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Sometimes, something happens at a diabetes conference that I need to sit on for a while before I can write or talk about it. At ADA this year (almost six weeks ago now), there was a moment that has stuck with me and I think it’s time to talk about it.

I was sitting in the front row of the language session – because, of course I was – eager to hear from the all-star panel that was going to be looking at the language issues from the perspective of the PWD and HCP, as well as look at the role HCPs play in addressing diabetes stigma and how they can improve communication. I loved the well-rounded approach the session was taking, and settled in for a couple of hours of discussion.

The line-up was a veritable A-list of the best voices in the space. We had ‘Jane squaredhttps://diabetogenic.wordpress.com/2019/06/08/greetings-from-san-francisco-and-ada2019/, with Dickinson and Speight book-ending the program, Joe Solowiejczyk giving the consumer side and Kevin Joiner providing strategies for dismantling stigma.

Jane Dickinson has been an absolute champion of the diabetes #LanguageMatters movement in the US. And it was in her introductory session that the moment of today’s post happened. Jane was speaking about how HCPs see diabetes and people living with the condition. And she showed this slide:

I can’t remember if Jane read out the quotes. But I do remember how I felt as I read them and took in what they meant. I felt beaten.

As people living with diabetes, so many of us have firsthand experience of hearing these sorts of comments directed to us. Or we have had friends with diabetes tell us their tales. Or we have heard passing comments from HCPs expressing similar sentiments. The idea that we don’t care, have brought it all on ourselves, deserve what we have coming – and conversely, don’t deserve care – us pervasive through the diabetes landscape.

This is how diabetes and those of us are living with it are perceived. And it is heartbreaking.

There is no consistency as to who is making these comments – healthcare professionals from all different disciplines, at different stages of their careers, with different experiences. Some work in tax-funded settings, others in private settings. They are considered the best in their field, they are held up as examples of excellent care. Other HCPs refer PWD to them.

Often, I hear people say that these attitudes are really only ever the thoughts of ’old school’ HCPs who have been around for a long time; it’s a throwback to the patriarchal attitudes of healthcare – to days when doctor or nurse knows best and ‘patient’ does what they are told, and if they don’t, they get told off, while being written off as not caring for themselves.

But that assessment is actually not true at all. Some of the most sensitive and tuned-in HCPs I know have been working in diabetes for many, many years.

And some are yet to have even started their career. In exactly the same way that diabetes doesn’t discriminate, it seems that these horrid attitudes and stigmatising comments can come from people at every stage of their career.

Here is the whole slide.

That’s right. These comments came from future nurses. They hadn’t even set foot on the wards yet as qualified HCPs. But somehow, their perceptions of people with diabetes were already negative, and so full of bias. Already, they have a seed planted that is going to grow into a huge tree of blaming and shaming. And the people they are trusted to help will be made to feel at fault and as though they deserve whatever comes their way.

This – THIS – is why I am not stopping banging on about language and diabetes. THIS is why I get frustrated when someone responds to – and reduces – a discussion about this issue with ‘But I/my kid is happy to be called (a) diabetic’. THIS is why I constantly highlight when people or organisations or people in the media are using stigmatising or negative language.

The words we use shape the attitudes we have, and the attitudes held by many about diabetes are disgraceful. Imagine if instead of mindsets like this, HCPs came out of their training with the idea that people with diabetes need support, education, information, compassion and skills to best manage a condition that no one, but no one, ever asked for Just think about how different – and better – that could be.

The ADA session ended perfectly – with Jane Speight (my personal diabetes #LanguageMatters hero) playing the Mytonomy ‘Changing the Conversation’ video. So, here’s that video again. Watch it. Share it.

 

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DISCLAIMER AT THE BEGINNING TODAY

I work for Diabetes Australia and have been involved in our National Diabetes Week campaign. I am referring to this year’s campaign in this post, as well as previous campaigns (which I have also been involved in). This is a commentary piece on what I think works and what doesn’t. This is all my opinion – thoughts my own and mine alone.


It’s National Diabetes Week in Australia this week, and that means the socials are all in the key of D, with lots of news and stories about that little health condition that many of my friends and I know a little bit about.

And campaigns. There are lots of diabetes campaigns.

The other day, I re-watched a lot of old NDW campaigns from years gone by. It was no secret at the time that I wasn’t all that enamoured by some of them. The campaigns that really concerned me was the ones about complications using graphic images of an eye being operated on, or a heart that was (apparently) seriously damaged, or what a kidney looks like when on dialysis. While some people’s concerns about these ads was on the ‘unintended consequence’ of how people already diagnosed with diabetes might feel when seeing these, mine was that have always struggled with isolating body parts from the whole person living with diabetes. It doesn’t work that way – even if we have a diabetes-related complication in one part of our body, it still remains intact and attached to the rest of us. (I think this piece I wrote with Grumps for diaTribe explains best why this is problematic.)

In recent years, I feel that we have become a lot smarter and more systematic about our campaigns. This is as much about the approach to how we have done things, as well as the actual campaigns themselves. Previously, there was a theme and it was rolled out for a year, and one year only. Each new NDW meant a new campaign theme. And then, as soon as the week was over, we shelved it.

It’s not just diabetes organisations that are guilty of throwing all their energy at ‘their’ health week and building up a big campaign that they yell and shout about for the week and then, in a puff of smoke, it all disappears – often never to be heard of again. It’s as though there is a collective sigh and then everyone ticks a box as if ‘that’ issue has been done and doesn’t need to be done again.

Back in 2016, Diabetes Australia ran a campaign called 4,400 Reasons which addressed diabetes-related preventable amputations. There was clear calls to action behind the campaign and one was to highlight the need to reorientate the Australia health system towards early intervention and the implementation of more foot care teams across the country.

The campaign wasn’t graphic – there were no images of amputated limbs or blaming and shaming those who have had a limb amputated. It had a very clear focus on how the system is letting people down – not that people with diabetes were not looking after themselves.

Since then, we have continued to push the message of this campaign. Screening is important and it needs to happen systematically.

And then yesterday, at the start of another NDW, the federal government made an announcement about a new funding initiative that would start to build a national screening and treatment program called ‘Foot Forward’.

That’s how to do it – find a way to address an issue, make it a focus, keep going, continue to push the same messages, talk to the right people, make it happen. We’re not done, by the way. This is the start of a national screening program, but until we know that preventable amputations are happening far less frequently – or not at all – we keep working at the problem.

For this NDW, we are continuing to promote the importance of early diagnosis of both types 1 and 2 diabetes.

Our T1D campaign is the 4Ts and is a community awareness initiative to increase knowledge of the signs and symptoms of T1D.

Why are we doing it again? Because each year there are well over 600 Australians who are diagnosed with diabetes when they are very, very unwell. Most will have already been to the GP once, twice or even more times and have been misdiagnosed. Type 1 diabetes is fatal if it is not diagnosed in time. That’s the bottom line here. Until this stops happening, we need to teach people the 4Ts.

And when it comes to T2D we need a national screening program that means people are not living up to seven years with type 2 diabetes before they are diagnosed. Early diagnosis equals early treatment and that means better outcomes. That is a goal we keep working towards.

What can we learn about how to put together a meaningful public health campaign?

Time and time again, I hear people say, ‘Why can’t you run a campaign about the difference between the types of diabetes?’I want to ask you if you knew what those differences were before you or a loved one was diagnosed with diabetes. Think about other health conditions and just how much you know about the realities of life with those.

When it comes to health messaging, the airwaves are flooded. We have but a second to grab people’s attention. If we only talked diabetes 101 education to the general community, who do you think is really going to listen to that? I reckon it will be people already affected by diabetes – people who already get it. Do you sit there and watch or read about every other public health campaign for conditions that don’t have anything to do with you or someone you know? I know I certainly don’t.

I know nothing about stroke, however did learn FAST – because it was simple and important to know. Have I bothered to learn about what day to day life with someone who has had a stroke is? Or about the different types of stroke? Not really.

This week, you will see a lot of diabetes out there in traditional and social media. Share what you will and can. We already will share the things that are more relevant to our own experience – that makes sense. I’ll admit my bias and say that I am committed to getting the 4Ts message out that you’ll be seeing a lot of that from me. I have heard too many of my type 1 tribe talk about their horrid diagnosis stories.

I keep saying this – I don’t want or need or expect people to know the intricacies of my life with type 1 diabetes. Honestly – I don’t particularly to know that. But I would like people to be diagnosed with type 1 sooner. I would like them to be diagnosed correctly. I would like HCPs to know the 4Ts and have them front and centre.

I don’t want shock campaigns that scare people into inaction. But equally, I don’t want wishy-washy campaigns that offer nothing and have no call to action. I want more campaigns that deliver. And I think we’ve made great strides in that direction.

Let’s imagine, just for a moment, that a television program or newspaper claimed that there was a cure or treatment for type 1 diabetes that you could brew in your kitchen with a few pantry items.

It’s not really all that hard to pretend that this scenario is real: almost every week there is something somewhere that claims to be a way to treat diabetes, and sometimes, this mythical treatment is for type 1 diabetes.

What happens when we see this? Well, usually, it starts with some low level ranty outrage from a first responder who caught the piece and feels that they need to share it with the diabetes world (hashtag – DOC).

Then, as it gains momentum, others get onboard, because we all love a little SoMe outrage. Inevitably, there will be some comments about how ‘This might work for type 2 diabetes, but I/my child has type 1 diabetes, and I/they did nothing to cause it and this is the serious type of diabetes so stop it now.’ (Because adding some ‘type wars’ to the discussion is always helpful.)

There will be blog posts written about it (possibly/probably by me) and someone will demand an audience with the reporter, so they stop perpetuating myths about type 1 diabetes.

Right?

The outrage can be exhausting, but I do get it. We don’t want people to simplify our condition, of have people thinking that there is an easy fix. We want people to understand that it is hard work to manage diabetes and that every time there is a claim that it can be easily treated, people move further away from what it is really like. We want people to know that, so we talk about it loudly and everywhere.

So, after watching the ridiculous claims from Medicine or Myth the other night, I turned to Twitter to see what people were saying about the idea that hemp kombucha was miracle cure or to hear the criticisms about the poor study design of the trial.

Was there a barrage of people questioning the idea that simply drinking 100ml of a fermented drink a day could possibly be all it is going to take to treat the incredibly complex health condition that is type 2 diabetes? Or tweet after tweet probing whether the ‘trial’ that decided that we’re on a winner with Kombucha would pass any sort of test? Was there a choir suggesting that this was really all a lot of hocus pocus and it was undermining just how serious type 2 diabetes is – and how hard it is to treat it?

There was now tweet from Jane Speight…

…and that was pretty much it. (It is a very fine tweet, and that #sciencefiction hashtag deserves accolades!)

And there was no one up in arms about the way the merry band of doctors was talking about type 2 diabetes in such sensationalist and stigmatising ways. If they had been talking about type 1 diabetes, our response would have been swift.

What we saw on this program this week is actually dangerous. We can’t dismiss it as yet another ridiculous claim from a nut like Pete Evans, or Sarah Wilson, or the latest footballer’s wife. We can’t attribute it to an Instagram wellness guru. Instead, we saw three qualified healthcare professionals – a neurosurgeon, a GP and an immunologist; healthcare professionals that people trust with medical advice.

And – showing some bias here – perhaps it would have been easier to dismiss and discredit the whole show if it was broadcast on a more traditional tabloid program such as A Current Affair. An SBS show, with three Australian practising HCPs? People will think this is legitimate.

The way Medicine or Myth whitewashed type 2 diabetes was a disgrace. And as diabetes advocates, we should be calling out this sort of garbage, the same way we would ludicrous claims about type 1 diabetes treatments.

Totally unrelated, but I live in the most hipster street in the most hipster suburb of Melbourne and there is a place on my street that brews and sells seventeen different types of kombucha.

I have some illuminating discussions with healthcare professionals. After I’ve had an in-depth conversation, I find myself going over things they have told me and discover that I have always learnt something new about what it means to work in a system that is, in many ways, broken. I learn how their approach to healthcare changes year by year as they try to do their best for the people they see each day. And I realise that I never, ever could do their job.

Other times, I shake my head a little because I wonder how their understanding of the day-to-day challenges of living with a chronic health condition is so far removed from reality. In these cases it’s almost as though we are speaking different languages.

Recently I spoke to a group of HCPs about those differences. I focused on how we manage to fit diabetes into our busy lives in ways that HCPs never can imagine and how the neat text book description of life with diabetes is very different from the mess that we are trying to tame each day. I spoke about how what they say can be read in a multitude of different ways by those of us on the other side of the consultation, and to think about words carefully. And I spoke about how although some education of HCPs about diabetes suggests that there is a one size that somehow fits us all, the truth is that we require our education to take into consideration every size and shape possible and for it to be delivered accordingly.

A doctor came up to me afterwards and thanked me for my talk. ‘Thanks for making me think differently about some things,’ she said. I loved that she said that, and I told her so. ‘Actually, that’s always one thing that I hope to get when I hear someone speak about diabetes – a new perspective or way of thinking about something that I think I have all worked out.’

We chatted a little about what she’d heard that had surprised her and would she would now be thinking about in other ways. I may have high fived her when she said that she would now be taking a lot more care with the language that she uses. ‘I had no idea that what I was saying had such stigma attached. I honestly thought I was saying the right things. I never meant for people to feel blamed, but I can see now how I could have come across that way.’

That’s been one of the challenges of the #LanguageMatters movement in diabetes. As we’ve tried to bring HCPs along for the ride, we’ve had to do it in a way that doesn’t make it sound like we are berating them. I do and will continue to call out language that impacts on PWD negatively because it does matter. Language has the power to make us feel like we can take on diabetes or be defeated by it; it can make us feel like we are doing all we can and that is enough, or that we are failing and will never do enough. Again, for those down the back – language does matter. But I truly have never believed that HCPs use language with any malice or intent of harm. It’s often just because they repeat the words and phrases that have always been used.

I explained this to the doctor and we spoke about how to get the message across in a way that highlights and promotes collaboration. After we’d been speaking for about 10 minutes, she said ‘I have a question for you,’ I nodded, eager to hear what she wanted to ask. ‘What’s the best kept secret in diabetes?’

I was startled. What an interesting – and frankly brilliant – question. I’d never been asked that before and I wanted to think about it a lot. Poor woman – I’m sure that she just wanted some sort of quippy response and to be done with it so we could go home and eat dinner.

‘Wow!’ I started, excitedly. ‘I love this. Are there any secrets to diabetes?’ I started a checklist, going through some ideas.  ‘Is it peer support? For some reason, a lot of people don’t know just how widely available this is. Or maybe it’s how people can drive their own healthcare by setting the agenda. I frequently have people tell me that they just do what their doctor tells them (or rather, say they will) because they didn’t realise that healthcare could be an open and joint dialogue. In diabetes, maybe it’s all the clandestine DIY stuff that is going on which is so apparent to those of us who play on Facebook and Twitter, but maybe not to those who are not online as much. I know it’s NOT cinnamon. Actually – maybe it’s the whole thing about how when living with diabetes, or other chronic condition, our mental health is rarely taken into account, so perhaps understanding that and being referred to relevant services is the secret. It happens to so few of us…’

I stopped, because I could sense that there was so much I wanted to say, but I truly didn’t have an answer. ‘I don’t really know,’ I sighed. ‘I wish I did. I wish there was one…’

We said our good byes and I started to walk away before the doctor called after me: ‘You know what the best kept secret in diabetes is?’

I spun around. ‘What?’ I asked. I admit that I was hoping for a key that was going to unlock the mysteries of diabetes and suddenly make it a lot easier to live with.

‘You,’ she said. ‘And others like you. If only doctors like me took the time to listen to you all we would know a lot more and probably do a much better job.’

I smiled at her. ‘We’re not really a secret,’ I said. ‘We’re actually quite out there. You’re just not looking in the right places. Or asking the right questions.’

I gave her a little wave and left the room.

This post marks one thousand posts here on Diabetogenic*. That’s a lot of senseless rambling, ragey-moments, times celebrating and despairing about diabetes, and links to brilliant ideas and post… or to things that have either amused, frustrated, delighted or annoyed me.

A thousand posts in and diabetes is still a constant in my life (damn it). And I remain not good at diabetes…and I have many of those thousand posts to prove it.

There are clearly some recurring themes that I write about. I say that I am a one trick pony, but perhaps that’s not completely true. I seem to have a few tricks up my sleeve, really. And now I’m confused, because ponies don’t usually have sleeves and my metaphors are very, very mixed.

Here are the things that seem to have taken up a lot of writing time and words over these thousand posts…


Peer support

Most of the time, I am pretty positive about living with diabetes. Let me be clear: that doesn’t mean I love it, or even like it. But I feel that generally, I know where it belongs in my life and it seems to fit in that place as well and happily (begrudgingly) as it can.

I know that one of the reasons that I feel this way is people in the diabetes world I am lucky enough to call friends and peers. Online friends, in real life friends and those who cross both boundaries are a critical part of my living-well-with-diabetes strategy. Knowing that there are only a very few places around the world where I couldn’t find someone from this community to have a coffee/tea/prosecco/mojito with gives me an incredible sense of comfort. (And reassurance in case of diabetes emergency…)

I say that my peers with diabetes help me make sense of my own diabetes and that’s true. Knowing people who understand innately what it is like to share a body with diabetes means that I never feel alone. Diabetes is so isolating at times – even for those of us surrounded by great people who support and encourage us. As much as I need those people and am grateful for them, it is others living with diabetes that help me realise that I am never, ever alone in dealing with the ‘diabetes things’.

The diabetes online community is made up of lots of people and not all have diabetes. We each bring our own experience and perspective to it. I’ve learnt so much from those living arounddiabetes and how they incorporate it into life, because it comes with its own set of challenges and victories. That is why the community is so valuable – its diversity and range of experiences and perspectives.

I regularly talk about the value of community and diabetes peers and finding our tribe. It can take time to settle into just who and what that looks like, and it changes because there are always new people around. But it is so worth it. My tribe? I love them so hard.

Nothing about us without us

I am not the tattooing type but if I was, I think that I would have this phrase inked on my body somewhere (or maybe I’d be really pretentious, and have it written in Latin: Nihil de nobis sine nobis, according to Google translate.) It remains a frustration of mine that this isn’t the starting point for pretty much anything and everything to do with diabetes care. The fact that we still need to fight for a seat at the table – or a ticket to a diabetes conference – is, quite simply, not good enough. Having others speak for us, on our behalf thinking they know what we need, is offensive.  It should never be the case that non-PWD voices speak for us or over us. Ever. Our stories are powerful, but they are ours and we should have the platform to tell them in our own way; in our own voice.  Tokenism is rife and sometimes, that frustrates me even more than when we are completely excluded. The delusion of inclusion is, I think, worse.  Whilst there may have been some strides made to true co-design and inclusion, we have not come far enough and until we get this write, I’ll have a lot of content fodder for this blog.

Food

I like food. I write about it a lot. And I want to be Nigella. That’s really all I have to say about it right now…

Waffles in Brussels. Both were excellent.

More than numbers

Apparently, stating the obvious is still necessary in diabetes. We are more than numbers; our A1c does not define us; our worth is not wrapped up in our glucose levels. We have been saying these things for years…decades…and yet there are still times that this is what we are reduced to.

New treatments, devices, drugs, education programs are measured in reduction of A1c. Perhaps this is because it can be measured, but talk about only getting part of the story. I can’t help but think that if PWD were part of establishing research protocols, there may be far more than numbers to assess the success of a treatment or therapy. (See also: nothing about us without us…)

Women’s health

In recent years I’ve written about the issues specific to women, health, sex and diabetes a number of times because there is so little out there about it. And it seems it resonated with a number of women who wrote to tell me (and the HCP who saw me in the fresh produce section at my local Woolies and yelled how she loved my idea of giving lube in diabetes event bags).

Anyway…talking about the stuff that may not be the easiest is important. It’s the only way we get remove stigma and encourage people to share their stories. Which helps others. That’s why I have openly written and spoken about miscarriages and infertility. And eating disorders. (I know – not an exclusively women’s health issue.) There is nothing shameful or embarrassing about these topics. Other than we don’t speak about them enough.

Learning from and supporting others

The Interweb Jumbles I write are my favourite (and cheat’s) way of pulling together all the things I’ve seen that have interested me and leaving them in future place for (my) future reference. Plus, I love sharing what others in the diabetes community and world are doing.

I have always benefited from the generosity of others in this community who have shared my work and I pay that back whenever and wherever I can. Supporting each other is critical.

There’s so much going on in the diabetes world all the time and I highlight the things that resonate because I think that if they mean something to me, they may mean something to someone else, too.

Science. Science. Science

From pseudo-science rubbish, to ridiculous made-up diabetes cures to anti-vax delusions. How much writing material have they provided!

I live in hope that one day – and may that day be soon – we won’t still have to read about these charlatans trying to convince us that all that ails us can be cured with fairy dust and positive thought, or that vaccines are evil and cause diabetes, or that ‘wellness warriors’ are the true experts and professionals when it comes to diabetes.

While a lot of what I write is spent mocking these fools, there is an underlying seriousness to it all. Who can forget little Aiden Fenton who died after his parents stopped giving him insulin, instead leaving him to be treated by a ‘slap therapist’?

Anyone who is sprouting any treatment that is not based in science when it comes to diabetes or perpetuating anti-vax rubbish is as barbaric as the man who was charged with Aiden’s death.

The whole person

Diabetes happens because of something not working properly with our pancreas. But it affects every single part of us – something that astoundingly still seems to surprise some people.

Considering our mental health and emotional wellbeing is critical when assessing just how diabetes impacts on our every day. For some, diabetes seeps into every single part of us and for others, we keep it at bay and manage around us. For most of us, there is an ebb and flow of just how that works.

And while we’re talking about the whole person, diabetes-related complications may be specific to a particular body part, but those body parts remain connected to the rest of us.

For so long, we get metaphorically chopped up with as only bits of us get attention and focus. But nothing in diabetes is ever in isolation. That’s just not how it works.

And finally, language

The trick this (however-many-trick) pony is most known for is #LangaugeMatters and you know what, I’m happy to wear that. I really am. If I was to stop this blog today (thought about it…1,000 has a nice rounding off feel to it), and never spoke about diabetes ever again (oh, if only), I would not be disappointed if this was what people thought of when they thought of me and this blog.

Language matters. It does and I refuse to, for a moment, believe that it doesn’t. I am certainly not the only person playing in this space and I am so grateful to have a tribe of language matters peers and colleagues can rise above the small details to understand just why this issue does really matter.

___________

Thanks to everyone who has read one or more of these thousand posts. Thanks especially to the people who keep coming back. I can’t promise that there are going to be a thousand more posts. And I can’t promise that I will learn any new tricks other than the ones that I seem to have on repeat at times. These issues remain important to me and perhaps to you too.

* At EASD, my mate Bastian Hauck gave me a head’s up that I was getting close to publishing the 1,000 post on this blog. I’d not have had a clue otherwise. Thanks, Bastian!

Here’s the deal. Changing one word for another that means exactly the same thing is not addressing the whole #LanguageMatters issue. Acknowledging that one word doesn’t work and may not be especially empowering and positive for people with diabetes only to replace it with another that is equally problematic is not really helping.

Case in point: more and more healthcare professionals and researchers have accepted that the word compliant, (and its friends non-compliant and compliance) are out. So, they replace them with adherent, and non-adherent and adherence.

No. Just no. And stop it.

They mean exactly the same thing and do the same thing: rap people with diabetes over the knuckles for not following an often-imposed plan about how we should manage the condition we live with. (‘Should’ is also a dirty word as far as I’m concerned, but we’ll deal with that another day.)

I am frequently asked what words would be better, but I prefer to give an explanation about the reasons these words are problematic. Because I think if people have an understanding of why these words set some of us off, perhaps they may be less likely to simply swap out one tricky word for another.

Let me refer to the Diabetes Australia Language Position Statement for a moment:

‘Use of the terms ‘(non-) compliant’, ‘(non-) adherent’ is particularly problematic. Such terms characterise the individual as cooperative or uncooperative, especially when used as adjectives to describe the person rather than the behaviour. Using these labels can mean opportunities are lost to ask relevant questions, develop collaborative goals, tailor treatment regimens and make referrals that actively support the person to manage his or her diabetes. Attempts to increase ‘compliance’ and ‘adherence’ generally involve persuading the person with diabetes to change his or her behaviour to fit the health professional’s agenda.’

There is a lot of judgement attached to these terms.

I think back to when I was diagnosed with diabetes and the first inkling I had that I was going to struggle to follow directions was when the dietitian I saw the day after diagnosis showed me a rubber mould representing the quantity of mashed potato I should eat in one sitting. I was twenty-four years old and knew just how much food I liked on my plate and that was not it. In fact, it looked more like the quantity I would eat over a week – not one meal.

I mentioned that to the dietitian. I explained how I love food, but I eat until I am full and then stop because I’d learnt that listening to my body was a really important to me. (That sounds all Zen-like, but truthfully, it is just so I don’t get the revolting over-full feeling when I don’t listen to my body’s signals!) Surely there had to be a way that I could still do that even with diabetes along for the ride. Right?

She just looked at me and told me that I had to eat that amount because of my insulin dose. ‘Can I take less insulin then?’ I asked. ‘No. That’s not how it works,’ she replied, without explaining why.

So, I nodded and promised to eat thirteen kilos of potatoes at every meal. And within a week I had worked out how to eat less, dose less and still listen to my body. Oh – and I learnt how to lie to HCPs and tell them what they wanted to hear. And that I never, ever wanted to sit in a room with another dietitian.

Was I being ‘non-compliant’? Well, I certainly wasn’t following what I had been instructed to do. But I was eating what made me feel good and dosing insulin accordingly. Surely that had to count for something? Yet, when I returned to see the dietitian for the follow up appointment that I diligently (compliantly?) kept, she tut-tutted me for not following the eating plan she had given me – an eating plan into which I’d had no input.

This is a recurring theme in diabetes. We hear of people being ‘told off’ for not following treatments, but we are not given the opportunity to help shape those treatments.

Being ‘compliant’ in diabetes suggests that we are doing what we are told. It means that we don’t question, we just willingly follow directions without considering whether or not they work for us. It also suggests there are rules and that if we follow them – if we ‘comply’ with them – we can expect the outcomes to always be the same. Diabetes doesn’t work that way.

I think back over the two decades I’ve lived with diabetes and know that time and time and time again I have been thought of as ‘non-compliant’ simply because I didn’t do what a HCP thought was the best thing for me, instead working my way around and finding what worked. Diabetes isn’t fun, so you bet I have looked for ways to do things that take less effort, less time, less brainpower, less burden. That’s not because I don’t care. It’s because when I find a way that works better for me, I’m more likely to do it.

Every single one of those times that a HCP has thought of me as ‘non-compliant’ was a missed opportunity for us to work together to collaboratively come up with treatment plans, strategies and goals that worked for me.

When we are accused of being ‘non-compliant’ with medication, activity or eating plans, attending appointments, filling in glucose records or anything else that we are expected to do in diabetes, it’s not because we are being wilfully naughty. It is because whatever we have been asked to do is not right for us – we simply cannot do it, or don’t understand why. Sometimes of course we don’t want to do it, but there is usually a reason why we then don’t act.

Compliant (and non-compliant) are dirty words in diabetes. And replacing them with adherent (and non-adherent) doesn’t make it any better because they mean the same thing.

If you are a healthcare professional and use these words when referring to PWD, I suggest that you stop and start again. Think about what you are saying. The person in front of you is not a naughty child, waiting for your approval or rebuke. They do not need to be told that they have failed at meeting (what were probably unrealistic) expectations. They certainly don’t need to feel ashamed and judged by you.

What we need is something quite simple, really. We need to be asked what matters to us and what will work for us. We may need to be asked that a few times. If you are talking about a course of treatment, make sure that we understand that it is just a suggestion and that we can alter it to fit us. Remind us that if we can’t follow it that doesn’t mean we’ve failed. It probably means that together we need to tweak things so that we can follow.

Until the language that we see routinely in diabetes is about supporting, encouraging people with diabetes and positively influencing the broader community discussion about our condition, I will continue to call out any time I hear these words being used. I accept that there is no quick fix. And while I accept that healthcare is incredibly traditional in its communication, I refuse to accept it as a reason to continue to use language that is so damaging. ‘Because we always have’ or ‘Because they’re the words we use that make sense’ is not an excuse to refuse make change for the better.

Postscript

It’s not only in diabetes where we see this sort of language. See this tweet from The Grumpy Pumper about flaws in using the word compliant when it comes to those living with dementia.

Postscript two

Yes, yes, yes I do use the term ‘deliberately non-compliant’ as a badge of honour, wear t-shirts with the phrase boldly blazed across the front of it and carry a phone case with it proudly (in pink) splashed over it. It was used to reflect the opinion of healthcare professionals after I gave a talk about using DIYAPS. 

Last Friday, I took part in my first Facebook Live chat as part of The Lowdown campaign. (If you’ve not watched the Facebook live chat, you still can by clicking here.) I was joined by former AFL footballer, Jack Fitzpatrick, who has lived with type 1 diabetes for about six years.

Jack and I could not be more different. He speaks a language of sport of which I know barely one or two words. His perspective of the first few years of his life with diabetes are very, very different to mine. He talks about how, thanks to his workplace – and AFL football club – he had a doctor and dietitian working with him every day. He worked out how to fit diabetes into his job with the help of HCPs that most of us see a few times a year at the most.

But there are also similarities. We were both diagnosed as young adults and we had to learn how to manage a very demanding health condition at a time when there is far more fun to be had. On Friday, we spoke about hypos, and his stories made complete and utter sense to me.

The Lowdown campaign is a beautiful story telling initiative. That’s what has happened over the last week – PWD told their stories about hypos and time and time and time again, there were comments from other PWD who recognised that story. We recognised the way our heart might beat faster, or the confusion that heralds plummeting glucose levels. We nodded as we heard about people over-treating, because in the moment, that is all we feel we can, and must, do. We smiled at the silly things we read others do when low, (hello, HypoBoy).

Every time I saw a comment from someone who said a version of ‘That happens to me too!’ I felt tingles. That connection comes only when we feel that we are not alone, that someone understands what we are going through. I get it – it’s why I read diabetes blogs and listen to diabetes podcasts. I’m looking for real life, authentic stories, the lived experience.

As I said in the Facebook live chat, this campaign is a form of peer support. Because that is exactly what is happening – people with diabetes supporting each other, using stories that resonate, make us feel like we part of a tribe, helping us understand that our way of dealing with something is just as legitimate as anyone else’s.

We all do it – we all seek out those that stories mirror our own. That doesn’t mean that we have to think the same way or do the same things or feel the same way. It’s not about there being a one size experience or everyone having the same thoughts and ideas. In fact, the diversity in what we see and read is important because it means that we can find the ones that we connect with most and help us better make sense of our own experience.

Too often, the story of diabetes is told using statistics. That is the way researchers and healthcare professionals and governments talk. But for those of us actually living with diabetes, it will never be about the one in how-ever-many-thousand. We don’t want to hear how the dice is likely to roll or how the numbers keep getting more and more stacked against us the longer we live with this condition. We don’t connect with data, statistics or numbers. We connect with people and to their stories. That’s what we need to tell. And that’s what we need to hear.

These days, it’s impossible to be at a diabetes conference and not have at least one conversation somewhere about language. Sometimes there are sessions dedicated to the topic on the program, but that wasn’t the case at ATTD a couple of weeks ago – a conference solely devoted to advancements in diabetes technology and treatments.

But despite there not being a session about language, it was still a hot topic. My eagle eye was trained when walking through the exhibition centre for examples where diabetes is misrepresented or the language used stigmatises people living with the condition. And in sessions, I immediately heard terms that suggested that we are misbehaving because the results of treatments aren’t living up to their promise. (A new one: I heard the statement ‘People with diabetes on <therapy> were not performing as expected’ which now makes me think that we are being trained, watched and judged by pageant mums/moms.)

At the Ascensia Diabetes Social Media Summit (more on that another day), there was a discussion about language and diabetes-related complications. This event was a follow on from the one we had at the Australia Diabetes Social Media Summit, and took the initial conversations and expanded it with a new group of PWDs.

Once again, as the discussion unfolded, it was clear to see that the PWD in the room all had experiences where the language they were faced with had impacted negatively and positively. One person commented that early on in their diagnosis, a health professional had addressed diabetes-related complications by saying ‘If you are diagnosed with a diabetes-related complication it will not have been your fault.’ What an empowering way to begin the discussion about complications, care and risk reduction!

I’ve been talking about language for a number of years. Some may call me a one trick pony and, honestly, that’s fine. My appetite for the subject matter has not diminished one bit despite more than a decade of speaking and writing about why language is so important and holds such power.

Language is not a one dimensional issue. Additionally it does not necessarily have a ‘right way’ to do it – especially when looking at it from the perspective of the person living with diabetes. The work I have been involved in has never been about policing the words used by people with diabetes, but rather how words used by others affect us.

It’s why the piece Grumps and I wrote for BMJ  was important – it targeted healthcare professionals, explaining to them why the words and language used around diabetes-related complications needs to not make us feel hopeless. Because that is what can happen and when we feel that way, it is all too easy for diabetes to seem just too big and too hard and too much.

I have frequently written about how diabetes can become so overwhelming, that it can leave us unable to attend to even the most basic and mundane of diabetes management tasks. I myself have been paralysed by the detail and demands of this health condition. I understand that there are times when a conversation about language is not possible, because, quite frankly, there is a lot more to deal with. I know that there have been moments when even though I can hear judgement and blame in the words being directed at me, all I want to do is find a way out of what feels like a hole. I’ve heard others say that they have felt harshly treated by HCPs, but simply didn’t have the capacity to try to deal with that because there were other things higher up on the list.

And I am sure that there are people who simply wouldn’t even know where to begin if the words and language being directed at them were disempowering and negative.

But that is exactly why language matters. It is for the people in those situations – for me when I was in that situation – that we need to get the way we communicate about diabetes right.

I am so sick of people trying to delegitimise the language discussion, or, even worse, reduce it to something that is insignificant. It frustrates me when the discussion returns again and again and again to the diabetic/PWD debate. As I said at the Ascenisa event at ATTD when we were discussing the annoying way some try to redirect meaningful discussion back to this single issue: ‘You can call me Blossom for all I care, language is about far more than this.’

And I think that while it is critical that we acknowledge that sometimes the language issue isn’t going to be a priority for some (by choice or otherwise), it seems unfair – and a little counter-intuitive – to diminish its importance, or criticise those of us trying to keep it on the agenda and actually do something about it.

(Click for original tweet)

DISLCOSURE

I attended the ATTD conference in Berlin. My (economy) airfare and part of my accommodation was covered by DOCLab (I attended an advisory group meeting for DOCLab), and other nights’ accommodation was covered by Roche Global (I attended the Roche Blogger MeetUp). While my travel and accommodation costs have been covered, my words remain all my own and I have not been asked by DOCLab or Roche Global to write about my attendance at their events or any other aspect of the conference. 

Last week, the BMJ published a piece I wrote with the Grumpy Pumper. It was part of their ‘What Your Patient is Thinking’ series which includes stories from people sharing their experiences of living with a variety of health conditions, or using health services.

We wrote about the intersection between language and diabetes-related complications and why language matters so much any time this topic is raised. This is our latest piece on the issue (read the PLAID Journal article here, and something we wrote for diaTribe here). We may appear to be one trick ponies, but it seems the appetite for this issue has not in any way diminished – which is good, because there’s lots more to come! (We’re not one trick ponies – I for one can talk for hours about why the fax machine should be made extinct in healthcare.)

It’s been fascinating – and a little overwhelming – to read the responses to the article after it was shared on a variety of social media platforms at the end of last week, and then again over the weekend. It’s also been heartbreaking when people have told stories about how HCPs have spoken about diabetes-related complications in ways that have had negative effects.

It’s refreshing to see many HCPs (including those from outside the diabetes world) sharing and commenting on the article. Much of what we have written is applicable beyond diabetes. It doesn’t matter what health condition someone is diagnosed with; everyone wants to be treated with kindness and compassion and to not be blamed or shamed.

A couple of HCPs have said that after they read the article, they will now consider changing the way the speak. I love this piece from a CDE in the US who said that she honestly thought the words she was using when discussing diabetes-related complications were reassuring until she read our perspective, and now understands that there are better ways to frame the conversation. We only hope that this will lead to PWD feeling less judged and more supported, and not afraid to talk about what is still a taboo topic for so many.

The diabetes and language landscape is broad. I know that there are many who roll their eyes and say that actually, language doesn’t matter, and perhaps we should be focusing on more pressing issues, but I wonder if they are perhaps focussing on issues that they don’t think are really important.

But there is a lot more to this issue than, for example, the debate between being called ‘a person with diabetes’ or ‘diabetic’ – or if it even matters. Regardless of what the specific issue is, we are hoping is that people understand that words really do matter; they have far-reaching consequences; they determine how people feel about their diabetes; and that the right words have the potential to make people feel better equipped to manage their diabetes as best they possibly can.

Please read the BMJ article – it is freely accessibly – and share it with your networks. If you have diabetes, take a copy to your next HCP appointment and leave it for them to read. The way that we make real, sustainable change is to keep pressing a point, and explain why it is important. Hopefully this piece has gone some way to doing that.

The illustration that was commissioned for the print version of the article. Artist Rose Lloyd did such a great job of getting across the messages in the article!

It’s hot in Melbourne today and it’s going to get warmer over the next few days. I’m loving the bone-warming sun that just makes everything look so sparkly and bright. So, I’m spending as much time as possible soaking up the rays (and adding to the ridiculous tan mark around my Dex), because the cooler weather will be here before I know it. I’m trying to build up those vitamin D stores to last me for when winter hits here and I’m reliant on quick trips to the northern hemisphere for work to see the sunshine and warmer temperatures.

Anyway, diabetes doesn’t take a break over the summer. Or winter. Which means, there is always lots to read and see about it. Here are some of the things I’m catching up on now.

Hospital life in pictures

This piece from the guardian will break your heart. Explained pictorially, it’s easy to see that the medical system is broken, medical education is broken, hospitals can be incredibly cold and anxiety inducing places, doctors are at breaking point. And patients in the system are left to deal with the fallout from the disarray.

IDF comps

The International Diabetes Federation is working to reduce the stigma association with diabetes-related complications, with a focus on how the language used can make people feel judged and stigmatised. Last year, they launched the #DiabetesComplicationsTalk Facebook page, encouraging people with diabetes to share stories and support each other.

It’s really great to see the IDF in the #LanguageMatters space, encouraging people to openly speak about diabetes-related complications to help reduce the stigma associated with them. More here.

Diabetes Voice

Still on news from the IDF, the organisation’s quarterly magazine is now available electronically. The first edition is an absolute cracker. Start with this incredibly powerful piece from editor, Elizabeth Snouffer, about diabetes-related stigma. Read it. Share it.

Patient Revolution

If you’ve not checked out the Patient Revolution website, now is a great time to have a look.

Start with this page, which is a library of stories you can click through, finding any specific topics that you are interested in.

Also, there is a Patient Revolution chat which uses the hashtag #WhyWeRevolt. To keep up to date with their chats, and to take part, follow @PatientRev on Twitter.

1,200 mason jars

Do you ever find yourself in the midst of a Twitter thread, wishing, in equal measure, that you hadn’t started, but can’t get enough of it? Sometimes these threads are diabetes-related; sometimes they’re not. Go here for one that is definitely not.

I have spent far too much time in the last week invested in this bizarre tale. There is a lot to take away from the whole saga – maybe starting with: don’t pay USD$169 to hear someone ‘teach’ you how to ‘be you’. And there are a lot of unanswered questions, such as what the hell is going to happen to the mason jars.

Happy reading. (You may need a drink …)

Diabetes in the US

I will never understand the US health system. My head and heart hurt as I hear the struggles of friends with diabetes, and the difficulties they have accessing insulin, and diabetes tech and supplies.

This piece from the New York Times talks about non-medical switching, where insurance companies decide which drugs (and devices) they will cover and subsidise. In Australia, the government decides which drugs will be listed on the PBS (Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme). If a drug is on there, it is the same price for everyone who has a prescription. There are some drugs that require a special prescription to be provided at the subsidised price. But there is no extra negotiating or pleading, or any involvement, with insurance companies.

In a system that is broken beyond measure, this seems like one more roadblock to make just surviving with a condition such as diabetes impossible.

Going beyond

Beyond Type 1 has grown to include a new platform for people with type 2 diabetes. Check it out!

Real life Loop stories

The team at diaTribe has a new series of personal stories of people who have been using DIYAPS solutions. Adam Brown’s story was first, and Kelly Close has now offered her experiences. Such a great idea to get a number of different insights into what has worked, what hasn’t and hopes for the future of DIYAPS.

Sharing and caring

Also from diaTribe, this great piece from Kerri Sparling which provides her own and others’ perspectives on sharing of CGM data. There is no one way to share data – it is personal, individual and can change over time, depending on circumstances. Some choose to; others don’t. I love this piece because it is balanced and offers some interesting thoughts.

Ascensia and CGM

More tech choices for people with diabetes is always great to hear, so Ascensia’s recent announcement of their move into the CGM market has been met with enthusiasm from the community. Read their release here and Diabetes Mine’s take on the announcement here.

SoMe at conferences

I believe social media engagement and use at all health conferences is a critical and necessary part of any communication strategy. There is no better, easier or more effective way to share details of the conference that by encouraging the people attending to broadcast using their own social media networks.

This article explores that, referencing the ridiculous photo ban at ADA in 2017 (which thankfully was changed in 2018).

Menopause and T1D blog

Sarah Gatward is a blogger from the UK and she is writing a series sharing her experiences of living type 1 diabetes and going through menopause. Yes! And thank you, Sarah. Start here.

NDSS reminder

Now is a good a time as any to make sure your NDSS details are up to date. Remember – the NDSS is not just about subsidised diabetes supplies. It also provides information and support for people affected by diabetes.

Go here to make sure your registration details are correct.

Bin the fax

All my dreams came true when I read this article in the Limbic today! Finally calls to get rid of the archaic fax machine in health care. Halle-bloody-lujah!

 

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