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We all do a good job at undermining ourselves at times. We use a four letter word that diminishes what we are doing, and limits the value of our experience and expertise. That four letter word is ‘just’.

In diabetes, we hear it all the time: ‘Oh, I just have type 2 diabetes’ as though it is insignificant and doesn’t have any challenges. ‘I’ve lived with diabetes for just a couple of years’ because we think there is only currency in decades of living with the condition, when really any length of time with diabetes is meaningful.

And we are all about minimising our experience when it comes to the treatment of our diabetes. ‘just use diet and exercise to manage my type 2 diabetes’ or ‘I’m just on tablets’ or ‘I’m just on injections twice a day’ or ‘I’m just on MDI’. The list goes on and on. And on.

I realised just how ridiculous we have become with this when I heard myself, during a conversation with a fellow Looper, ‘Oh, I just use Loop’. (More on that later…)

At the Ascensia Social Media Summit at ATTD we spoke about this, specifically how there is almost a stigma within the diabetes for those seen to not be using the shiniest and brightest and newest of technologies. It seems that some people almost feel embarrassed if they are not constantly updating their technology toolkit with the most recently launched product.

The idea that anything that we are using today is ‘yesterday’s technology’ is wrong. Blood glucose monitoring can’t be ‘yesterday’s tech’ if it is what most people are using to track their glucose. And syringes and pens can’t be considered the ‘old way to deliver insulin’ when that is how the vast, vast majority of inulin-requiring people with diabetes get insulin into their bodies. Plus, every single one of us using a pump must be able to deliver insulin this way because machines break.

Somewhere in discussions about our treatment technologies, we seem to have forgotten that, actually, not everyone wants to be using the latest kit. And that is okay. There is a spectrum of diabetes technology, and as long as we are on it somewhere and managing our diabetes the way that works best for us, then elephant stamps all around!

There is clearly an over-representation of people at one end of that spectrum dominating on and off line conversations. Spend a couple of hours in a diabetes Facebook group and it would be a reasonable assumption that most people are wearing pumps and CGM. But that’s not true.

And it could appear that DIYAPS is the way to go for most people with T1D, when the fact is that numbers are relatively low. It’s hard to estimate exactly, but there may be somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 worldwide how have ‘built their own pancreas’. That is just a drop in the type 1 diabetes ocean.

It’s fantastic for those of us interested in this technology to be able to (virtually) congregate and talk amongst ourselves. I learn so much from my peers in these groups – just as I have with all aspects of life with diabetes. The lived experience continues to trump any other way of learning about diabetes.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be talking about technology used by limited numbers. Of course we should. We want others to know about it so they can make an informed choice about whether it may be right for them.  We want our HCPs to know about it and to support those of us using all sorts of technologies and treatments.

Where it becomes problematic is when there is the misconception that this is the norm. Or when those not using the newest technology feel that they are wilfully doing diabetes the ‘old way’. It’s unfair to think for a moment that those who are not using the tech ‘don’t care’ enough about themselves – especially when decisions are made based on a very good understanding of what is available and what they have decided works best for them.

So, back to my ‘Oh, I just use Loop’ comment. It was directed to someone far more technologically advanced than me; someone who runs all sorts of other programs alongside their DIYAPS. They generate lots of reports and make lots of changes and seem to have far more bells and whistles than I even knew were available.

I nodded as they told me all they were doing and then, when they asked me how I manage my diabetes, I answered that I just use Loop. I heard myself saying it and stopped and corrected myself. ‘I meanI use Loop. It works for me. Perfectly.’

We don’t need to make excuses for doing diabetes our own way. If we truly have choice (which I know is not always the case), and we have made the choice based on what we believe to be the best possible treatment and technology for us at that moment, then surely that’s a great thing. We shouldn’t ever be made to feel less committed to our own health and wellbeing. That’s not how it works.

DISLCOSURE

I was invited by Ascensia to co-chair the Diabetes Social Media Summit at ATTD (#ATTDDSMS). I did not receive any payment or in-kind support from them for accepting their invitation. I have co-written a piece for the blog, however this was not edited (apart from inevitable jet-lag-induced typos) and all words are those of mine and the piece’s co-author. You can read that piece here.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Click for original tweet)

DISLCOSURE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had a great conversation the other day with someone who was interested to talk about diabetes and language with me. ‘I’m trying to get a better grasp of why it’s something so important to you, because, quite frankly, I couldn’t care less what people say about diabetes.’ 

This isn’t the first time people have asked me this. And it’s certainly not the first time I’ve been asked why I spend so much time speaking about diabetes language matters.

I know the reasons, but to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure that I have them especially well mapped out when I need to explain them. So, let me try here.

There is a tangled and complicated link between the words used when talking about diabetes, and how we feel about it and how diabetes is perceived by others. That link then goes off on all sorts of LA-freeway-like tangents to include diabetes and stigma, and discrimination.

The effects of how we frame diabetes can be felt by us individually. But they can also be far reaching and affect how others feel about diabetes.

We know that language has the potential to make people with diabetes feel judged and stigmatised. In fact, most PWD I know have at some time or another faced someone speaking to them using Judgey McJudgeface words. Of course, we all respond differently to this. For some people, it’s water off a duck’s back. They couldn’t care less what people say and just ignore it. For others, it’s almost a challenge – they use it as motivation to prove that they ‘won’t be beaten’.

But that’s not the case for everyone. For some people, it can be absolutely paralysing.

Fear of being judged and shamed may lead to some PWD to not wanting to attend HCP appointments and, as a consequence, falling behind on complication screening. Some PWD may not even tell their loved ones they have diabetes for fear of being judged. I have met PWD who made the decision to keep their diabetes a secret and for years, not telling another person. This can add to feelings of terrible isolation.

When diabetes is spoken about in stigmatising and demeaning ways, this leads to the spreading of misinformation. And this can have far reaching consequences.

We know that kids with diabetes may be teased by their schoolmates. Their teachers may not respond appropriately to diabetes because of the way diabetes is framed in the media or by others. We can’t really blame teachers. If diabetes is punchline fodder for every B-grade comedian, or an excuse to point fingers at those living with it by every tabloid news outlet, how can we expect anyone to take it seriously?

(And if right now you are thinking ‘This is why we need to change the name of type 1 diabetes’, stop it! People with type 1 diabetes shouldn’t be teased or mocked or judged, but neither should people with type 2 diabetes. This isn’t about people understanding the differences between type 1 and type 2 – this about understanding diabetes.)

The language we use when talking about prevention in diabetes – whether it be preventing type 2 diabetes or preventing diabetes-related complications – means that there is an underlying idea that developing type 2, or complications must be the fault of the individual. ‘If you can prevent it and haven’t, it’s your fault. You obviously lived an unhealthy lifestyle/are lazy/didn’t listen to your doctor/failed to follow instructions/refused to do what you were told etc.’.Can you imagine hearing that, or feeling that is what people think about you – all the time? This is the language – these are the words – used to talk about diabetes.

A couple of weeks ago in the UK, it was Prevent Diabetes Week. I saw countless tweets from people urging, begging, pleading with others to remember that type 1 diabetes can’t be prevented and the week refers only to type 2 diabetes. I wonder if those tweeting realised that comments such as these actually contribute to the stigma associated with type 2 diabetes? Of course type 1 diabetes can’t be prevented. But in many cases, neither can type 2 diabetes. There are so many non-modifiable factors associated with a type 2 diagnosis – factors beyond the control of the individual.

But let’s look beyond individuals, the health system and the education system for a moment. What else happens in other settings when diabetes is spoken about in stigmatising ways?

Health organisations, including diabetes organisations, frequently seek donations from the public to continue the important work they do. There is only so much money in the donation pie, and yet there are more and more competing organisations representing people with different health conditions wanting a piece of that pie.

Donations are harder to come by from the general community when there is the idea – the wrong idea – that diabetes is a largely preventable lifestyle condition that is the fault of those diagnosed. There is not the idea that people who have developed cancer brought it on themselves, even though we know that some of the risk factors associated with a breast cancer diagnosis are the same as for type 2 diabetes.

Research dollars for diabetes are far less than for other health conditions. We see that every year when successful NHMRC grants are announced. Diabetes is the poor cousin to cancer research and CVD research.

Diabetes is just as serious as any other condition that is worthy of research dollars and fundraising dollars. Yet because of the way we speak about it and the way diabetes as a condition has been framed, there is a perception that perhaps it isn’t.

Words matter. Language matters.

So, what I want to say to people who think that talking about language and words is a first world problem that only occupies the minds of the privileged is this: I acknowledge my privilege. But this isn’t simply about words. It’s about perception.

Until diabetes is considered the same way as other conditions that are taken seriously and thought of as blameless, the trickle-down effect is people with diabetes will continue to feel stigma. Diabetes will continue to be the poor cousin of other health conditions and diseases because there is the misconception it is not as serious. People will not as readily make donations towards fundraising initiatives. Research dollars will continue to fall short, instead going towards ‘more worthy’ conditions.

That’s why I care so much about diabetes language. Because, language matters… so much.

There were some really important and impactful sessions in the Living with Diabetes stream at #IDF2017 in December last year, but perhaps one of the most significant was the final session. Chaired by Professor Jane Speight, the session was titled ‘Diabetes and mental health: distress, diabulimia and emotional wellbeing’.

Talk about finishing with something to get people thinking and talking!

Bill Polonsky kicked off the session with a talk about how emotional wellbeing is affected by diabetes, and offered some ideas for addressing these issues.

(Can I just say what a stroke of genius it was to have Jane Speight and Bill Polonsky on stage together?! To have two champions of diabetes behavioural psychology in one place was definitely a highpoint of the Congress, and anyone who chose to go to a different session missed out. Big time! … Credit where credit is due to us all, Manny, Mary, Hakeem and Kelly!)

The session ended with Erika Backhoff from Mexico who gave an outstanding presentation on diabetes distress and the importance of appropriate training and understanding of the difference between diabetes-related distress and depression.

But for me, the highlight of the session – and one of the highlights of the entire stream – was Georgie Peters speaking about diabetes-related eating disorders. (Georgie writes a great blog that you can read here.)

Georgie began by sharing her own story of insulin manipulation. I’m not going to write anything about this part of Georgie’s talk, because you can see and hear it all here. (You’ll need to have a Facebook account to view it.)

Often, when people speak about living with a health condition, they are called ‘brave’. I absolutely hate it when people refer to me as brave because I live with diabetes (and all that comes with it). I’m not brave, I’m just doing what I need to do to stay alive.

But Georgie WAS brave and I’ll explain why.

Often, when we hear from people living with diabetes, what we hear about is people conquering mountains (literally and figuratively). We hear tales of the super heroes running marathons and winning medals. These are the socially acceptable stories of living with a chronic health condition: the ‘I won’t be beaten’ anecdotes. They give hope, are meant to inspire and make those not living with diabetes feel better about things because suddenly, it seems that this health condition is manageable and everyone with it is a champion.

But the reality for most people with diabetes is the same as most people with diabetes – we don’t run marathons, we don’t climb mountains, we don’t win gold medals. We are just doing the best we can with the hand we’ve been dealt. And sometimes, we deal with difficult stuff.

Sharing stories of the tough times and the challenging things that often go hand in hand with diabetes is not always easy – for the person sharing the story or for those reading or listening to them

But perhaps that’s exactly why we do need to hear about these stories, and ensure stories like Georgie’s are heard and given a platform.

Just because something is difficult or uncomfortable to listen to doesn’t mean that it should be hidden. This is why people don’t seek the care and assistance they need. It’s why people think they are the only one’s struggling and why they don’t know where to turn.

I could see some people in the audience shifting uncomfortably in their seats as Georgie eloquently, determinedly – and completely unapologetically – shared her experience and, most usefully, offered suggestions for how to work with people with diabetes and eating disorders. I know that I left with a far better understanding of the topic. And an even more resolute desire to keep these types of issues in the public domain.

Disclosure

I was the Deputy Lead for the Living with Diabetes Stream, and an invited speaker at the 2017 IDF Congress. The International Diabetes Federation covered my travel and accommodation costs and provided me with registration to attend the Congress.

Georgie owning the stage at #IDF2017

 

 

 

Towards the end of last year, I wrote about some things happening online trying to encourage people to openly and freely speak about being diagnosed and living with diabetes-related complications.

When conversations about diabetes complications are brought into the public domain, often two things happen.

Firstly, people start to talk. That whole cornerstone of peer support – reducing isolation and sharing stories – flings doors and windows wide open, and people, often gingerly at first, start to offer their own experiences. Inevitably, someone will say that they don’t speak about their complications because they fear the judgement that will follow. Or that they believe they are the only one their age facing complications because they have never met another person, or read a blog post from another person sharing a similar experience.

Secondly – and most damagingly – there is judgement. And it comes in spades, often sending some of those who had started to open up retreating back into the depths of diabetes taboos. This is not helpful for anyone.

So I wasn’t surprised when, during a useful discussion starting online about living with diabetes related complications – which resulted in some people willingly talking about their own experiences – the horribly judgemental comments started infiltrating the conversation.

I shared this post that I wrote almost five years ago about why we need to reconsider the way we speak about diabetes complications as I thought it was relevant to the current online conversation. In fact, everything I wrote in that post was still true because diabetes continues to be a terribly stigmatised condition and, within that, those of us living with complications seem to face additional stigma and judgement.

If for one second anyone doesn’t believe that statement, here are just some of the comments that I received (on LinkedIn and Twitter) after sharing the post:

‘If considering that many people who are type 2 diabetic quite simply exercise too little and eat too much fat…… which has immense financial consequences for the provision of healthcare…….. how else do you propose to get these people to lose weight and stop emburdening (sic) themselves on our NHS? If you take away the need to shame them you take away the most powerful way of making them take responsibility for their health.’

‘Sorry Renza but if we get complications of diabetes then we have failed. We are each responsible for own health and must try to maintain it at all cost.’

‘Diabetic complications do not happen with ‘perfect’ blood sugars. I agree that we must be supportive and sympathetic and the insulins available don’t help but it’s still the patient’s responsibility and not the doctors. Sorry if this doesn’t bode well with you.’

Is it any wonder that people are reticent to speak about developing complications if people are thinking like this?

I have written before that I believe diabetes has an image problem, because I can’t think of any other health condition that, if a treatment does not get the desired outcome, the person living with that condition is blamed. I have never heard someone being blamed if the cancer for which they are being treated does not end up in remission. I don’t know of anyone with rheumatoid arthritis who is blamed if their pain increases or their mobility decreases. I’ve not heard of someone with psoriasis being accused of not caring for themselves if their skin flares up.

But all bets are off when it comes to diabetes and fingers are pointed fairly and squarely in the face of the person living with diabetes if they develop complications.

Diabetes complications happen. It is, unfortunately, a reality for many people living with diabetes. I’m not trying to be negative or scare people, but we know that the longer we live with diabetes, the more likely we are to develop complications.

In this post, The Grumpy Pumper says: ‘Complications are a hazard of what we have. Not a failing of what we do.’ Maybe if we take that as the starting point we can take away the blame. And maybe if we take away the blame, we break down the stigma. And maybe if we break down the stigma, we can start having a real discussion about how we treat complications if they develop, and get to treating them.

And maybe if we stop thinking that developing diabetes and anything that happens after living with it is a shortcoming we can stop feeling so judged and shamed, because others will stop judging and shaming us.More to read on this topic:

Melissa Lee wrote this piece.

Riva Greenberg shared this one.

Sarah K from Sugarbetic wrote this. 

And this from Mel Seed.

 

At #DX2Melbourne last week, we had a live webcast in an attempt to include people not invited to be part of the event to hear from some of the bloggers and contribute to the discussion. The hour-long webcast was about diabetes and mental health.

With delusions of Jenny Brockie and Tony Jones, I facilitated the discussion – which was actually quite difficult as there were thirteen of us sitting in a row meaning we couldn’t all see anyone other than who was sitting directly next to us without leaning dangerously forward. Also, I kept nearly falling off my stool, which suggests that I am the most ungraceful creature to have ever been positioned in front of a camera.

I’d put together some questions and discussion points to guide the discussion, but was very open to any tangent the group wanted to take to really navigate and explore the topic of diabetes and emotional wellbeing.

As the discussion flowed, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu. Another talk about how diabetes affects us emotionally; another talk about not getting the support from psychologists and counsellors that we need; another talk about how usually it’s not even recommended that we may need to speak with someone about the mental health aspect of living with a chronic health condition; another talk from well-connected diabetes advocates saying that there is more to diabetes than simply being told our A1c, or any other number for that matter.

Amongst all the chatter, I asked myself how many times I’d participated in talks, how many talks I’d given, how many tweet chats I’d tweeted in, how many blog posts I’d written that were about the emotional side of diabetes. And then today, on my TimeHop app came this tweet, from an OzDOC tweet chat about mental health, held exactly 12 months ago today:

I’m not saying this because I think we’ve ‘done’ this topic and should leave it alone now. Not at all. I’m just suggesting that we’ve been having the same discussions about this really important topic for a long time, and yet diabetes care still seems to have this imaginary, yet somehow real, line down the middle, with the physical aspects of diabetes to one side, and the emotional aspects on the other as if the two are not fundamentally connected.

I knew that there would be some people listening in who would be hearing all of this for the first time. It would be the first time that although they had probably worked out that there was something missing from their diabetes care, they weren’t sure what it was. Or, they may have known they needed to speak to a psychologist or a counsellor, but didn’t know who to ask about it…and anyway, they may have thought, surely if this was something that lots of people with diabetes feel, someone would have mentioned it by now, right? Right???

Nineteen years I’ve had diabetes. And for at least seventeen of them, I’ve understood and known the importance of checking in on how the emotional impact of diabetes is contributing to how I am managing my diabetes. Or how I am not managing my diabetes (see above tweet….).

The idea that we can separate our mental health and emotional wellbeing from our diabetes is ridiculous. A condition that permeates every aspect of our life, moves in, makes itself a home and lords over us with terrifying threats of what lies ahead, impacts on our abilities to manage the day-to-day physical things we need to do.

Those watching the webcast at home could submit questions for the panel. A couple of diabetes healthcare professionals were watching and one asked a question that, as I read it, made my heart sink. He said that he sees people with diabetes who he believes would benefit from seeing a psychologist, but he is concerned that they will be offended if he suggests it. He asked the panel for ideas on how to broach the subject without causing offense.

Why did my heart sink? Because the question showed that there is still so much stigma associated with seeing a mental health professional, that other HCPs – on the ball, sensitive ones who know and understand the intersection between diabetes and mental health – feel worried that they might upset someone with diabetes if they suggest referring to a psychologist.

Until we normalise psychological support – until at diagnosis when we’re introduced to our new diabetes HCP best friends and psych support is part of that team – the stigma will continue. I’m not suggesting that everyone will need or want to see a psychologist. But putting it on the list, alongside a dietitian and a diabetes educator and an eye specialist will at least people understand that, if needed, there will be someone there to help with that particular piece of diabetes. (And to be perfectly honest, I really do wish I’d seen a psychologist at diagnosis rather than the dietitian who has scarred me for life with her ridiculously large rubber-mould portions of carbohydrate she insisted I eat at every meal!)

I don’t feel as though I am a failure because I have needed to consult a mental health professional in the past. I don’t think that it suggests that I can’t cope or that I can’t manage diabetes. I see it as important a part of my diabetes management as anything (and anyone) else. A lot of the time, I don’t feel as though I need to see someone. But other times, I do. And that is fine.

DISCLOSURES

Abbott Diabetes Care covered all my costs to attend #Dx2Melbourne, and provided all attendees with two FreeStyle Libre sensors and, if requested, a scanner. There was no expectation from Abbott that I would write about the event or any of their products, and everything I do write about it is my opinion, in my own words, and in no way reflects those of Abbott – or anyone else, for that matter.

It’s day three of the eighth annual #DBlogWeek, created by Karen from Bittersweet Diabetes. This is the sixth year I’ve taken part and it’s a great opportunity to not only write about some truly interesting topics, but also a chance to read some blogs you may not otherwise. Here are the links to today’s posts.

 

Today’s prompt: Having diabetes often makes a visit to the doctor a dreaded experience, as there is invariably bad news of one kind or another.  And sometimes the way the doctor talks to you can leave you feeling like you’re at fault.  Or maybe you have a fantastic healthcare team, but have experienced blame and judgement from someone else in your life – friend, loved one, complete stranger.  Think about a particularly bad instance, how that person talked to you, the words they used and the conversation you had.  Now, the game part.  Let’s turn this around.  If you could turn that person into a puppet, what would you have them say that would leave you feeling empowered and good about yourself?   Let’s help teach people how to support us, rather than blame us!  

I’ve written before about difficult encounters with HCPs. There was this time and this time. And this time where it wasn’t even me who the HCPs were speaking poorly about! 

So, instead of doing that today, I’m going to talk (as in actually speak) about the the overall issue of blame and diabetes, and what can be said to address the blame game. (Apologies for the speed talking and hand waving.)

The other day, I walked into my local NDSS pharmacy and collected four boxes pump consumables and a couple of boxes of blood glucose strips.

I have a lovely pharmacist. She’s friendly and chatty and every time I visit, we catch up about how our kids are going and she comments on how I seem to spend a lot of time on aeroplanes and that I need to look after myself better. (She’s also my parents’ pharmacist, so I suspect that my dad asks her to say that to me.)

While we were talking, she was packaging up my supplies and came out from behind the counter to hand me a black bag. As I was paying for them, I had a really strong flashback to the days that I worked in a local pharmacy.

I was a pharmacy shop girl from when I was 15 until I was about 20. It was a convenient part-time job – a few hours on Saturdays and Sundays, and extra hours in the lead up to Xmas – and a great way to earn a little spending money.

I remembered that there was a customer who came in about once a month and that when he walked in, the pharmacist would step down from his little ‘stage’ with all the medications and bring out the customer’s order, wrapped up in a couple of paper bags. I had no idea what was inside them, and it took me a couple of years of wondering before I finally asked the pharmacist.

He has diabetes. It’s insulin and other things he needs for his diabetes,’ was the answer. ‘He doesn’t like to see the different products, so I wrap them up when I order them in for him and just pass them to him. That way, no one knows what’s in the bag.’

I knew nothing about diabetes back then. I just acknowledged what the pharmacist said with a nod of my head, and the next time I saw that customer, I handed him his package without a word.

I wasn’t working at the pharmacy anymore when I was diagnosed with diabetes, but it is where I picked up my first insulin prescription. I have never, ever thought to ask for my insulin to be hidden away, in fact, the only discussion I have is lying about promising that I am going straight home and don’t need a cool bag for the drugs. Pharmacists seem to worry that the hour or so the insulin is out of the fridge while I pop into a café to grab a coffee is going to send it sour.

But apparently the attitude of the customer at the pharmacy I worked at isn’t all that uncommon. Until the change in ordering from the NDSS, I used to collect my supplies from the NDSS shop downstairs at Diabetes Victoria. This was always fabulously convenient for me, considering I worked just upstairs. The products were always loaded into an opaque, black plastic bag. I remember someone saying those bags were used because a lot of people didn’t want others to know what was inside.

All mail being sent out by the diabetes organisation I worked at was sent in unbranded, plain envelopes. Apparently some people didn’t want their neighbours – or postie – knowing they were receiving mail about diabetes-related matters.

I’ve heard countless stories of people going to great lengths to hide their diabetes. I remember a case where a house was over-crowded with sharps and diabetes waste because the people in the house refused to throw out any packaging that might suggest someone living there had diabetes. They didn’t use sharps containers because they didn’t want to go to their local council for a free one because it might mean having to identify themselves as having diabetes. And they didn’t pay for a sharps container, because depositing it at a sharps collection point would also mean saying they had diabetes.

Another time, someone called me to complain because a letter sent out by the team I managed had slipped inside the plane envelope and the logo identifying the diabetes organisation was visible through the window. ‘I don’t want people knowing I have diabetes,’ I was told angrily.

This reluctance to let others know could be a matter of people simply not wanting to share their personal health with others, which is, of course, fine. But I suspect that it is more than just that. I think that in a lot of cases there is shame involved too. For every one of us who claims to be out, loud and proud about our diabetes, there are others who still want it hidden away – people who feel ashamed, and shamed, by their condition so much so that they don’t want others to know they are affected by diabetes.

I wear my diabetes very visibly and have never thought not to. I don’t feel shame about it at all. Diabetes is tough enough as it is without trying to conceal it from everyone as well. I just don’t have the headspace to think about how to hide it away.

It’s day four of holidays for me. Already lazy mornings, easy days and gentle plans to meet up with friends and family are clearing my mind, and I can feel the backlog of stress and exhaustion – the things that are part of everyday life – start to make way for sharp thinking and smarter decision making.

And in terms of diabetes this means more attention paid to alarms and alerts on my various devices: the calibration alert on my phone for my CGM gets attended to immediately, the low cartridge reminder on my pump is heeded at the first warning. I stop and think before blindly acting, and calmly troubleshoot as I go along.

My head is clearing. I am starting to think about diabetes the way I like, at a level that feels safe and sensible and manageable.  I make rational decisions; I take the time to fine tune what I am doing. Diabetes has a place that is comfortable, I feel better overall and far more capable of ‘doing diabetes’.

miles-study-2-logo-hires-land-colour-e1426127802906Earlier this week, the findings from the Diabetes MILES-2 study were launched. (Quick catch-up: MILES stands for Management and Impact for Long-term Empowerment and Success and is the work of the Australian Centre for Behavioural Research in Diabetes (ACBRD). The first MILES survey was conducted back in 2011, with over 3,300 Australians with diabetes taking part. The MILES Youth Report was launched in 2015, reporting the experiences of 781 young people with type 1 diabetes and 826 of their parents. This study formed part of the NDSS Young People with Diabetes Project for which I am the National Program Manager.)

The MILES reboot (Diabetes MILES-2) once again provides a snapshot of the emotional wellbeing and psychosocial needs of Australian adults living with diabetes. Over 2,300 people participated in this study and the results are comparable to those from the first MILES study. The Diabetes MILES-2 survey included the addition of some issues that had not been investigated in MILES, such as diabetes stigma.

Some key findings from the report include:

  • 17% of survey respondents had been diagnosed with a mental health problem at some point of their life
  • The respondents most likely to experience moderate-to-severe depression and anxiety were those with insulin treated type 2 diabetes
  • The respondents most likely to experience severe diabetes distress were those with type 1 diabetes
  • The aspects of life reported by all respondents as being negatively impacted by diabetes included emotional well-being (for those with type 1 diabetes) and dietary freedom (for those with type 2 diabetes)
  • More stigma was experienced by people with type 2 diabetes using insulin as compared with people with type 2 diabetes not using insulin

Anyone affected by diabetes knows that the psychological and emotional side of diabetes is as much a part of the game as the clinical tasks. In fact, for me, it is the most difficult to deal with. What’s going on in my head directly affects how the I am able to manage the practical side of the condition.

When my head is clear – the way it is slowly, but surely becoming as I settle into holiday mode – and I have time and space to rationally think about, and focus on diabetes, the routine tasks seem manageable. The numbers present as nothing more than pieces of information: they allow me to make decisions, act, or not act. I am able to be practical and seem to have my act far more together.

But for the most part, diabetes is not like that for me. I don’t manage my diabetes the way I want and that is mostly because I am simply unable to due to the distress and anxiety I feel about living with a chronic health condition that terrifies me a lot of the time. I feel overwhelmed and, in the mess of life, diabetes becomes impossible. I am not proud of this – but I am honest about it.

If I am perfectly truthful, there is nothing in this report that surprises me. But it does provide validation for how I am feeling – and how many others with diabetes are feeling too. And I am so pleased that there is evidence to support what so many of us who live with diabetes feel.

It’s no secret that I am a very big fan of the ACBRD’s work. Diabetes MILES-2 once again shines a light on the ‘other side’ of diabetes and serves as a reminder that unless the psychosocial side of living with this condition is addressed, we simply can’t manage well the physical side. And it forces those who want to believe that diabetes is a matter of nothing more than numbers and mathematical equations to consider the emotional wellbeing of those of us living with diabetes each and every day.

The MILES 2 report can be read online here.

 

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