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I can’t believe I wrote this piece almost seven years ago. I had turned 40 the year before and as often happens around the occasion of ‘big’ birthdays, I’d started to think about just what getting older means. I didn’t seem to have any feelings of regret or stress that I was ageing though, I was fully embracing just where I was going, the wisdom that I felt, and the absolute excitement of what was coming next. Seven years later, I can see that I was right to feel that way.

At the moment, I’m spending time thinking and reading about menopause and I’m lost in language that is tied up with this ‘next stage’. There seems to be so much loss, regret, and looking back, and feeling scared about what people are losing and leaving behind as the next stage of life hits. But I don’t feel that way. I feel that I can look back with pride and achievement and happiness and pain and love and hurt and longing. There are things I wish I had done differently, but nothing I wish I hadn’t done. I don’t want do-overs. Looking ahead, there is just more to look forward to, possibilities that I have no idea about yet.

This year, with so much about insulin’s centenary, thinking about getting older seems more poignant. Because a short century ago, diabetes was a death sentence. Ageing was only something we could even dream about. What a privilege to wear my age in years alongside my age in diabetes!

And so today, I’m sharing these words from 14 October 2014 (with a few edits) because they still ring true for me. They still feel real. And in seven years time, I’m hoping I revisit this post again, and feel the same way.

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I really should be careful what I read and where I read it! The other day I sat at a gate lounge at Sydney Airport crying as I read an incredibly candid piece on the Huffington Post that inexplicably told my story so honestly and accurately that I wondered if I had written it and not remembered.

And then I read this piece by Rebecca Sparrow and again, floods of tears as I nodded at everything she wrote.

I remember one day sitting with a group of other women all around the same age and we were speaking about skin care products (and then we giggled about boys, plaited each other’s hair and painted our toe nails). I was the only one who had not been using so-called anti-ageing products for a number of years. Because that’s the thing – we’re meant to be anti-ageing and do things to turn back the clock.

I am forty years old. (EDIT: forty-seven) This is not something I feel the need to hide nor be ashamed of. I celebrated last year with a week of parties and lovely gifts. I wanted to celebrate this milestone – just as I do every milestone. Next month, I turn 41 and have every intention of celebrating that too.

Rebecca Sparrow writes that ageing and getting older is a privilege as she tells the story of a friend of hers who, at 22 years has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. This young woman is not going to be afforded the opportunity to age and get wrinkly and turn grey. She is going to die at an age where most of us feel completely immortal.

Ageing is a privilege – I understand that more and more every day. With our daughter growing up – she’s going to be 10 next month – I can easily measure time. We see how she has changed and how, with each passing month, she is becoming an incredible young girl we are so proud of. And we are so lucky to be able to watch this.

I am over the idea that ageing is something that we should hide from and do everything in our power to avoid. I am forty years old. I look older than I did when I was 17 and doing year 12, or when I was 25, or when I was 30 and pregnant, or even than I did a couple of years ago. Of course I do. And if truth be known, I really don’t want to turn back the clock – on how I look physically or how I feel emotionally. With age comes wisdom – it may be a cliché, but it is true. But even more – with age comes experiences and confidence and a sense of self that only seems to grow each year.

Ageing is a privilege. It is normal. And devastatingly, for some, they never will age.

Less than 100 years ago, being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes was a death sentence. Think about that for a moment. If I had have been diagnosed prior to insulin being available, I would have died before I was 25 years old. I never would have travelled, worked in a job that gives me incredible joy, spent so much time with friends and family, seen Tony Bennett live, learnt what an octothorpe is, watched the West Wing, attended my 20 year school reunion – or my 10 year school reunion for that matter, danced on the turf of the MCG as The Police sang, seen the Book of Mormon, read Harry Potter, gone to (and fallen in love with) New York City, met Oliver Jeffers, used an iPhone, gotten married or had a daughter. (2021 EDIT: AND …revisited and revisited and revisited New York, watched my girl turn into the most amazing almost-adult, stood on the stage at conferences around the world, extolling the value of the lived experience, stood alongside three amazing women as we put together the fantastic programme for the 2019 IDF Congress, Living with Diabetes stream, celebrated 20 years of marriage, road tripped across the US with Aaron, visited Graceland, sat in ABBA’s Arrival helicopter, ‘built’ my own pancreas, gone back to Paris another few times, and finally been able to sit on the grass at Place des Vosges, taken my family to Friends for Life, seen the language matters movement grow from the seed we planted into a global movement, lived through (and continue to…) a pandemic…)

My life would have ended before any of these things. Just because I’d been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Which makes me understand and feel the privilege of ageing more and more. Every diaversary, every diabetes milestone is worth celebrating.

I want to look forty (EDIT: forty-seven) – I want every battle scar I’ve earned to be visible; every success – and every failure – to be shown on my face; the story of every victory and disappointment to be told. Because these are part of who I am and I am so, so lucky to be here to keep telling my story.

Lucky to keep laughing, crying, learning.
And Zooming. So fucking much Zooming.

There is so much about diabetes that can’t be simply explained or managed. And even if we understand the mechanism behind why something happens, we can’t necessarily fix it!

The intersection between diabetes and anxiety is certainly one of those things. When I am anxious, I go high. That’s the way it is. If I am extremely anxious and have a panic attack, the adrenalin rush sends me to insanely high glucose levels that I know I can’t treat by just bolusing insulin, because there will a swift, aggressive crash at some point and any excess insulin will make it worse. Much worse, because nausea often accompanies how I am feeling in the moment, so the thought of an ‘eat-the-kitchen’ hypo is not great at all. 

I was feeling pretty anxious yesterday. It was a medium level hum that at times swelled to a loud banging noise, and I could sense that there was a topple on effect with my glucose levels. Except there wasn’t. At least not one that could be detected on my CGM graph, which was chugging along in range, albeit at the slightly higher end of that range.

But Loop was working hard to keep it that way. Micro changes to basal insulin showed a Loop graph of constantly changing dosing throughout the morning – at the same time I was feeling loud-banging-noise-anxious. At the moment there was a surge in anxiety levels – and I can pinpoint that moment – there was an accompanying surge in my insulin dose, but only for a little while. Because as my anxiety ebbed and flowed, so did my insulin dosing. All with me doing nothing.

Living with anxiety is one of the things that makes diabetes super difficult. I mean, there are so many things, but anxiety is a next level issue because the very idea of thinking about dealing with diabetes while dealing with an intense moment of anxiety is, quite simply, impossible. But even if I could, there is no way that I would be able to predict just how my glucose levels would respond, or the timing of that response, to act effectively. 

As ever when writing and thinking about automated insulin delivery it comes with a very honest understanding, and acknowledgement of my privilege and knowing that I am extraordinarily fortunate to have at my disposal the technology that can help me in this way. I’ve written and spoken about this a number of times, and I am always acutely aware of the advantage of having a system that takes away so much of the brain power needed to manage such a complex health condition. I say this not as an afterthought – it is an ever-present thought. 

But also ever-present is the gratitude that there is something with me that is providing such incredible insight into just how my diabetes behaves, operates and reacts to different situations. That is, of course, what CGM does. But it’s Loop gives an extra layer of insight – it shows me what my body would have been doing if my beta cells hadn’t gone on a permanent ‘tools down’ almost twenty-three years ago. And gives me an appreciation, and a reminder, of just how difficult diabetes is, and how incredibly challenging it is to attempt to perform the function of a highly sophisticated and evolved body organ!

Anxiety is unpleasant. What it does to diabetes is unpleasant. But having the tools to help manage its impacts on diabetes does help. It’s one less thing to worry about at a moment when it feels that I am being engulfed in a whole world of darkness and worry which is how I felt yesterday.

Now if someone could just magic up a DIY tool to stop the anxiety happening in the first place, that would be just dandy!

Seems as good a way as any…

Last week, I had a drive thru flu shot because that’s the COVID-19 world we live in now.

My GP practice has a super-efficient process set up that involved a phone consult with my doctor earlier in the day, a time locked in for me to get my shot and clear instructions for what to do once I arrived in the practice’s car park.

At the appointed time, my GP called to confirm that I was there, instructed me to expose my right upper arm, and came out to the car park to jab my arm. I waited in the car for 15 mins and then drove off. It was clear, easy and safe.

We’re coming into flu season in the southern hemisphere, and if you haven’t already, now is the time for everyone to make plans for how and when to get your vaccination.  In Australia, flu vaccines are free for all people with diabetes.

I know that some people are wondering why flu vaccine messages are still coming out so strongly even though we’re all meant to be physically isolating. It’s still important for a number of reasons. Obviously, we don’t want people to get COVID-19 AND the flu, and we don’t want people adding to the strain of what is likely to be an over-stressed health system.

Perhaps our physical distancing will have an impact on lowering numbers this year, (which would be great considering that over 300,000 people were diagnosed with the flu last year in Australia alone). But physical distancing is no guarantee that we won’t get infectious diseases such as COVID-19 or the seasonal flu. And that’s why we need to do all that we can to minimise the risk, and potential subsequent outcomes.

The message for those of us living with diabetes is the same when it comes to getting the flu as it does for getting COVID-19. We are probably not more likely to actually get either of them, but if we do, diabetes could complicate our recovery. Plus, managing diabetes with any sort of infection usually comes with a massive degree of difficulty.

The message is clear: get your flu shot. Encourage friends and family to get theirs. It really is the responsible thing to do.

So, today I had a moment and completely lost it. Tears – big, fat tears – sobbing and ugly, snotty crying. I didn’t even try to hide it, which is what I would usually do. There’s no hiding anymore now that we are all living in confined spaces and pretty much on top of each other all the time. (Sorry to the neighbours if they heard too. Inner-city living means not much space between house boundaries…)

I felt a lot better afterwards. Lighter and less overwhelmed. I realised that being all peppy and positive was weighing me down – perhaps that annoying Pollyanna-ish exterior was becoming like an armour.

I really try to not do the whole ‘what if’ stuff. This was something that I worked on for a long time with my psychologist. Catastrophising diabetes isn’t a great idea at the best of times. Adding a pandemic to the ruinous thinking isn’t especially fun.

It’s not surprising that people with diabetes are talking more about how our mental health is faring in the current situation. Living with a life-long condition that is so demanding and has the ability to mess with our minds in the most insidious way already makes us susceptible to feeling distressed. Now, it feels like that has been turned up to eleven.

I’m trying to remember how I learnt to move from thinking ‘what if <insert whichever scenario was terrifying me at that moment>’ to ‘what if it never happens’. It took me a long time to understand how to do that, with varying levels of success. There were always scenarios that made me feel extra level anxious, and it was a struggle to try to be rational. I found that by allowing myself to think about the most worrying, scary and uncertain things for a set amount of time – giving permission, I guess, to the worry and concern – I could then move on.

It turns out that pandemics bring out the catastrophising. The end-of-days thinking is not especially good for one’s already stressed mental health. Thinking about the things that are happening or that could happen is hard. Hard and scary and terrifying.

This week, I’ve kept coming back to how the Diabetes MILES study showed that the number one problem area for people who participated in the study was worrying about the future and development of diabetes-related complications.  There is so much fear of the unknown in diabetes. We just don’t know how it will all play out. We do what we can, we assess and try to minimise risk, we do the best we can with the situation we are in. But we don’t really know what is around the corner.

COVID-19 is that all over again. But with diabetes thrown in for good measure.

Today, I gave permission for the worry and concern to come out because pushing it away wasn’t working. It flooded over me and weighed me down. And then I allowed the tears and the sobs. I didn’t try to stop it, I didn’t try to hide it away. And then…then I could breathe again, and work on the things that help me feel lighter.

So, I’m breathing so deeply. I’m standing in the sunshine. I’m watching our littlest dog run around in circles because she (still) hasn’t realised that she’s not a new puppy anymore. I’m listening to my husband play music. I’m listening to my kid’s laughter because it’s my favourite sound.

And I’m still muttering to myself that this too shall pass. Not yet, and maybe not for some time, but it will. This. Too. Shall. Pass.

Who wants to get out of a warm hotel bed and wander through the freezing streets of Busan to the BEXCO conference centre on the last day of an exhausting conference to be ready for an 8.30am session on diabetes and sexual health?

As it turns out, a lot of people do (including a few people who may have been doing karaoke until just a few hours earlier).

The symposium was in three parts. I started by talking about the female perspective of diabetes, sex and sexual health, followed by Grumps (Chris Aldred) giving the male perspective. Brilliant physician and academic, Fauzia Moyeen, closed out the session by highlighting current research in this area of diabetes.

Introducing Fauzia Moyeen to the stage.

My session at the IDF Congress focused on the recurring themes I hear from women living with diabetes. These themes were evident in responses to the blog post I wrote a couple of weeks ago asking women to share their experiences, and reinforced the messages I’d received after previous posts I’d published about diabetes, women and sex.

As much as I had wanted to present a variety of different experiences, the messages I heard from women was not especially diverse! Women from countries considered more liberal and open to discussions about sex said exactly the same things as out sisters from countries where you would expect limited information about sex and sexual health.

Over and over and over again, women echoed that they had never spoken about this issue with a healthcare professional, and if they had raised it, they were told diabetes does not impact on sex.

Some of the quotes were absolutely heartbreaking. Women shared stories of how their relationships ended because sex had become so painful and uncomfortable after their diabetes diagnosis and they had not been able to get help. One woman was told ‘…get used to it because that’s how it is’, another was told the pain was not real.

The emotional impact of feeling that yet another part of our bodies is letting us down and not doing what it is meant to is never considered or discussed. We are left to flail around with these intense feelings and concerns. It’s not even a matter of being able to get help – we don’t have anyone signal to us that this could be an issue.

Then there is the mess of adding hypos, or fear of hypos into sexual activity, or trying to be intimate when we’re hyper and our bodies feel leaden and achy. There is so little that is sexy about diabetes, and that may be especially true when we are trying to be our sexiest!

And then there is the whole contemplation of how to introduce a new partner to devices stuck on bodies and scars on skin, and the worry about how that will make them see us.

Discussion after my talk was lively, with HCPs asking some great questions. One wanted to know how to bring up the topic, which is really important. Many people are not comfortable talking about sex and sexual health. Not everyone is happy to share when they are experiencing problems. Cultural considerations come into play here as well. Having a HCP of a different gender speaking about sex makes some people very uncomfortable. One HCP said that when he has raised the topic, he’s been told that it’s none of his business.

I had some suggestions about normalising discussions about sex, while remain sensitive to people with diabetes, allowing them to dictate if this is a topic for discussion.

I believe it is essential that the person with diabetes is the one who decides whether or not sex and sexual health are to be topics of discussion. Now that doesn’t mean HCPs don’t get to ask at all, leaving all responsibility to the PWD. They can provide prompts. Perhaps have some brochures in the waiting room that can be accessed by women. (Yes! There are such things and you can see them here.)

Also, list sexual health and sex as something that may be affected by diabetes in general diabetes discussions. Think about it as a complication of diabetes and address it as you would any other complication. Just mentioning it plants a seed for the PWD to understand that this may be something that needs attention.

I borrowed a suggestion I heard Sarah Le Brocq during her language and obesity talk at the DEEP Summit earlier this year. Sarah shared how one GP practise has a little form for people to fill in before they go to see the doctor. There are a list of different issues and the person can tick the topics they are comfortable having discussed in the appointment. (This, she said, is a brilliant idea for people living with obesity, because often that is the first and only thing the doctor wants to speak about, even if the reason for the appointment is a sore finger or something irrelevant to the person’s weight).

Translated for diabetes, develop a checklist with potential topics, with sex as one of them. If the box had been ticked, that would signpost to the HCP that this was a topic that the person with diabetes wanted to discuss.

Another question came from a doctor who asked how to make discussions about sex a priority when he needs to focus on diabetes-related complications. ‘If a person is dead from a heart attack, sex won’t matter,’he said.

The response from people with diabetes was the same. Consultations need to focus on the issues that matter to people with diabetes, not tick the box exercises so HCPs feel that they are getting in all the things theywant to speak about.

Yesterday, I wrote this in my post:

‘… sometimes the chasm between what people living with diabetes want and need and what HCPs and researchers think we want is gulf-like.’

I felt that keenly after my talk. Women had told me that relationships had ended because of how diabetes had impacted on their sex lives. Others said that the discomfort they felt having sex meant that they just didn’t want to, and it had become a constant source of tension between them and their partner. Other women felt that they were failing themselves and their current or potential partners. One woman said that she refused to have sex because she didn’t want anyone to see how diabetes had marked her body.

To me, these sound like issues that need to be addressed, as much as, if not more so, than trying to adjust basal rates. They are just as important as making sure someone is doing their foot checks. They are far more important than knowing a current A1c. Dismissing the importance of sex in a woman with diabetes’ life as less critical than other aspects of her diabetes care clearly is doing us no favours.

The feedback following the session was really positive and I hope that we start to see similar sessions on programs at other diabetes events. Let’s get the dialogue happening so that women can feel comfortable talking about diabetes and sex. And get the help we may need.

DISCLOSURE

I was the Chair of the Living with Diabetes Stream at the IDF Congress in Busan. My flights to Busan were covered by Ascensia Global (in order for me to get to Busan in time to co-facilitate their Social Media Summit). Flights home and accommodation were covered by the IDF.

The #DOC has brought some brilliant people into my life, and Melissa Lee is one of the most brilliant. I adore her. I adore her humour, her political sass, her intelligence, and she gets me thinking with a lot of the things she shares online. She is SMART, and if there is one thing the world needs right now, it’s more smart people. I first met Melissa when she was leading the Diabetes Hands Foundation, and her compassion and advocacy skills won me over.

She is also extraordinarily talented. She sings like an angel and used to be a singing teacher. Perhaps our shared past-music teacher lives have also drawn us to each other.

Melissa has been doing her #DParodies for a number of years now, taking well-known songs and giving them a diabetes work over. They can be hilarious or sometimes a little heartbreaking. But they are always clever and thought-provoking.

Today, she unleashed a new song. I knew this one was coming; I knew what it was about. And I knew she was going to nail it.

With this parody, Melissa has addressed an issue that is close to my heart: food shaming in the diabetes community. I have written a lot about this, (here, here, here…), most recently here after I was fat shamed following a TV interview I did for work during National Diabetes Week.

I know that not everyone who follows a certain eating plan becomes militant, but I can say with all honesty that the only place where I have seen a coordinated approach to shaming people for choosing to eat a certain food group is from particularly aggressive corners within the LCHF community. Don’t believe me? Start with this tweet. Still don’t believe me? Read the comments on YouTube below Melissa’s video. By the way – the comments are all unoriginal and boring: Suggesting that someone is eating their way to a litany of self-inflicted diabetes complications, or is in the pocket of Big Food for daring to eat a cupcake, or calling someone fat? Tick, tick, tick.

I don’t care what you eat. Really. Your diabetes; your rules. But I do care if you are cruel, stigmatising or just nasty. Melissa is suggesting that people who do those sorts of things calm down. And I couldn’t agree more.

Firstly, let me start this piece by saying #NotAllHealthProfessionals. There: I got it out there upfront because I know that what follows is likely to garner response from a shedload of healthcare professionals that they would never do the sort of crap I am about to write about.

Sure – I know that there are lots of great ones out there. I get that there are champions for our cause; HCPs who genuinely walk alongside us and truly listen to what we say and what we need.

But here’s the thing. It takes more than that; more than just doing the right thing in your own little world. It takes guts and leadership to take a stand, and it takes standing up to colleagues who are not getting it right. And sadly, even the good ones don’t do that enough.

Last week, I shared a pathetic image from a Facebook page that is, allegedly, a satire site. It seems to be administered by HCPs and most of the comments appear to be from HCPs. (You can see it here if you are on FB. I don’t want to share the image on my blog.)

I shared the image with these words: ‘This isn’t funny. it’s not smart. It’s not clever. Even less funny is that it appears this is a page for and by healthcare professionals. The comments are disgraceful. HCPs are not our allies when they do this sort of shit. Instead, they’re contributing to the distress and shame that many PWD feel.’

The thing that upset me most wasn’t the pitiful attempt at humour. Let’s be honest – there was nothing in there we had not seen before. A million times over. This sort of ‘humour’ is in the DNA of every stigmatising diabetes ‘joke’.

What upset me were the comments that followed. At last count, there were about 1,000 of them, most of them applauding the image. Here’s just a selection from the first few:

‘Brilliant – but no one ever heeds this advice.’ (From a nurse who claims 30 years of nursing experience.)

‘This is how I label things.’ (Pharmacist.)

‘Should be on every diabetes med.’ (Exercise physiologist.)

‘The things you wish you could say to patients without losing your job.’ (Nurse.)

‘Love that!’ (Med student.)

‘Hahahah!’ (Podiatrist.)

‘Legit needs to be on boxes.’ (Nurse.)

‘Sorry…I can’t read that small print on account of my sugary eyes.’ (Doctor.)

‘Hahahah. Great quality labelling.’ (Pharmacy student.)

‘Accurate.’ (Physiotherapist.)

‘I love this so much.’ (Doctor.)

‘Damn, should’ve mentioned patient’s McDonalds intake as consideration for Contrave (a weight loss drug).’ (Doctor.)

‘If only we could write that!’ (Nurse.)

‘Control your diabetes or you’ll lose your feeties.’ (Doctor.)

There were more… a lot more. Predictably, the very few of us who questioned just how this was meant to be amusing were told that we needed to lighten up/see the funny side in it/understand it was satire. Or people doubled down to tell us that we were wrong and then went on to school us with further myths about diabetes. Seriously, these people need to get just a touch of originality and try to come up with a stigmatising meme we’ve not seen several million times already, and then come back at us with inventive comments.

I am willing to bet that pretty much every single one of those HCPs will claim to be all about ‘patient-centred care’. I am sure that they believe that they are truly there for what their ‘patients’ need. If pressed, they would probably say that they would never, ever say something like this in front of a patient – because they care about us so much.

That’s bullshit.

A healthcare professional who is truly there to champion PWD would have called that meme out for every shade of stigma that it is. They would not have shared it amongst their colleagues or wanted to print it out for the tea room (as a couple of people said they had done). They wouldn’t have found it funny; they would have found it offensive, stigmatising and downright wrong. And they would have said that, trying to put a stop to hundreds and hundreds of comments.

And those HCPs who realised that it was a load of bullshit and said nothing? They need to look at themselves too. The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. When you say nothing, you’re implicitly saying that it is okay.

It is not okay.

Who remembers the outrage from HCPs last year when #DoctorsAreDickheads was trending on Twitter? (Here you go: I wrote about it here.) Doctors were outraged, offended and irrate, and urged patients to counter the horror stories that people were sharing with positive stories of their own doctor experiences. And what happened? People – patients – did that. Even I defended my HCP team when I wrote my blog post. And I even prefaced this post with a disclaimer, because I know that some HCPs will read this and be all indignant. If that is your response to this… respectfully, get over yourself!

Because, where are those HCPs now? Where are the doctors getting angry and outraged every.single.time we have to endure another stigmatising, cruel, demoralising and downright wrong ‘joke’ or comment? Where are the HCPs standing up at conferences when a presenter makes some comment about how PWD ‘fake’ our BGL results or ‘forget our meters’ for download or whatever other behaviour gets us a non-compliant mark against our name?

So, here is what I want to say to HCPs – every single one of you.

Please, please be an ally. Stand up for us. Listen to us. Don’t talk over us. Don’t tell us that our experience is wrong or doesn’t matter. Don’t walk by when your colleagues do this sort of crap. Don’t minimise or delegitimise us by saying that it’s ‘just a joke’ or promising us that you wouldn’t do this. Because enough of your colleagues do. (Also, don’t @ me and tell me how much better you are because you are a leader and don’t do this kind of shit or do call it out. That’s great. And thank you. This isn’t about you. But you still can do something.)

We need you to do this for us. Or rather, along with us. Because when we do it alone (and most of the time, it is us doing it alone), we are dismissed as being too emotional or not being able to understand the humour. As much as I wish it was enough for our comments to resonate, it isn’t. So, we need allies. We need you.

It takes courage and leadership. But if you truly, truly want to be there for us for what we need, then you need to step up. Please be an ally. Please.

P.S. There were a couple of HCPs who commented on the FB page that obviously, this meme was about type 2 diabetes and not type 1 diabetes. If you are one of those HCPs who insists on doing things like that, ask yourself just how much you are contributing to the misinformation and stigma about type 2 diabetes. We know that T1D is autoimmune/not preventable, but when you use a broad brush to correct comments about diabetes with ‘You mean T2D‘ you are not really helping. In fact, you’re just adding to the misinformation by suggesting that all T2D is preventable and that is not true. You know that. Do better.

Catching the end of Women’s Health Week, revisiting this post from last year about all things girls, women and diabetes. Today, on the final day of the campaign, Jean Hailes for Women’s Health is suggesting that we take some time to think about our mental health. That sounds like a good idea anytime, but I’m really pleased to see that the organisation is highlighting this important, under-researched and misunderstood health issue. Check it out at their Women’s Health Week website

I’ve really appreciate today’s messages – they couldn’t have come at a more opportune moment! But that’s not to say that the rest of the week wasn’t just as terrific. Have a look at each day’s theme – there is lots of important information to read through. 

And have a read (or re-read) through this post which was all about a lot of the things we don’t talk about enough. When I published it last year, a number of women reached out and said they used this as a conversation starter with loved ones and HCPs. That might just work for you too…


It’s Women’s Health Week here in Australia and once again, Jean Hailes for Women’s Health has been doing a stellar job of talking about women’s health issues that are rarely (if ever) spoken about in the public sphere. As usual, this year’s campaign is presented in a clear, no-nonsense way. Just as it should be.

Shining a light on women’s health issues is critical for a number of reasons. There is still too much stigma associated with women’s sexual and reproductive health, so finding a way to easily speak about the realities of women’s health just makes sense.

Not all women’s health issues necessarily seem relevant to diabetes. But, as ever, diabetes has a way of complicating things, so it makes sense that they are on the list of things covered when speaking with our HCPs.

I honestly can’t remember the last time my GP spoke with me about any sexual or reproductive health issues. Some women see gynaecologists regularly (I see mine every couple of years for a pap smear), but that may not be the case for most women. Surely conversations about contraception, periods and other things should be part of a regular check-up alongside other ‘tick the box’ issues such as blood pressure, cholesterol and weight.

I wish that I had seen an endo from the beginning who had spoken to me about women’s health stuff. I know that it wasn’t until I found the endo I see now – one who I sought out specifically for her expertise in women’s health and pregnancy – that issues such as contraception were even mentioned.

So, here is a (non-exhaustive) list of things that women with diabetes may want to consider chatting to their HCP about – and that HCPs may want to consider speaking with PWD about. (There are links at the end of the post for where to go for further information.)

Periods. To be honest until I was trying to get pregnant, I really didn’t think much about my period. I thought of my lack of regular periods (as in, I would get my period sporadically maybe four or five times a year) as a blessing, rather than something to be concerned about. Of course, once I was trying to get pregnant, I was desperate for a monthly period that I could set a clock to.

No HCP had ever spoken to me about how diabetes would impact on my period – or, probably more importantly, vice versa. I had no idea about how different times in my cycle might affect my glucose levels. In fact, I think it wasn’t until I started wearing CGM and could really see what was going on that I learnt how to manage my insulin doses at different times throughout the month. (And it also explained the two days each cycle I was so freaking low I pretty much took no insulin. Apparently that’s how MY body deals with ovulation..)

If I was diagnosed today, I would be asking a lot of questions about diabetes and menstrual cycles and the best way to adjust my management methods depending where I am in my cycle.

Sex. When I’ve written about diabetes, women and sex before, I’ve noted how at diagnosis no one spoke with me about how diabetes could impact on my sex life. It wasn’t until I started speaking to other women about it that I realised that this is an issue for a number of us.

We need to start talking about women with diabetes and sex in a non-threatening way that normalises the discussion.

UPDATE for this revisited post: Check out this brilliant resource that came out of the research led by UK health psychologist, Professor Kath Barnard. This is one of those projects that I was just so damn pleased to be involved in!

Contraception. No one mentioned contraception to me when I was diagnosed. I was twenty four, engaged to be married. Surely both the endo and CDE I saw the day I was diagnosed realised that I was having sex, or considering it after I was married. (I really, really hope that they didn’t think that they didn’t need to speak about it with me because we weren’t married yet…because it was only 20 years ago and there’s no place for puritan attitudes in healthcare. Plus, that ship had sailed. A long time before.)

At the time, I was on the pill, but there was no discussion about the best form of contraception for me relating to diabetes, (was there a better pill to be on?), and I didn’t know to ask. Surely, all women of child-bearing age should be asked regularly about  contraception, especially as women with diabetes are so often told about the importance of avoiding unplanned pregnancies.

Pregnancy. Thankfully, these days finding information about diabetes and pregnancy is relatively simple. If you know where to look.

But twenty years ago, when I was diagnosed, the only thing I was told about diabetes and pregnancy (and I think it was only because I asked) was ‘You need to have all your kids by the time you’re thirty’. (Not sure if just scraping in three days before I turned 31 counts there. Probably not. Looks like this deliberately non-compliant palaver has been happening for a while….)

Talking pregnancy and diabetes needs to be done delicately, but it needs to happen. And, ideally, it needs to happen long before pregnancy is even being considered.

Back in 2003 when I was at Diabetes Vic, I coordinated the first diabetes and pregnancy info evening. Over 100 people were squashed into an overheated room in the basement of the old Royal Women’s Hospital. At the end of the night, I was walking around speaking with as many of the people who had come along as possible to see if they had found the evening useful. I walked up to one woman and thanked her for coming. ‘I hope that you found tonight helpful,’ I said to her. She nodded at me, and I noticed she was holding onto a copy of the ‘Can I Have a Healthy Baby?’ booklet that Diabetes Victoria had published with Realty Check and ADIPS the previous year. ‘My daughter has T1D,’ she said to me. ‘She’s only 8, so obviously this isn’t something that is relevant now. But I wanted to know so that when she asks questions I can answer them. I feel really reassured that she can have a baby if she wants one if it’s planned.’ I remember reaching out to her and hugging her (I have no boundaries). ‘Your daughter is so lucky to have you in her corner,’ I said to her. ‘Thank you for coming!

Fertility. This isn’t the same as pregnancy. It’s not an easy subject – ever – but it is one that needs to be discussed openly and safely. I can honestly say that no healthcare professional has ever discussed fertility with me unless I have raised the issue.

My experiences around fertility have been complex, emotional and quite painful. It took me a while to get pregnant the first time. My irregular periods needed to be addressed (fortunately, that was easy enough with only Chlomid needed), but even once I was having monthly cycles, and apparently ovulating regularly, I could not get pregnant.

When finally did, I miscarried. Miscarriages are common. I know that. But it still sent my spiralling into a really difficult period which took a lot of time and effort to emerge from. I got pregnant and had a baby, and thought that from there, fertility issues would be a thing of the past.

But I think that because miscarriages are so common that sometimes it can be forgotten just how traumatic they can be. My first miscarriage ended my first pregnancy, and the two other miscarriages I had ended those ones. It’s clear that while I seem to be able to get pregnant, keeping those babies growing, safe and alive is not something my body does well. I wanted that explained to me – or at least for someone to speak with me about it.

Diabetes and fertility was never, ever discussed with me, except that I was reassured after each of my miscarriages that I could not blame diabetes for losing the baby. That was a double edged sword because I wanted to know what it was that was stopping me from being able to continue my pregnancies. I would have liked to be able to point at something. Because the alternative is that it’s just another thing my body can’t do properly.

PCOS. I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome when I was about 26. I’d been referred to an OB/GYN by my endo because she wanted me to have a gynaecological check-up because we’d started seriously talking babies. My lack of regular periods was flagged as something that needed investigating and an internal ultrasound showed a number of small of cysts all over my ovaries. I had no other symptoms of PCOS, but that was enough for my OB/GYN to speak with me about potential fertility issues once we were ready to start trying for a baby. I had a laparoscopy and they were removed.

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can increase the risk of PCOS (more so type 2 diabetes) so this is definitely something to discuss with your healthcare team if you are in any way concerned.

Body image. I don’t even know where to begin with this because body image is such a huge, huge concern for so many women, and I really do believe that diabetes amplifies those concerns. Whether it is the physical signs of diabetes (tech that we wear on our bodies), the psychological side of being diagnosed with a life-long health condition or the emotional toil of having an allegedly invisible condition that we can’t help but see every day, living with diabetes significantly affects how we feel about our bodies.

This is one of the reasons that having a psychologist as part of our HCP team is important, because we need people who are able to ask the right questions and offer support and solutions for dealing with how we see our bodies.

Eating disorders. Diabetes and food; food and diabetes. It’s impossible to separate the two, and for some people, the relationship is complex and very, very difficult. Women with diabetes do have an increased risk of developing an eating disorder, and of course, there are diabetes-specific eating disorders. And, unfortunately, this is another issue that is not spoken about openly.

Menopause. At my last appointment with my endocrinologist, I raised something that I’d not raised yet. ‘What can you tell me about diabetes and menopause?’I asked her.

I’m not going through menopause – I’m not even peri-menopausal yet. But I don’t need a magic mirror into the future to see what lies ahead. And I like to be prepared.

So, there’s something you should know about how I came to see the endo I have been seeing for the last almost-17 years. I was searching for someone who could help with what I really needed, one of them being an expertise in T1D and pregnancy. She was absolutely the right endo for me then. And continues to be now, because recently, she has become an expert in menopause. (I know! It’s like she is a few years ahead of me in her areas of interest and expertise!)

If I’m honest, I’m a little stressed and worried about what menopause has in store for me when it comes to my diabetes, mostly because I know nothing about it. We’ll see how that plays out…

Self-care. Why do women find it so hard to prioritise our own care and take care of our own wellbeing? We do need to get better at fastening our own oxygen masks before making sure that everyone else on the plane has theirs in place.

This might be another reason to consider seeing a psychologist to ask for some tips for how to make sure that we remember to look after ourselves in a way that is healthy, consistent and achievable.

Pelvic floor. Diabetes, as the gift that keeps on giving, can mean our pelvic floor isn’t as strong as it could be. Just as nerves in other parts of our bodies can be affected by our diabetes, so can the ones in our pelvic floor.

(You’re doing your pelvic floor exercises right now, right? Yep. Me too.)

Looking for more info? Have some links…

Here’s the Jean Hailes for Women website for Women’s Health Week.

The rather awesome Mindy from There’s More to the Story has been writing about diabetes and sex over the last couple of months and her posts are a must read. I wish I’d had something like this to read when I was first diagnosed.

Some information about diabetes and PCOS.  This article is about type 1 diabetes and PCOS. And this one is about PCOS and types 1 and 2 diabetes. 

The NDSS Diabetes and Pregnancy website is an absolute goldmine of information about pregnancy and planning for pregnancy. There are different sections for women with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, HCPs and loved ones of women with diabetes.

The NDSS Type 1 Diabetes and Eating Disorders booklet can be found here.

Lots of valuable information for PWD and HCPs at the Diabetes and Eating Disorders Awareness website.

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.

It’s been a long time between drinks blog posts from the Grumpy Pumper on Diabetogenic. But it seems that I have found out a way to get him to write for me here: get him to Australia, ply him with non-stop decent coffee, stick a laptop in front of him and chant ‘Write! Write! Write!’ until he delivers. It works! At least it did this morning. 

So, here he is, talking about making some changes to his diabetes management. (Being in Australia is a good start!)


Following on from my recent post on how I’m not burnt out but I am smouldering, and that ‘something needs to change’, I am left with the question: What?

There a shitload of things I could change:

  1. Diet – Let’s not be hasty
  2. Exercise more – Less likely than diet
  3. Quit alcohol – Fuck that!

I don’t what to change my lifestyle and even if it needs it, I’m not in the right frame of mind to sustain it even if I start. That means I’m likely to end up as demotivated as when I started, or worse.

So, if I don’t want to make lifestyle changes what about changes to my management?

Actually, that may work. I can make small changes and won’t have to wait long until I see a difference. It may not be the difference I want but at least I can work out where to go from there. I have never expected this to be a straight and open road. Diabetes management is a winding path that has may obstacles along the way and the occasional roadblock that you need to negotiate.

However, there is a lot that goes into this:

  • Basal checking
  • Insulin sensitivity
  • Carb ratios
  • Pre-bolus timings
  • Extended bolus

So, I am going to start with none of these…

Of course, you are now asking yourself (if you are still awake):

Where am I going to start?

What would Grumpy do?…

Actually, I’m going to get my A1c done…

I’ve not had it done for two years now. Not because I’ve been avoiding having it done. It’s a combination of cancelled appointments due to a busy life and a cock up with the paperwork the time I did get bloods taken.

Why, given that it is likely to be a lot higher than my last one two years ago would I want it taken before I’ve tried to make the changes I need to try and make? Won’t it just demotivate me and make me feel worse?

Actually…no!

Because I genuinely don’t care what it is. That number, however high, will no way reflect the effort I have been putting into living with diabetes, and my related complication.

Right now, it’s the easiest thing I can do to make a start. It will draw a line in the sand behind me and be the starting point from which I move forward.

Much as I’m not a great fan of A1c as a measure, I can use it as a milestone. After all, you can’t find your way back if you don’t know where you are.

Live Long and Bolus.

Grumps!

You can get more from The Grumpy Pumper by checking out his blog here. And following him on Twitter here

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