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Imagine if the only emotion we felt when we ate something was joy. How different that would be.

A more detailed post about language a food can be found here.

Is it this week’s full moon? Is Mercury in retrograde? (I actually don’t know what that means.) Is it the changing seasons?

I’m not sure the reason, but the last couple of weeks seems to have been especially busy when it comes to annoying people being annoyingly stigmatising on the Twitters.

It’s tiring calling it out. I sometimes do, I sometimes don’t have the mental bandwidth to get into it.

So, for those times that I can’t be bothered doing much, but want to do something, I now have this. And I’ll be sharing and posting and responding to stigmatising tweets with nothing more than a bright red and pink image.

This blog post is dedicated to Alex who has had to deal with some fucking unbelievable stigma today, and C and Mila who are regularly fabulous in the way they brilliantly call out stigma online.

If I’m asked about the burden of diabetes stigma, a complex tree diagram starts to form in my head. There are branches sticking out at weird angles with arrows and overlapping segments and odd clusters…and I suddenly become burdened just thinking about diabetes burden!

I’ve written before many times about just how heavy diabetes can be – a dense weight that comes from the never-ending need to ‘do diabetes’ and the never-ending attempts to make sense of it all. And I’ve commented on the emotional weight that we feel when diabetes becomes overwhelming and distressing, and the burden of burnout. And I’ve also written a lot about the relentless stream of diabetes admin – and why having a personal assistant to manage my diabetes would be just so damn useful to alleviate the burden of appointment making, prescription filling, consumables stocktaking and complications screening

Burden takes on many forms. And it means different things to different people. If there is a burden spectrum, we would see people plotted all along the line. And we would move around as well. I know that there have been times I’ve feel far more burdened by diabetes, and I know that I feel so much less burdened since I’ve been using Loop because the tasks that added to that daily burden have diminished considerably. Diabetes makes a lot more sense a lot more of the time without me needing to work it out. Of course, the weight is less. 

But on top of the daily tasks and the feelings of being overwhelmed, there is still more that can contribute to burden. One of those things is stigma – the way others make us feel about diabetes – about our diabetes – can add significant burden. 

Yesterday, I tweeted this:

If you want to see an incredibly diverse and interesting discussion about how stigma has impacted people with diabetes, and parents of kids with diabetes, click on the tweet above and read the replies.  I asked the same question on my Facebook page and the stories there were equally harrowing. People’s experiences are heartbreaking. It becomes clear why people drop out of healthcare, are terrified to see HCPs, or try to hide their diabetes from others when you understand how they have been treated. 

The weight of that burden is heavy. The judgement and blame and shame can weigh us down. The emotional weight of stigma can be paralysing. 

One of the themes that is recurring when it comes to stigma discussions is the idea that we are not doing enough to look after ourselves. That could be in reference to developing long-term complications, or it could be an in-the-moment situation that someone thinks we should be better prepared for. I remember someone once criticising me for not having any jellybeans on me when I was having a hypo. I’d had three hypos already that day, and had worked through my stash. I wasn’t wilfully neglecting my diabetes by being caught short. But that was the assumption. 

Another theme is that diabetes is a character or personality flaw, brought on by not caring enough about out health. How tiring it is to have that being said when we are also trying to simply manage to live with diabetes. Weight stigma and diabetes stigma go hand in hand for many, with assumptions made left, right and centre. 

Being diagnosed with diabetes creates burden. Living with diabetes brings daily burden. Worrying about how diabetes might impact our futures crafts more burden. And stigma adds even more. It’s exhausting, hurtful and just downright unnecessary. 

More musings about diabetes and stigma

Stigma & diabetes-related complications

Owning my own contributions to diabetes-related stigma in people with type 2 diabetes. 

Where does stigma start? 

How insisting on defining diabetes when it doesn’t matter adds to stigma

Yesterday, I gave a talk about language and stigma, and one of the questions I was asked focused on stigma within the diabetes community. I’ve had this post sitting in my ‘unpublished’ folder for months now, and decided that today was the day to publish it. I’m dedicating it to all my friends with type 2 diabetes.

There is a photo of me from 2011. I am standing in my office at work, wearing a bright red t-shirt. I’m staring at the camera, my eyebrows raised, a smirk on my face. My fingers are pointing to the words printed across the front of the t-shirt: Type 1 diabetes. The real diabetes. 

At the time, I was running a program that was exclusively about developing and running programs and activities for people with type 1 diabetes. It remains one of the things I’m most proud about in my career, because at the time, what was available to people living with or affected by type 1 diabetes was really, really limited.

At its peak, our program ran over 20 events across the state in both the city and rural areas, including diabetes technology expos that featured all the latest and greatest in Dtech; a diabetes and pregnancy program; we published a monthly type 1 diabetes-specific e-newsletter; established a program of peer support groups for people affected by type 1 diabetes; and also included in the program were camps for kids with diabetes. We put type 1 diabetes on the map as a program area that needed special attention, resources, funding and acknowledgement. The program was entirely ‘user-led’ meaning that everything we did came from feedback from the community, and many of us in the team were living with diabetes ourselves. Many of the things I see these days in the diabetes community are activities we first did fifteen years ago.

On top of the community engagement and events we were doing, the type 1 focus meant that we were now demanding attention in the policy and advocacy space. The specific needs that were relevant to people with type 1 diabetes were being discussed separately, and that yielded some impressive results – improvements to and extension of the Carer Allowance for parents of kids with type 1 diabetes; funding of pump consumables on the NDSS; pathways to funding of digital technology solutions being on everyone’s radar. We had (and continue to have) wins because of this attention to type 1 diabetes. We started doing this eighteen years ago and are still pushing the agenda.

I have no qualms about the program we started being an exclusively type 1 diabetes program. At the time, the organisation was already doing lots for people with type 2, and my work was addressing a gap in our programs and services. I was employed as a response to feedback from people with type 1 diabetes who felt that the services offered where not relevant to them. So, by working closely with the community, we built something from the ground up that provided people with type 1 diabetes what they wanted.

When the photo I described at the opening of this post was taken, my head was exclusively working on type 1 diabetes activities. I thought the shirt was cute and fun, and that I looked cute and fun wearing it. And I knew that so many of the people with type 1 diabetes that I was working alongside would love it too. The response when I shared the photo on Facebook proved me right. I know how to play to an audience!

Today, I am horribly ashamed and embarrassed that I wore this shirt with such glee, and the attitude that I held towards people with type 2 diabetes. Because while I saw the t-shirt as a just a bit of fun, the truth underlying it was that I did believe that type 1 diabetes was the more serious, the more important, the more misunderstood, the more maligned, the more worthy condition. After all, we couldn’t have done anything to stop our diabetes, could we? We were completely blameless. How horrible I feel today even typing those words.

I deleted the photo from my Facebook a number of years ago, but I still have it saved. Any  time I stumble across it, I feel a rush of shame. I was going to share it with this post, but a wise friend counselled me against that idea, saying that it was likely that somehow it could be used out of context and against me. It will remain hidden for now, bundled up with that shame and disgust I rightfully feel when I see it.

So, when did things change for me?

Of course, it was when I started listening to people with type 2 diabetes. It was hearing about their challenges and the constant stigma they felt. It was hearing how they felt when they were misrepresented in the media, or by others who knew little about type 2. That was when I realised how hurtful the narrative surrounding type 2 diabetes was for many of the people actually living with it.

I’m ashamed to say that harmful narrative that I actually contributed to. I certainly hadn’t always behaved with intent, but some of the time – such as when wearing clothing that suggested that I had the ‘real’ type of diabetes – was deliberate. Calculated or not, my complete lack of knowledge about type 2 diabetes, and the challenges faced by those living with it, meant that I was very often stigmatising.

I knew I needed to change what I was saying. Whilst I still believed in the absolute philosophy of the program I was leading, and the necessity of it having a type 1 focus, I understood that I needed to reframe the way I spoke. And I needed to be accountable to what was going on around me in discussions about all types of diabetes. The commitment I had to calling out misinformation about type 1 diabetes could no longer be at the expense of type 2 diabetes.

I have said this a million times – no one has to advocate for any cause they don’t want to. No one has to take on something that they don’t have the time, energy or inclination to focus on. No one has to be an advocate for all types of diabetes. There are some absolutely brilliant people who hone their energies on issues surrounding only one type of diabetes because that is what they know and what they are passionate about, and all the power to them – especially when they do that by elevating their cause BUT NOT diminishing others.

For me, my focus is on a number of different things and some of them actually do remain specific to type 1 diabetes. Some span all types of diabetes. The difference these days is the way that I do it.

I am sorry to all my friends with type 2 diabetes who I misunderstood, misrepresented and stigmatised. I have no excuse for my behaviour, but I do own it. And I promise I will keep calling out anything that I see contributing to the narrative that I once was part of.

Postscript

I’m writing the next bit in bold, because a while ago I published a post suggesting that when correcting stigmatising comments in the media, we don’t necessarily need to specify type of diabetes, and it was somehow misconstrued to mean things that I did not actually say. The things in bold below? There are dozens of examples of me stating these exact things through my blog, talks I’ve given, other articles I have written. But here they are in one little place just so my position is super-dooper clear.

  • Of course, we need to know what type of diabetes we are living with. We have a right to know and understand our own body and what’s going on with it, and the implications of our type of diabetes. For example, autoimmune diabetes comes with a whole heap of other considerations such as AI clustering and what that can mean to other family members.
  • Of course, we can and should feel free to say ‘I have type x diabetes’ if we want to. We can identify and talk about our own diabetes any way we want to. No one has the right to tell us otherwise. (Now I want to have ‘type x diabetes’ because that sounds all cool and mysterious and as though it could be the starting point of a disaster movie about world domination.)
  • Of course, there are some groups of people who really do need to fully, completely, utterly, absolutely understand the different types of diabetes and what they mean. For example – HCPs should know, policy makers should understand (to name just a couple of groups).
  • Of course, we should know the best management on offer for our own type of diabetes and be clear about what we are doing/using ourselves.
  • Of course, we should know that people diagnosed with type 1 diabetes need insulin and there is no other choice.
  • Of course, we should look at outcomes for all types of diabetes and see what measures need to be taken to improve them – and those measures will most likely be different for different types of diabetes.

I have been fairly quiet on Twitter lately. My blog has been dormant, and I’ve really only been using social media to connect with family and friends. Oh, and sharing recent baking efforts – as evidenced by this Twitter thread last night.

But that doesn’t mean that I have stopped following what is going on. Plus, it’s difficult to ignore stuff when many people start sending DMs wanting to know why I have been silent on an issue about which I am known to be very vocal.

I’m talking about last week’s webinar hosted by Diabetes Victoria, presented by Dr James Muecke.

Firstly – some disclaimers and disclosures. I worked for state-based Diabetes Victoria from 2001 to January 2016. Since then I have been working for Diabetes Australia, which is a national organisation.

James Muecke is the 2020 Australian of the Year. I wrote a little about him in this post which caused a shit storm of its own when a UK HCP tone policed me my writing and said that I was doing a disservice to people with diabetes by writing in the post that there is no need for people to know what type of diabetes they live with. Yeah – I didn’t say that, but anyway…

But the issue was not Muecke’s presentation; it was the title of his presentation: Blinded by Sugar.

My reaction when I first saw the promotional flyer was horror. And then shock. And then surprise. I was honestly stunned.

And then, once the surprise and confusion subsided, I felt distress. That feeling of dread, and sadness, and anxiety that settles itself in the pit of my stomach. And doesn’t move.

When I talk about language, its power and how it is personal, this is what I mean. Because to me, it’s not just a couple of words in a clumsy, ill-conceived title. Suddenly, it is every single time I sit in the waiting room of my ophthalmologist’s waiting to hear if diabetes has started to affect my vision; it is the flooding back of words from my first endo appointment, where I was told that if I dared let my glucose levels get above 8mmol/l, it would be my fault if I became blind; it is the blame and shame and stigma and finger pointing that we see and hear every time we are told to ‘look after ourselves’ as if we are wilfully ignoring our health and not caring about our wellbeing; it is the guilt that I feel when I eat some cake or a biscuit and the times people have asked ‘should you be eating that?’; it is the feeling of frustration and unfairness of when I can’t work out how my glucose levels could possibly be high after I’ve done everything ‘right’, and the fear of what damage is happening to me at that moment; it is the burnout, the anxiety the days of feeling so overwhelmed because I just.can’t.do.this.anymore, but I have no choice’.

THAT is how I feel when I see words like those in the title of that webinar presentation.

It’s no surprise that this was picked up by some people in the DOC. There are people in the community who are highly attuned to language and diabetes and will call out any example that is doing a disservice to people with diabetes. I am usually one of those people. I’m not proud that I didn’t say anything publicly when this was unfolding over the weekend.

So, what has happened since then, after some of the DOC shared their feedback?

Diabetes Vic CEO, Craig Bennet issued an apology and should be commended on how swiftly he did that. Owning the error and promising to do better is always appreciated.

Today, it seems that the LCHF bullies have now jumped on board, supporting the messaging in the original promotional flyer.

I will say this strongly and without reservation or apology. When you find that you are satisfying this group, you are not helping PWD. It is a person from this group that tweeted this about a group of dietitians. It is this group that fat shamed me after I gave a television interview last year. It is this group that has stigmatised people living with diabetes, claiming they have brought on diabetes-related complications for daring to eat a scoop of ice-cream.

I couldn’t care less about how anyone chooses to eat. I do care a lot when it comes to how certain groups in the community contribute to the already overwhelming stigma faced by people with diabetes.

And finally, everyone makes mistakes. In the last few months, we’ve seen some pretty miserable efforts by diabetes organisations around the world. But the thing that has stuck with me through each of these is how easily they could have been avoided. We do need more engagement with people with diabetes – especially those who can help shape effective communication and messaging.

This blog has been quiet for the last couple of weeks because, honestly, there is nothing that I had to say that was of any value. Instead, I’ve been listening, learning, talking with friends and family, crying with friends, having difficult conversations with people. And feeling uncomfortable. I’m learning to not fight that discomfort, but instead examine it and work out how I can be involved in change.

Today, I’m dipping a toe back in slowly, and sharing this from New Yorker Cartoons (maybe this blog really is going to become nothing more than an appreciation page of New Yorker Cartoons and Effin’ Birds). This cartoon spoke to me. Because: tone policing.

Recent New Yorker Cartoon by Jason Adam Katzenstein. (Click for source)

I write about being tone policed in the healthcare space, and that is what I am writing about today. It’s happened for as long as I’ve spoken up about my experiences of diabetes and my thoughts and ideas about healthcare. I’ve been called aggressive so many times by HCPs who have not liked it when a mere ‘patient’ has suggested that they are being damaging to people with diabetes in the words they are using to talk to and about us.

The bolshie nuns who taught me at secondary school taught me that when women are accused of being aggressive (or strident), it is usually because we are being assertive. I’ve come to learn that it’s not just women. It’s anyone who has, for too long, been expected to just take what is dished up – and to accept it with gratitude.

Being assertive, being aggressive, being challenging and saying enough is enough should not result in being told to tone down. Or to be excluded from discussions unless we agree to be more moderate. Or more respectful. When that respect is truly a two-way street, then let’s talk about that. But for as long as power imbalances are at play, and HCPs insist on speaking on behalf of us, or only agreeing to speak with us if they like what we are going to say; or when HPCs feature more in diabetes campaigns because they insist on centring themselves rather than actual people living with the condition…well, then we don’t have true two-way respect.

Our diabetes community is not immune from tone policing each other. It’s happened to me. I continue to listen to type 2 diabetes voices because I can never expect to understand what they are experiencing in our community unless they tell me. It may be uncomfortable for me to hear – but that discomfort comes from a place of my complicity. It is not my place to tell them to moderate the way they are speaking about their experiences, just because it makes me feel prickly. But it does happen. In the timeline of my involvement in the diabetes world, I know that when I was first diagnosed, I contributed to the stigma many people with type 2 talk about, and then, as I learnt more, I moved to being quiet about it when I saw and heard it – even though I disagreed with it. Now I am trying to be a better ally and calling it out when I see it. And shutting up and listening and accepting what people with type 2 say.

We learn when we listen. We learn when we are open to accepting that we do not have all the answers. We learn when we stop being so centred on our own experience and try to turn the spotlight onto ourselves when instead we should be shining it on others.

We learn when we don’t tell people how they should feel or how they should speak.

As details of the coronavirus pandemic started to be revealed, the message for people with pre-existing chronic health conditions wasn’t good. It became apparent pretty early on that we were in the ‘at risk’ group. When the ‘only the elderly and those with health conditions need to worry’ lines were trotted out on every forum imaginable, many people with diabetes worried, because we were part of that ‘only’.

And so, people with or affected by diabetes tried to collect the best information about how to keep ourselves safe. One of the most common topics of discussion in diabetes online discussion groups, was about seeing diabetes healthcare professionals. Was it safe? Should we go? What about flu shots? And HbA1c checks? As telehealth services popped up, some were relieved, others were confused. Some people felt they didn’t want to be a burden on their HCP, and indeed the health system that we were told was about to be inundated and overwhelmed. Some diabetes clinics were suspended, only taking appointments for urgent matters.

Last week, Monash University released a report that showed that people with diabetes are not seeing their GP at the same rate as this time last year. The development of diabetes care plans is down my two thirds, and diabetes screening is down by one third.

I was interviewed for a television news story yesterday about these finding. Before agreeing to be the case study, I contacted the reporter to get an idea of just how the story was going to be pitched. ‘We’ll be highlighting the findings of the report, how there are concerns now that there will be an influx of people with diabetes needing to see their doctors in coming months, and how it is understandable that people may be anxious about exposure to coronavirus if they do go to the doctor, and therefore are cancelling, postponing or not making appointments at the moment.’ She paused before finishing with, ‘We’re not blaming people at all.’

They were the magic words I needed to hear and gave her our address, after informing her that the interview would have to take place on the front veranda or in the garden because we were not accepting visitors into our house still.

The under two-minute new story was pretty factual and outlined details of the study. (The grab from me they used had me explaining how I had made the decision to postpone my annual eye screening by a few weeks, rather than the appointments that I had still decided to keep such as my flu jab and telehealth appointments). But overall, it was a good story – factual and definitely not blaming.

Sunday afternoon at the (home) office.

And so, perhaps I was feeling a false sense of safety when I read a newspaper report today that mentioned the study. Speaking about the fallout from people not seeing their GP during the pandemic, a doctor quoted in the story said:

‘The last thing we want is a tsunami of serious health issues and worsening chronic conditions coming after this virus, simply because people have stopped taking care of themselves or consulting their GP.’

I read that, re-read it and then couldn’t get past these nine words:

Simply. Because. People. Have. Stopped. Taking. Care. Of. Themselves.

How could a health professional think this about people living with chronic health conditions at any time, but even more so, how could they think that during the confusion and anxiety of living through a global pandemic where outcomes for those same people are likely to be worse?

People may not be going to see their GP, but it is not in defiance or because they have made the wilful decision to stop taking care of themselves. In fact, I honestly don’t know of anyone who has ever made that decision – pandemic or not.

Delaying my eye appointment isn’t an example of me not looking after myself. It is a reflection of the real anxiety I am feeling about exposure to coronavirus – anxiety that became heightened last week when restrictions were eased, and then only got worse again when I heard the news about deaths of people with diabetes. And I know I am not the only person who is feeling the way I am at this time.

And any other time that I have been accused of ‘not taking care of myself’, I was doing the absolute best I could in that moment, considering all the other things that were going on in my life. And yet, it took me a long time to find a diabetes healthcare professional who acknowledged that when I am not in the right place to be managing my diabetes, we first need to start through those other things first. She never blamed me. She just helped me through.

A health professional making the comment that people not attending appointments are ‘not taking care of themselves’ is actually a much bigger problem than just when looked at in the context of COVID-19. It happens all the time.

Stop blaming people with diabetes. Just stop the blame. Stop blaming people if they don’t get diagnosed early. Stop blaming us if we develop complications. Stop blaming us if we develop complications that didn’t get diagnosed early. Stop blaming us for not caring for ourselves.

But then, I guess, it won’t be quite so easy for HCPs to wash their hands of any responsibility they may have for the health outcomes of people with diabetes if, instead of pointing fingers, they hold a mirror up for a moment.

Today, my social media feeds are full of this screaming headline:

(Click for article)

As soon as I saw this, I threw my phone away from me and put my head back under the doona. Aren’t Fridays meant to be about celebrating a week well done and looking forward to the weekend?

Instead, I woke to far too many notifications about diabetes and death – words I really don’t like to see together, especially not so early in the morning.  Fortified with coffee, I took a deep breath and in I went, reading the article from top to bottom.

I’ve had a knot in the pit of my stomach all week. It moved in and made itself comfortable when the Australian PM started talking about easing lockdown restrictions. I’ve spent the last few days trying to work out how I can manage this anxiety in a sensible way, and not do what I really want, which is to build a cellar under our house, stock it with coffee, prosecco and Nutella, and move in there until sometime in 2030.

This article and the subsequent commentary twisted that knot tighter and pushed it in deeper. ‘I live here now,’ it seemed to be saying. And then added, ‘Get better WIFI; it’s patchy in here.’

The fact that the article raises more questions than it actually answers hasn’t helped. More details – details that may help to better understand exactly what is going on – won’t be published until next week. And so, without enough content to provide explanations, advice and information that might help PWD feel that perhaps it’s not all hopeless. Instead, The Guardian offered some throw-away lines about the associations and causes of type 1 and type 2 diabetes:

‘NHS England’s breakdown, published for the first time on Thursday, did not specify how many of the 5,873 diabetics who died had type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune condition not related to lifestyle, and type 2 diabetes, which is closely linked to being overweight. Fuller details will be published in an article in a medical journal next week.’

This just seems like an opportunity for people to appease people with type 1 diabetes, and point the finger and further stigmatise people with type 2 diabetes, instead of acknowledging that people with ALL types of diabetes might possibly find this news confronting. What is the relevance here to being overweight? If there is a correlation, please let us know and does it impact people with type 1 diabetes who are also overweight?

I am not for a moment saying that this sort of information should be hidden away or swept under the carpet. Of course, I want to understand how diabetes and COVID-19 interact. But there has to be a better way to get information to the masses without adding to the anxiety and worry. And definitely in a way that doesn’t sensationalise, point fingers and add to social stigma.

The article goes on to highlight the link between Alzheimer’s disease and deaths due to COVID-19, and as I read the quote from Alzheimer’s Research UK’s director of policy and public affairs, Samantha Benham-Hermetz, I wanted to reach into my MacBook and give her a metaphoric, and therefore socially distant, hug. She said:

‘This shocking news will no doubt bring even more worry and fear to people affected by dementia and their loved ones, during an already challenging time.’

I know that I and so many of my friends living with diabetes, and their loved ones, have been feeling worried and scared since this all started, and this article has the potential to add a lot more. The fact that this response was acknowledged out loud (and I think it’s fair to say that people affected by diabetes would be feeling the same as those affected by dementia) made me feel so grateful and heard.

Statistics are statistics, and data are important; I know that. But sharing data with the masses only works if it is done effectively and communicated in a way that doesn’t leave people feeling hopeless, but rather empowers us to make decisions that contribute to minimising risk.

My heart breaks for my friends with type 2 diabetes, and their families, who not only have to digest this headline and information, but also need to consider how the cavalier and simplistic definition of type 2 diabetes will now be interpreted by the general population who already are so quick to blame and stigmatise.

I live with diabetes, and I understand that I am high risk of complications, and so it seems, death if I get COVID-19. But mostly, more than anything else, I am a person trying to make sense of all of this and stay safe, healthy and sane – just like everyone else.


P.S. Hey – Guardian UK – I fixed this para for you:

‘NHS England’s breakdown, published for the first time on Thursday, did not specify the type of diabetes with which the 5,873 people who died were diagnosed. Fuller details will be published in an article in a medical journal next week.’

Last Friday night, I sat around with three other women with type 1 diabetes and we had a chat. When I say ‘sat around’ I mean Zoomed, but other than the fact that we were seeing each other through computer screens, it could have been any other time I was meeting up with women with diabetes for a casual chat.

The reason for this gathering was so that I could be interviewed for a new Australian podcast. Mamabetes was launched just last week, and is a project by three amazing Aussie advocates, Ashleigh, Rachel and Carleigh, all who are living with type 1 diabetes.

I was a little surprised when they reached out to me. My kid is fifteen and my experience of pregnancy and diabetes is a little old now. But they wanted to speak with me about stigma and language, and how that can impact on all sorts of diabetes experiences – including pregnancy.

I’d never met any of the women before and other than a short conversation with Ashleigh a couple of days before, the first time we chatted was when Zoom brought their gorgeous faces and happy smiles into my study at home. I’d been sent a brief outline of what they hoped to get from our discussion and a few broad questions for me to consider before we got started. We were going to chat for about fifteen minutes and see where our conversation took us.

I’m sure that we could have stuck to that timeframe if we really wanted, and to the questions I’d been offered as a guide. But an hour later, we were still chatting, and we’d taken off on some wonderful tangents, as happens when people with shared interests and experiences come together.

The podcast episode with our chat dropped this morning and I’ve been listening to it in bits and pieces in between the Zoom existence so many of us seem to be living at the moment. We cover lots, so do have a listen! Click on the image below to go to the podcase, and the Mamabetes other socials are listed for you to follow along.

Asheigh, Rachel and Carleigh are creating something really important here, and providing women with diabetes a place to learn and connect – around an issue that is relevant and important to many. Thanks to these three dynamic women for doing this, and for inviting me to be a part of their second podcast episode.

Go follow…

Mamabetes on Twitter

Mambetes on Facebook

Mamabetes on Instagram

Recently, the Australian of the Year was announced. This year, the gong was awarded to Dr James Muecke, an eye surgeon from South Australia, who was acknowledged for his work raising awareness of type 2 diabetes and its links to preventable blindness.

I didn’t really know of Muecke before the announcement, but clearly, he is very accomplished, and his work reaches beyond Australia’s borders. He co-founded social impact organisation, Sight for All, which raises funds to deliver vision-saving programs and eye health projects to people in under-resourced countries.

However, it is Muecke’s work in linking type 2 diabetes and blindness that received the majority of the media coverage, with (as can always be relied upon) some pretty average reporting. Interviews with and soundbites from the newly crowned Australian of the Year did focus on a simple and incorrect equation of sugar equalling diabetes, and this certainly did seem to concern a lot of people responding to what they were seeing online.

I sighed as I read through a lot of that commentary, dismayed as the calls to differentiate between the types of diabetes drowned out Dr Muecke’s award, with repeated bleats that ‘Sugar didn’t cause my/my child’s type 1 diabetes’.

Sugar didn’t cause anyone’s diabetes – it’s just not that simple. I appreciate wanting people to understand that drinking too much Coke isn’t why type 1 diabetes develops. But equally, I want people to understand that it isn’t why type 2 diabetes develops either.

Asking for clarification of the different types of diabetes isn’t always necessary because it doesn’t always matter. You bet that it does matter at times, but other times, it really doesn’t.

We see this time and time again. Think about the time that café in Sydney thought they were being cute by calling a dessert ‘Diabetes’, or the time that guy on that UK cooking show referred to something as ‘Diabetes on a plate’. Was this really the time to get all uptight because the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes were not specified? Were the calls to stop stigmatising type 1 diabetes by not clarifying that ‘our’ diabetes isn’t because we ate that dessert? Does it matter in these moments if the person stigmatising and misrepresents diabetes doesn’t point out which sort of diabetes?

It really doesn’t. If the dessert was called ‘type 2 diabetes’ or the recipe was ‘type 2 diabetes on a plate’, it still would have been wrong. It still would have been stigmatising.

And yet, every time another lousy comedian, or celebrity or chef makes a diabetes joke, or the media gets diabetes wrong, or the Australian of the Year explains diabetes in the wrong way, the predictable cries, and rapid soundbite responses only feed into the stigma, prejudices and misconceptions of type 2 diabetes.

We can do better – we need to do better. And we can, by being more thoughtful in our response to correct people getting diabetes wrong.

I should point out that this goes beyond people with (or parents of children with) type 1 diabetes. Lots of other diabetes stakeholders get into it too. Some health professionals trip over themselves in their endeavour to speedily demand clarification of type, (even when it is not necessary). This has always left me somewhat befuddled and wonder if they think this will win them brownie points with the cool kids on Twitter. Surely HCPs working in diabetes understand that sometimes putting ‘type 2’ before diabetes is not actually rectifying what is factually incorrect in the original statement. And that should matter, a lot more than the ‘likes’ from the type 1 diabetes Twitterati they seem so eager to impress!

We can get it right, and get it right quite easily. When the Australian of the Year announcement was made, the comms team at Diabetes Australia absolutely nailed the messaging, striking a balance between commending Dr Meucke for his award, acknowledging how wonderful it was to see the Australian of the Year platform being used to highlight the link between diabetes and diabetes-related eye disease (with a plug for KeepSight!), and adding a note to clearly and eloquently explain the complexities of type 2 diabetes, the role that genetics and other non-modifiable risk factors play in its diagnosis, and reminding people that type 2 diabetes is not caused by eating sugar.

I think the team got it right – the information was correct and accurate and did not in any way add to the stigma of diabetes. (Disclaimer: I work for Diabetes Australia and I’m talking about my colleagues.  Whilst I sometimes work with the comms team, they are all far smarter and better at communicating than I could ever hope to be. Which is possibly why they won’t let me near any of our socials. That, and they worry I’ll swear, or share an Effin’ Birds cartoon…)

Each type of diabetes – and there are many! – has its own complexities and some of the time we need to make sure that it is clear which diabetes we are talking about. But next time you find yourself about to take to the keyboard to correct some misinformation, ask if you are actually adding to that misinformation. And if you see someone demanding such clarification, ask them if they are aware they are contributing to type 2 diabetes stigma. Because I think a lot of the time that is exactly what is happening.

Complete digression, but the title of this post reminded me of these books, which anyone who has been around kids in the last 15 or so years would know about!

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