The DEEPtalk event was hosted by Novo Nordisk and was held at one of their facilities in Copenhagen. I was invited by the Global Patient Relations Team to moderate the event. Novo covered costs for my (premium economy) flights (I used my own frequent flyer miles to upgrade flights) and two nights’ accommodation as well as transfers and meals while I was in Copenhagen.

I was also invited to attend an information event where Novo employees spoke about current stem cell research in diabetes.

There is no expectation from the Global Patient Relations Team (or Novo Nordisk more broadly) that I will write about the event or other activities held while I was in Copenhagen and what I do write is mine. This summary of the stem cell event and presentations is all my own interpretation and has not been reviewed by Novo Nordisk prior to publication.

The other week, as I sat on the stage as part of a panel session at the HIMSS conference in Brisbane, a term kept getting thrown around that had me squirming in my seat. It was not said with any malice – in fact I believe it was being used under the perhaps misguided idea that it is represents positive and empowering language. But as I sat there and the term was being used, almost with abandon, I knew that we were going to have to have a chat about it. As per exhibit A:

Exhibit A

Activated patient? No. Just no.

When the moment was right, I took a breath. I’d been asked to comment on the current My Health Record situation, and whether I thought it was something that would benefit people living with chronic health conditions. ‘Before I answer the question, can we just consider the term ‘activated patient’ and how it is being used here today – and often in other contexts too. I’ve heard from people on the stage and in the audience use the term ‘activated patients’. I’m really not a fan of this term. In fact, I think it is really quite problematic.’

Activation is something that is done to something. Think Pete Evans and his activated nuts. Or yeast when making bread or cinnamon buns. Or my pink debit card that came in the mail with a sticker across the front telling me how to activate it. Pete Evans’ almonds were just passive little nuts before he decided to activate them. And before the warm water was added to the yeast, it was just powder sitting in a sachet. My pink card was simply a piece of plastic before I called a number, pressed a few other numbers once the automated message was played and agreed to a heap of terms and conditions, making the card able to work.

Those inanimate objects had something done to them to become activated – it didn’t happen on their own. Beforehand, they were passive.

I was not ‘activated’ to become a participant in my own healthcare. I was not given permission to lead the agenda of how I want to engage. I chose the people I would see; the health service I would use; the devices I wear strapped to me. I have never been a passive participant in my healthcare – or any other aspect of my life, for that matter. I have always been active. Of course there are times that I struggle with motivation and may be less active and pro-active, but getting out of those times was never an exercise in activation by others.

The idea that people become activated because they are given the opportunity reeks of the typical paternalistic attitudes that are still rife in healthcare.

Look, we can have a long discussion about the ‘consumerisation’ of healthcare, and how that is what is to blame for terms such as this. It is business lingo and while many think it probably refers to people being in charge of their health, it actually suggests the opposite.

Words that suggest something is being ‘done’ to a person utilising the health system are not empowering. They are not putting the person at the centre. They don’t indicate that the person is driving their care.

The term ‘activated patients’ provides a narrow interpretation about how a person is in charge of their healthcare, because it always is used to highlight people who are loud advocates for themselves, walking into every appointment with a list the length of their arm of things to discuss, therapies they want to use. But not everyone wants to do healthcare that way. Just because someone prefers – and chooses – to have a healthcare professional drive the direction of their care does not necessarily mean they are not ‘activated’.

Also – consider this: if a person can become an ‘activated patient’, that means there must also avenues for them to become a ‘deactivated patient’. That’s certainly not being person-centred. In fact, suggesting that we become something only because we have been given the right to be that way is the opposite of person-centred.

World Diabetes Day is celebrated each year on Frederick Banting’s birthday. Banting, of course, is credited with co-discovering insulin. That happened back in 1921, so it seems almost unimaginable that people are still unable to access insulin because it is so prohibitively expensive. And yet, that is the reality for children and adults all around the world.

Children like Manuel:

Frederick Banting said ‘Insulin does not belong to me; it belongs to the world’. Insulin belongs to Manuel as much as it does to you and me. But until he, and thousands and thousands of children and adults just like him, can access insulin easily and affordably, Life for a Child will continue to try to bridge the gap.

Read all about Manuel here. His story should be told just like anyone else’s, and in his own words. He is living with diabetes; his diabetes story is his own.

And then, once you have listened to his story, consider making a donation. (Please note that there has been a recent change to where you donate. Start by clicking here.)

Each year, on 14 November, I thank Frederick Banting for my life. I can’t think of any better way to honour his memory than donating to Life for a Child.

With Diabetes Awareness Month in full swing, many of us will have seen the JDRF’s Type 1 Diabetes Footprintflash up on our SoMe feeds as diabetes friends show just some of the ways diabetes has impacted our lives.

This is my one: accurate as of last weekend:

This is just a sample of the numbers that show how much diabetes influences and affects our day to day (and night to night!). If we’re talking numbers when it comes to diabetes, (which I don’t really like to do), there are so, so many more. Here are just some of them… (all are totally random estimations – don’t take anything as gospel here, folks!):

  • The number of BGL strips found in unlikely places: 4,500,596,098
  • The number of fruit pastilles I can stuff into my mouth at one time whilst in the throes of an ‘I-am-dying-give-me-all-the-glucose’ hypo: 142
  • The number of hours being supported by friends with diabetes: 3 – and that’s just today!
  • The number of times I’ve caught my pump line on a door handle: an embarrassingly significant number (because: #NotGoodAtDiabetes)
  • The total weight I can lift/move when I am having a ‘super-power’ low: 1,450kgs
  • The number of red scarves bought at the ADA meeting ‘Stop Diabetes Shop’ because the bloody aircon is too cold at convention centres and I keep forgetting to bring a jacket: 3

  • The number of hours after my planned bedtime of 10.30pm I actually go to bed because I’m talking to DOC friends on the other side of the world: 2…3…4 (also: time zones suck)
  • The number of times my heart beats per minute when I realise just how low I am, and that there is no easy-to-grab glucose source in sight: 180
  • The number of days a Rockadex patch lasts on my arm: 7-10
  • The number of nights I’ve lain awake fearing what diabetes has in store for me:more than I care to remember
  • The number of handbags I have bought because I’ve convinced myself it will be ‘THE perfect diabetes bag’: 237
  • The number of frocks that are hanging in the cupboard unworn because there is no bra that works underneath it and therefore nowhere to house a pump and RL: 25
  • The number of supermarket aisles wandered around while low trying to decide what to eat: 8
  • The number of jars of Nutella in my house at any one time (for hypo purposes, of course): 4
  • The number of times I send out a tweet urging health writers to please be considerate when writing about diabetes: a few times a year.

  • The number of times I’ve thought a hypo simulator is a good way to explain what it feels to have a hypo to people without diabetes: 0
  • The number of gulps of water it takes to try to quench high glucose levels: 36
  • The number of times I’ve explained why #LanguageMatters in diabetes: 123,890,456…123,890,457…123,890, 458
  • The number of breaths I need to take before explaining – yet again – why I CAN eat that doughnut: 2
  • The number of times I have been grateful that diabetes didn’t stand in the way of me having a beautiful baby girl: every single minute of every single day
  • The number of ‘I know someone with diabetes, they died’ stories I’ve had to listen to: 6,984
  • The number of times I’ve said the words ‘No, it isn’t a pager/nicotine patch, mobile phone, fitness tracker’ etc to explain a piece of diabetes tech strapped to or hidden on my body: 9,465
  • The number of tears that have fallen because I feel overwhelmed by diabetes: countless
  • The number of times I’ve been glad to have been diagnosed with diabetes: 0
  • The number of times I acknowledge just how fortunate I am to have been born into a country where insulin is easily accessible: at least once every day
  • The squirts of surface cleaner needed to remove marks from wherever I’ve accidentally left blood after checking my BGLs: 3
  • The number of days I’ve wished I didn’t have diabetes: every single one of them
  • The number of days I’ve felt so overwhelmed and burnt out by diabetes that I find performing the most basic things (diabetes and non-diabetes) a struggle: Frequently. because diabetes sucks
  • Oh – and the number of times I’ve been wearing a white shirt when I’ve had a gusher: every time
  • The number of times I’ve said or written ‘My Diabetes; my rules’: 566,285 (3 of those have been in the last 20 minutes)
  • The number of times I give thanks to the brains trust behind DIYAPS: hourly
  • The number of alerts or alarms from my phone it takes before I actually take note and do something: 6 (unless sleeping and then: whatever)
  • The number of times I’ve accurately counted the carbs of anything containing rice: not once
  • The number of times I’ve asked ‘Have you spoken with people with diabetes about that?’: lost count…now I just weep
  • The number of lancets I have used in the last twenty years: probably about 18
  • The number of dot points on this inane and silly list: every single one of them!

Oh, hello! It’s World Diabetes Day this week. And that means one thing and one thing only: diabetes will be elevated to health condition of the week, and we will see it EVERYWHERE.

I recently wrote that I’d been a little out of sorts a couple of weeks ago. I’m back to my usual robust and resilient self, but on the way back, I seem to have misplaced the filter that usually muffles the directness for which I am sometimes pretty much always known.

I realised it was missing when I was speaking at HIMSS last week and I was pretty direct when talking to some app developers. Instead of doing my usual sandwich feedback (i.e. something positive to begin with; suggestions for how it could be better in the middle; something positive to round it out, all with what could be considered a Dolores Umbridge smile on my dial), I went straight for the filling of the sandwich.

It turns out that without my filter, my comments eschew (rather than chew) bread and are all about the meat in the middle. I become totally low carb in my feedback. And I lose my smile. (A doughnut would probably bring that back, though…)

For this week, we will be banging on about the need for diabetes awareness. Of course, this morning as I was dressing and tucking small vibrating or lighting up boxes and infusion sets into my bra, and checking the tape on the CGM on my arm, while wondering if Loop really did have that downward arrow on my Dex under control, all I could think of was diabetes to the left of me; diabetes to the right. And I’m stuck in the bloody middle with it because it won’t leave me alone. I can’t help but be diabetes aware. All the fucking time!

But this week isn’t about us, (this piece from Tom ‘Diabetes Dad’ Karlya from a few years ago does a great job of explaining that in ways less sweary than my own). It’s about putting diabetes on the agenda for those of us who don’t already think about it morning, noon and night because it’s mailing address is our body.

So, for that reason, local newspapers, news bulletins, online new outlets and everywhere else that is trying to fill a 24-hour news cycle with content will want to talk about diabetes. If previous years are anything to go by, what we see will not necessarily be all that great. But that doesn’t need to be the case.

Last week, I was involved in a news segment about diabetes. When I watched in back on the news that night, I was so impressed with the way the story was presented. I’d managed to chat with the reporter as she was putting together the copy for the newsreader to use when introducing the story, and what she would say. There was no use of words such as ‘sufferer,’ ‘diabetic’ or ‘disease’. Instead, it was a balanced story that presented the facts. It was no less a piece because it left out sensationalist language.

I know that news outlets like a melodramatic take on things, but if you are in a position to help frame the way that diabetes is presented in the media, do it! It’s easy to do (the Diabetes Australia Language Position Statement helps) and mentioning that it takes no more time to use engaging and empowering language rather than stigmatising and negative language may help too.

I’m all about hope at the moment – well always – so here is what I hope for this World Diabetes Day:

In the posts celebrating the theme of this year’s WDD, diabetes and families, I hope that nowhere is a person with diabetes made to feel guilty, or that their diabetes is a burden on their family. I know that diabetes affects my family. I know that diabetes has moments of keeping them awake. I know there are times they may worry. But thankfully, I have never, ever heard them tell me, others, news outlets, social media, one of our dogs that they don’t sleep because of my diabetes, or they spend every minute thinking about how diabetes impacts on us, or that my health condition eats into our savings. Think about what you are saying and how we may feel if you talk about us like that.

In news reports, I hope for accurate reporting that doesn’t make us look pathetic or as though we deserve pity. I hope for language that presents the facts about diabetes without adding judgement or blaming us for our condition.

I hope that whoever is thinking, writing, speaking, presenting about diabetes this week remembers that no one asks to get diabetes; no one asks to get diabetes-related complications. Blaming and shaming us does nothing for anyone.

I hope for balance, and that for every story that celebrates an Everest climbing (or similar) we acknowledge the less grand endeavours. Because when speaking about diabetes, we cannot only hear from those at the extremes of the spectrum. Most of us are somewhere in the middle and our stories shouldn’t be left out.

In online groups I hope for no discussions about why we need to change the name of type 1 diabetes to distance ourselves from people with type 2 diabetes. Because: 1. Shut up and 2. Stop it; you’re adding to the stigma.

And more about online groups. If people are sharing news stories that will inevitably show overweight people eating hamburgers, the correct response is not to shame these people and tell them they are pathetic for not eating low carb. Because: 1. Shut up and 2. No one cares about how many grams of fat or how few grams of carbs you ate today, or how much insulin you didn’t need because you ate a bowl of organic kale with some organic tuna with coconut oil for lunch.

I hope that diabetes is presented as a serious health condition that does not discriminate when selecting whose body it wants to hang out with (in?). And that all different body types are represented.

And while we are talking about representation, I hope that we see diversity in diabetes stories from people of different colour, race, religion and sexual orientation. Because factors affecting our diabetes go beyond just the medications we take, and not everyone living with diabetes looks or is the same.

I hope that the voices of people with diabetes are not drowned out by those around us.

I hope to see myths busted.

I hope that somewhere we see that diabetes affects the whole person – body, mind and spirit – and that any solution claiming to help us, addresses each and every one of those parts of us.

I hope to see those who are happy to #MakeDiabetesVisible take whatever platform works for them and shares, shares, shares; and equally those who want to be more quiet ,are given the space to do that too. (Read this beautiful piece from Melinda Seed for more.)

And most of all?

Most of all I hope that no person with diabetes sees anything this World Diabetes Day that makes them feel diminished in any way for having diabetes. Because if that happens, then surely the day cannot be measured a success.

This year for World Diabetes Day, the International Diabetes Federation has decided on the theme ‘Diabetes Concerns Every Family’. According to the WDD website, the aim of the campaign is ‘…is to raise awareness of the impact that diabetes has on the family and to promote the role of the family in the management, care, prevention and education of the condition.’

I get that. I have said it on numerous occasions: it takes a village to live with diabetes.

I was a little nervous when I first saw some of the materials from the campaign, because I was worried that it may focus too much on the negative effects of diabetes and how it burdens the families of those living with diabetes. I know how diabetes impacts my family and I feel enormous responsibility already about that. I don’t need to be reminded of it, and I certainly don’t need to be guilted into being told that if I am not managing my diabetes properly I am doing a disservice to my family.

Although there have been a few little things that hint at those ideas, mostly, what I’ve seen has been positive and focused on celebrating and acknowledging those villagers who help us live with diabetes.

Diabetes Australia has decided on the campaign of #MyDiabetesFamily to highlight the idea of the village, and acknowledge that ‘family’ looks different to a lot of people.  For some people with diabetes, it will be their immediate family – parents, partners, kids etc – who are their main cheer-squad and supporters; for others it will be their friends, work colleagues or maybe gym partner. Someone the other day told me that their dog is their most important diabetes supporter, providing them with comfort – and alerting them to lows.

I was asked to put together a collage of the people who I would refer to as #MyDiabetesFamily. This is it:

#MyDiabetesFamily

Obviously, and most importantly, Aaron and the kidlet feature. They know my diabetes in a way that no one else does because they see it most. They see the difficult days, the frustrations and how overwhelmed I can get, but they also see my celebrate the positives. And they have seen how much my diabetes – and my attitude to it – has changed in the last 12 months. In some ways, they benefit from Loop, too because my diabetes intrudes a lot less into our family’s life.

My parents and my sister are on there too – another obvious inclusion. Their support is never ending.

My gratitude for my family – in the more traditional sense of the word – is unending. They may not have diabetes, but they deal with it in different ways. While they may not understand that feeling of unquenchable thirst that comes from high glucose levels, or the panic of an ‘eat the kitchen’ low, they do know what it is like to be spectator to it all and I know that they all wish that I didn’t have to deal with those things – and everything else diabetes has to offer.

And the photo at the top shows just some of my friends with diabetes. As it turns out, this was the first photo on my phone with a group of diabetes friends, and these fab people are just a tiny number who also make up #MyDiabetesFamily; I am lucky to say that there are so, so many more.

These are the people whose islet cells are as absent as my own; these are the people who ‘get it’; these are the people who intrinsically understand what diabetes feels like – even if each of us have different experiences, and we use different words to explain it, and come from and with different perspectives. These are the ‘us’ in #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs; they are the ‘tribe’ in ‘Find your tribe, and love them hard’.

And in the middle? Well, that would be me. Because I am the one who is so grateful to have them all there as part of my life, helping and supporting me.

Want to get involved and celebrate your own diabetes family?

Have a look at the Diabetes Australia Facebook page (click on the image below to be taken there) to find out how.

DISCLOSURE (because they matter and I always disclose. ALWAYS.)

I work at Diabetes Australia, and had some involvement in the development of this campaign. I am writing about the campaign because I think it is a truly important one – not because I was asked to by any Diabetes Australia staff. Plus – I’ll take any opportunity to highlight the folks who make living with diabetes easier!

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