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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. (Keep an eye out on the work that started with the Kath Barnard’s survey on this important issue.)

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.

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I don’t get hit for six by diabetes much anymore. (Before we go on, please applaud that sport-ish reference there. I really must be growing as a person.)

Those days that would almost be a write-off thanks to a hypo that moved in, set up house and then wouldn’t clear out for hours, or hypers that made me think my insulin had turned to water and made my head so foggy and cloudy and stormy (all the weather analogies), just don’t seem to happen these days. I don’t have nights spoilt by erratic glucose levels and I don’t feel the hangover of lows and highs the way I once did.

This is all good news.

The daily impact of diabetes – both physically and emotionally – has diminished considerably and for that, I am eternally grateful to the magicians who have made Loop available to technology-fools like myself.

But this week? This week, diabetes has reared its ugliest of heads and I have been hit for six. My post the other day was called ‘Waking the beast’ and I think perhaps that is what has happened here. Except the once familiar beast is different now. It’s mutated into something I don’t recognise, and don’t know how to manage.

I don’t even have a word for what it is that is going on right now and if I’m perfectly honest, I don’t understand it. I thought that after my appointment with my endo and my ‘all is well’ complications screening conversation I’d be back to feeling less burdened and less fraught.

Yeah; about that. I was wrong. I certainly did feel lighter as soon as I left my endocrinologist appointment the other day…at least, I did for a few hours. (I even wrote about it!) And then I didn’t.

This week, I’ve found myself lying awake late into the night, thinking about diabetes and the scary things that I really don’t like to think about. During the day mind wanders to that dark place in my conscience, and I feel my breath catching and my heartbeat quickening for no reason.

As I lie awake at night, or am alone in my car driving to work, or standing in the kitchen preparing dinner, I suddenly feel diabetes in my body, flowing through my veins, being absorbed into my bones, twisting itself into my brain. And it’s been winding itself into my dreams when I finally do fall asleep.

What is this? It’s not burnout. To be honest, I do so few diabetes tasks these days that it’s not about being overwhelmed by daily diabetes. I am not ‘over’ diabetes. I don’t even feel that I hate it.

Perhaps the reason that it doesn’t make sense to me is because I can’t point to something and know what I need to fix. This isn’t a matter of needing to do some basal tweaking, or adjust what I am eating, or pre-bolus a little sooner. This has nothing to do with day-to-day diabetes. This is beyond that. This is deeper than that.

I feel diabetes – in, around and through my body and mind. This is within the very core of my diabetes. And the very core of me.

This photo I took at MONA last month of Pat Brassington’s ‘Cornerstone’ seemed a perfect image to accompany this post. (Click for more details of the artist.)

I am a master outsourcer. I outsource as much as I possibly can – from cleaning our home, doing our garden, washing the car and grooming our dogs. I used to feel guilty about this. Then I realised that doing these sorts of things make me irritable and bad-tempered, and it’s better for everyone – mostly and especially me – to just get someone in to do them so I don’t need to a) do them myself and b) get shitty because they are not getting done. (I should add that Aaron feels exactly the same way. He has no desire to do any of those things either, so the outsourcing is a joint decision and one that makes for a far more harmonious home.)

The other day, a new outsourcing device made its way into our home. Despite having someone frequently come and give our place a thorough clean, three dogs and a cat make for grotty floors. Most days, the timber floorboards need a quick going over to gather the dust bunnies and pet hair that collects in corners. Not anymore! This little helper is going to take care of that from now on!

Outsourcing makes sense. And as I have become older, wiser – and some may say lazier – I continue to look for ways to help with the more mundane things in life.

Hello, diabetes…

Many years ago when my diabetes – and I – were not in a great place, I mentioned to an endocrinologist (not my current endo), that I was so overwhelmed by, and over diabetes and I wished that there was a way that someone could do it for me for a week or so. ‘You can’t outsource your diabetes to me,’ she snapped. I’d not suggested her being the one to step in and take over, but she was adamant that it wasn’t going to happen – just in case I was considering asking. (She was promptly sacked after that comment.)

I frequently hear people (myself included) say that the most relentless thing about living with diabetes is not being able to take a holiday from it. It’s true. Even if you have someone helping with caring duties, the toll of having this unwelcome visitor using your body as a guesthouse is unyielding. And even when we manage to find a way to share the load, (for example, partners doing night-time glucose checks, or being responsible for keeping hypo stores replenished, or scheduling HCP appointments, or making sure that insulin prescriptions, glucose strips, pump consumables, sensors etc. are all ready and available at home), there is no sharing or removing the load of the emotional toll of having diabetes.

So with all this in mind, I was a little surprised to hear myself say that I had ‘outsourced my diabetes’ when, at a recent presentation I was giving, a HCP asked me about Loop. I’ve been thinking about that comment quite a lot since I made it. Is it really accurate an accurate thing to say.

I guess that to an extent, it is partially true. I spend less time thinking about diabetes and less time ‘doing’ diabetes. Loop takes over a lot of the things I used to do. This was reiterated in Justin Walker’s talk at Diabetes Mine’s DData Exchange event on day one of ADA last week.

Loop doesn’t make diabetes go away. It doesn’t even take away all the tasks – I still am responsible for making sure that my pump cartridge is loaded, cannula is in working order, sensor is reading. But thanks to the automation, it does take away some of the responsibilities. I guess that the reduced burden comes from the positive results I see every time I look at my Loop app – jut knowing that it is doing its thing and will let me know if something is wrong – takes away some of what I once had to do myself.

Outsourcing is about sharing the load. It’s about handballing some of the tasks and responsibilities of life to someone – or something – else. Loop is the very definition of that!

I woke yesterday morning to a shit storm on Twitter. I had dozens and dozens of notifications where I had either been retweeted, mentioned or @-ed. (And yes, sorry, I did just turn the @ symbol into a verb). I was hoping that someone was sharing news with me that in the eight hours I’d been asleep, diabetes had been cured, JK Rowling had released a new Harry Potter book, or Nutella would be sponsoring me to…well, eat Nutella.

Alas…it was none of these. No; it was not.

I slipped down the rabbit hole of people replying to a tweet where I’d shared an awesome blog post by my mate and all ‘round wonderful human, Georgie Peters. Georgie was commenting on the recent study which has been widely shared (and written up in the NY Times) about type 1 diabetes and LC diets. (If you’ve not read the NY Times article, do! The study is really interesting and as someone who predominantly follows LC it all makes perfect sense to me…and makes my CGM trace devoid of roller coasters lines.)

Georgie’s piece was not demonising LC. In fact, quite the opposite. She was suggesting that it is absolutely a valid way of eating for some people, just as eating moderate to high carbs might be.

Distilled into one word, Georgie’s post was about CHOICE.

In more than one word, Georgie was warning that diets that are inherently restrictive in nature could lead to an increased risk in eating disorders. Georgie was specifically referring to children on LC diets who are not given a choice in the way they are eating, or as she far more eloquently puts it: …the food choices of children and their right to bodily autonomy.’

Choice. It all comes down to choice.

Apparently, that was completely lost on the people challenging what Georgie was saying. One person was somehow trying to say that the idea that a diet restricting carbs was no different to a kosher diet, and does that mean that people following a kosher way of eating have an increased rate of eating disorders? (If you can join the dots to make something that even remotely makes sense, please do so for me, because I have tried and keep coming up with a massive question mark.)

Another doctor claimed that she insists all her surgical patients go on a low carb diet (pre-surgery), and that they have no choice in the matter. Two things: type 1 diabetes isn’t the same as prepping for surgery. And any doctor who even suggestedthere being no choice in anyaspect of my diabetes management would be given the sack very quickly. (I’ve no idea about pre-surgery diets, because that’s not my thing. Diabetes is. Georgie’s post was about diabetes, not about pre-surgery diets. The surgeon’s comments added to my confusion, because: apples and oranges…which are probably banned on her LC diet. And further down the rabbit hole we go.)

The food we eat; the diet we follow, are inherently personal choices. No one has the right to insist that there is only one way of eating. One of the frustrations that some of us who do want to follow a LC diet have is that there are some HCPs who refuse to even acknowledge that it could possibly be a positive and useful diet for people with diabetes, some going so far to say it is harmful.

The other day as many of my friends shared the NY Times article, I saw them plead for others to open their minds. I want that, too! I want people to have the information about how LC might work as a diabetes management strategy and be open to the idea. But more than that, I want people to then choose what works for them.

And when it comes to parenting (and I know that I don’t have a kid with diabetes, but I am a parent), I know this to be true: we all want what is best for our children. The thirteen-year-old in our house doesn’t have complete autonomy over food choices, because I do ninety percent of the shopping for food and cooking. I like it that way, because I get to eat what I want, and don’t have to do any of the cleaning up after I’ve messed up the kitchen! Win, win!

While she doesn’t have a choice in what is served up at the dinner table, she does get to decide what of it she eats. I know she doesn’t have diabetes, so when it comes to thinking about food, she doesn’t have to consider her glucose levels. But there is far more to health than that.

I am doing all I can to inform and educate her on what makes for a healthy, balanced diet. I have to trust that what I am doing is enough to result in her making healthy choices most of the time.

Choice – that’s what Georgie was writing about. Is it really that hard to understand?

In kind of related, but really, just that I want to share something: this nut and seed bread is incredible:  

It’s low carb (at least, it is the way I make it, because I swap the oats for coarsely ground hazelnuts) and, quite frankly, is the best thing I have ever eaten. (To make it decidedly not low carb, slather in Nutella…!)

When I was in my teens and twenties, I was, just as many women are, dismayed with the way I looked, and susceptible to the claims of beauty products that promised I could be thinner, more toned, more beautiful, smoother, more attractive, more <insert whichever part of me obviously needed improving>.

Of course, all of the things I was desperate to change and refine were measures of my worth, right? Because if I was thinner, more toned, more beautiful, smoother, more attractive, more <insert required improvement> that would make me a better person. Right? Of course.

I didn’t look like one of the supermodels (not just models, mind; these ones were super) that were everywhere I looked. At the time, I was spending all my energies being a flute player, but even the classical musical world wasn’t spared the attention to how women should look, with Jane Rutter suddenly appearing wrapped in nothing more than a bedsheet and a sultry look (impressive with a flute shoved against her bottom lip, while playing Debussy). ‘Great’, I thought. ‘Now not only do I have to look like a fucking model. I have to do it while playing flute. Naked.’

The feelings of inadequacy were strong and I know I spent far too much time desperately wishing I looked different. I probably spent too much money on products that promised to make that happen. And delivered nothing.

When I was twenty-one, someone gave me a copy of Kaz Cooke’s fabulous book Real Gorgeous. I can’t remember who it was, but suspect it was my mother. I read it in one sitting. I already knew of Kaz Cooke (from her brilliant ‘Keep Yourself Nice’ column in the weekend papers), but this book was a revelation. She laid bare all the sneaky tips and tricks and lies the beauty industry used to expose our insecurities, feel as though we needed to be different and, subsequently, buy their products. Of course, I already knew what she was saying. There was nothing in there that, when I had a moment of rational thinking, I didn’t already understand. But to have it set out so practically and emphatically was just what I needed to get over the idea that I needed to look and be different to how I was.

I actually saw Kaz at Marios over the weekend and stopped her she walked past me. I introduced myself and the kid (who was so horrified and embarrassed that she looked as though she wished the ground would swallow her up), and thanked her for all her books, but especially Real Gorgeous. ‘It saved me, in some ways.’ I told her.

And it did. It stopped the self-doubt. And it made me confident enough to admit to myself that I was more than enough. Just the way I was. And that nothing about the way I looked needed improving. (Thankfully, this was before I tried any naked flute playing. At least, any in public…)

As it turns out, I struggled with the same insecurities and feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt when it came to being diagnosed with diabetes. I think it is only in recent years that I have come to understand that the constant second guessing about being good enough achieves nothing other than increasing my anxieties and contributing to burn out.

With time, I came to apply the same cynical filters to diabetes product advertising as I now had permanently in place when looking at health and beauty advertising. In the same way that not every woman looks like Cindy Crawford, not every blood glucose check will be 4.8mmol/l.

‘Real Gorgeous’ wisdom on the left. Real diabetes on the right.

One of the most damaging things that we can do is compare ourselves to others. Because when we do, we often fall short. Our A1c may be higher, our time in range lower, our technology not as advanced, our healthcare professionals not the ones on the TV or on conference stages.

Being around and sharing with others living with diabetes is wonderful (here are twenty reasons why) but it can be damaging if the only thing you are doing is using them as a yardstick for your own diabetes.

It took me many years to stop feeling that I needed to ‘keep up’ with my diabetes peers, or that my diabetes needed to look like someone else’s diabetes. While I may try to align myself with others who have similar ideas about diabetes, I do it on my own terms, using and doing the things that work best for me.

The way I have adopted DIYAPS is not the same as many others. I call it ‘Loop Lite’, using just the absolute basics, without any of the add-ons. I don’t produce pages of graphs to analyse, because that’s not what I need. But what I do is perfect for me.

The same goes for finding the way to an eating plan that works for me. While learning about the details of LCHF, I refused to go ‘all in’ as many seem to. I adapted it for the way I live.

The way I do diabetes and the way my diabetes behaves is enough. It is right for me. It is my Real Diabetes.

Today, I have a brand new copy of Real Gorgeous on my desk, all wrapped up. It’s a gift for the kidlet who is already a huge Kaz Cooke fan (she has had Girls Stuff on her shelf for a few years now).  She already has a very healthy filter when it comes to beauty advertising, but I know that it is possible that she will be susceptible to the same feelings of self-doubt that I was.

I want her to know she is enough. So very much more than enough. We all are.

Click on photo to order your own copy of ‘Real Gorgeous’.

There is an indescribable feeling I have following a diabetes conference. Swirled in amongst the exhaustion, information overload, jet lag (because conferences are always in ridiculous time zones that are not AET), and memories, I come back galvanised in a way that can only happen when spending time with those in my tribe: others living with diabetes.

I returned from three days in Vienna bone-achingly exhausted. After being reunited with my family and not being able to stop hugging them, a few days of not-great-but-okay sleep and bucket-loads of Melbourne coffee under my belt, and time to process and write about what I learnt, I find myself recalibrated and ready for what’s next.

The hours of travel is a memory, the conference sits comfortably alongside all the others I’ve been too, my conference name badge is hanging in my office with all the others, and I’ve plans already underway from successful meetings.

In a lot of ways, the status quo has been restored and I am back to my real life after a few days of conference life.

But what is not the same is the level of vitality I now have, my veins pounding with the vigour that comes only from spending time with the people who are working to and for the same things because they get it at a personal level that is only apparent to those of us whose very DNA is affected by this condition.

I came to realise a few years ago that I have an invisible jar in my mind, and how empty or full that jar is depends on the time I’ve spent with likeminded diabetes friends. When the jar is nearing empty, I find it difficult to focus my energies on the advocacy and support issues that often are front and centre of my mind. I feel myself flailing and falling short because I don’t have the support of those I need to boost me up.

Of course, I am lucky enough to have others with diabetes around me even when I am in Melbourne (hello neighbour!), but it is those I see at these sorts of conferences – the ones whose minds and hearts are full of similar ideas, similar frustrations and find similar reasons to celebrate– that fill that jar right up. It is when I can simply turn to someone because they are sitting right there, have an animated conversation and high five each other with our enthusiasm that I feel capable and able to take on the world.

Those people who share my pancreatically-challenged existence, who breathe the same health condition, and struggle, celebrate and despair in similar ways to me, are the ones who fill up the jar ways to sustain me until the next time. My motivation is high, the momentum fast, my mind is working overtime. And my jar is overflowing right now with those people who may have beta cells that don’t work, but they make up for it in ways you couldn’t even begin to imagine.

Tine – who inspires me every time we speak.

New year, new jumble. And lots of saved links from the last few weeks to share.

#OzDOC 2.0

Did you know that after OzDOC had it’s ‘final’ tweetchat at the beginning of December last year, it’s had a reboot and is now continuing to go at a great rate. David Burren (AKA Bionic Wookiee) kicked off the chat but is looking for people to volunteer to the moderators’ roster. There’s a brand new Twitter account to follow (@OzDOC_host), but the #OzDOC hashtag continues to shine brightly.

Same #OzDOC time, same #OzDOC channel. (i.e. Tuesdays at 8.30pm AEDT)

And while we’re talking tweetchats…

…make sure you keep an eye out on the #GBDOC tweetchats, which also had a bit of a restart last year and are going absolutely brilliantly. Follow @GbdocTChost for topics and moderators.

Now is a great time for Aussies to participate in #GBDOC because with the time zone difference, the chat is on Thursday 8am AEDT…which is actually quite pleasant. (It all goes to pot and becomes more difficult when daylight saving kicks in/out in respective hemispheres in coming months, but for now, it’s certainly manageable!)

Jane’s profile

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Professor Jane Speight and I make no apologies for mentioning her so frequently on this blog. She is truly a champion for and of people with diabetes and her pioneering work on diabetes and #LanguageMatters, and social stigma are changing the landscape for those of us living with diabetes.

Last week, a profile of Jane and her work was published in The Lancet. Congrats, Jane. I can’t imagine a more worthy recipient of this attention. Please keep on keeping on. I for one am very grateful to have you on our side!

Read the article here – it’s free, but you will need to register/log in to access it.

(Click photo for source)

Dear ‘patient’

I was really interested to read this BMJ Opinion piece about medical letters, with the writers suggesting that instead of addressing ‘report letters’ to referring (and other) doctors and HCPs, that they should be addressed directly to the person, CCing in the doctor who would ordinarily have been sent the letter.

I love that idea! My endo generally copies me in on anything she sends out to my other HCPs to keep me in the loop, but I think that actually writing directly to me is even better.

HCPs would need to completely reconsider the language they adopt, the terminology they use and the overall tone of the communication, and I believe that there is nothing that should be shared with another HCP about me that shouldn’t be shared directly with me.

Interesting idea. And interesting to see if it has legs…

Writing for Grumps

After writing for me a few weeks ago, I returned the favour and wrote a post for The Grumpy Pumper. (I think the deal he made was something like ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours’, so I had to come up with the goods.)

This is all part of Grumps’ attempts to get people with diabetes speaking about #TalkAboutComplications in an open and honest way to help reduce the shame that seem to go hand in hand with a complications diagnosis.

Get ready for Spare a Rose spam

This year’s campaign is about to kick off. And if you want to know why I support this campaign, here’s just one reason.

Hospital admissions and T1D study

Rebecca Munt from Flinders University is currently enrolled in a PhD at Flinders University and is looking for participants in her research.

The focus of her study is to explore the experiences of self-management for adults with type 1 diabetes in the hospital setting (when T1D is not the primary admission diagnosis). If you’re interested in participating in Rebecca’s study, have type 1 diabetes, are over 18 years of age and have been admitted to hospital within the last two to five years (not for diabetes), please call Rebecca on (08) 8201 5749 or email rebecca.munt@flinders.edu.au

(The project has Social Behavioural Research Ethics Committee approval from Flinders University.)

Future of medical conferences

I have been very vocal in recent years about the shortcomings of diabetes conferences, specifically the lack of involvement and engagement of people with diabetes as part of the planning, running and presenting of the conference. So this piece really resonated about why medical meetings need a revamp, and some ideas for what could be done differently.

(Click for original tweet)

Because #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs.

Does the story we know and love about Banting need a rewrite?

I was fascinated to watch the short documentary shared in this story which suggests that the frequently-told story of the discovery of insulin is missing out a critical part.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

This blog post by Sue Robins detailing two vastly different medical appointments is compelling – and quite heartbreaking –reading.

More D Merch

Totally true!

Click image to get your own!

 

It’s not really a great day in diabetes with news all over my SoMe feeds about a study published in Diabetologia which links high glucose levels with dementia, and a report from the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute showing Aussies with type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to suffer sudden cardiac death.

Perspective is really important on days like today. I’m not in any way wanting to minimise the significance of the these reports – obviously we should take them seriously. But equally, I think we also need to find some positives in the diabetes space and remember that it is not all dire and critical.

Diabetes is serious and anyone who thinks otherwise doesn’t know diabetes. This weekend, a true giant in Australian diabetes died. Hal Breidahl was a pioneer who co-founded the Australian Diabetes Society.  In a piece he wrote back in 1980 (and the language reflects that it was written in 1980!!!) about what people with diabetes want to know he states:

All diabetes is severe – unless adequately controlled. Patients often want to know ‘how bad is my diabetes?’ or ‘how severe is the condition?’ or ‘how high is the blood sugar?’ The notion that ‘I’ve only got a touch of sugar’ or ‘I only have mild diabetes’ should not be allowed to remain…

We get it. Diabetes is serious. Nasty things happen. We know it.

But I want to add to this. There is – there has to be – more to diabetes than the negative stories that make the news. Because in amongst those stories there are these things to remember, and I seek them out each day:

  • Diabetes is serious, but it is also the condition I need to live with and find some semblance of balance as I work out how to fit it into my life.
  • I need more than just the negatives, or bad news highlights. Because not offering the things I can do to live as best I can does nothing for my mental health – or for my diabetes health.
  • Attention grabbing headlines that only tell part of the story do nothing to make me believe that I will be able to live well with diabetes. Also, ‘live well’ means different things to different people and it’s a moveable feast, but I know that the idea that we need to be complications-free to be living well is a flawed and dangerous idea.
  • There is a lot of positive research about diabetes and we need to know about that too. Like this which reports people with type 1 diabetes are living longer.
  • There is an undeniable truth that reading over and over and over again that diabetes is going to increase my risk of <insert whatever you bloody well feel like> is exhausting. I feel as though I have been kicked in the gut every time it happens even though I know that I am living the best diabetes life I possibly can.
  • While diabetes may increase the risk of all sorts of things, sometimes it just doesn’t, because sometimes it’s not diabetes. If others could remember that, it would be useful so that any other affliction isn’t automatically lumped in the ‘It’s because you have diabetes’ basket, and not investigated properly.
  • If you are talking about the nasty things that diabetes seems to increase the risk of, please acknowledge that the tools we have to live with this condition are not up to the task. Any failure is not mine as a person with diabetes. It is the failure of a body part that decided to not to what it is supposed to. It is a failure of the insulins currently available not being able to act fast enough. It is a failure of monitors not being accurate enough and delivery devices not delivering properly. Please remind people of that when you also mention that out of range glucose levels (AKA diabetes) means that we’re at a higher risk of not-so-great things.
  • The bad stuff? It may not happen.

On a day like today when I am reading a lot about the diabetes things I really don’t want to think about, it is especially important for me to find some of that balance and search out the good news. Because otherwise diabetes tips into a really dark place where good self-care becomes almost impossible. There is light in diabetes. And sometimes, we need some help finding it. Sometimes we need to search a little harder to see it. Today is one of those days.

I wrote this post on this day last year and today, when it came up in my TimeHop app reread it and realised it is a good one to consider at the beginning of the year as I’m trying to get myself in order. I’ve made some edits to some of the points due to changes I made last year in the way I manage my diabetes. (The original post can be found here.)

I suppose that I was reminded that being good at diabetes – something I’m afraid I miss the mark on completely quite often – does involve others who sometimes don’t necessarily understand what it is that I really need. And I can’t be annoyed if they don’t intrinsically know what I want and need if I can’t articulate it. This post was my attempt to do just that. 

______________

Sometimes, I’m a lousy person with diabetes (PWD). I am thoughtless and unclear about what I need, have ridiculous expectations of others – and myself, and am lazy. But I’m not always like that. And I think I know what I need to do to be better.

Being a better PWD is about being true to myself. It is also about reflecting on exactly what I need and I hope to get it.

  • I need to remember that diabetes is not going away
  • I need to remember that the here and now is just as important as the future
  • I need to remember that I don’t have to like diabetes, but I have to do diabetes
  • I need to remember that the diabetes support teams around me really only have my best interest at heart, and to go easy on them when I am feeling crap
  • I need to empty my bag of used glucose strips more frequently to stop the strip glitter effect that follows me wherever I go – edit: while this is true, I do have to admit to having far fewer strips in my bag these days due to my rather lax calibration technique
  • I need to remember that it is not anyone else’s job to understand what living with my brand of diabetes is all about
  • I need to remember that the frustrating and tiresome nature of diabetes is part of the deal
  • I need to be better at changing my pump line regularly – edit: even more so now that I am Looping and think about diabetes less than before.
  • I need my diabetes tasks to be more meaningful – quit the diabetes ennui and make smarter decisions
  • And I need to own those decisions
  • I need to see my endocrinologist – edit: actually, this one I managed to nail last year and even have an appointment booked in for a couple of months’ time!
  • I need to decide what I want to do with my current diabetes technology. There is nothing new coming onto the market that I want, but what about a DIY project to try something new? #OpenAPS anyone…? – edit: oh yeah. I started Looping….
  • Or, I need to work out how to convince the people at TSlim to launch their pump here in Australia – edit: even more relevant now after yesterday’s announcement that Animas is dropping out of the pump market in Australia
  • I need to check and adjust my basal rates
  • I need to do more reading about LCHF and decide if I want to take a more committed approach or continue with the somewhat half-arsed, but manageable and satisfactory way I’m doing it now – edit: sticking totally to the half-arsed way and happy about it!
  • I need to remind myself that my tribe is always there and ask for help when I need it
  • I need to make these!

And being a better PWD is knowing what I need from my HCPs and working out how to be clear about it, rather than expecting them to just know. (I forget that Legilimency is not actually something taught at medical school. #HarryPotterDigression)

So, if I was to sit down with my HCPs (or if they were to read my blog), this is what I would say:

  • I need you to listen
  • I need you to tell me what you need from me as well. Even though this is my diabetes and I am setting the agenda, I do understand that you have some outcomes that you would like to see as well. Talk to me about how they may be relevant to what I am needing and how we can work together to achieve what we both need
  • I need you to be open to new ideas and suggestions. My care is driven by me because, quite simply, I know my diabetes best. I was the one who instigated pump therapy, CGM, changes to my diet and all the other things I do to help live with diabetes – edit: And now, I’m the one who instigated Loop and built my own hybrid closed-loop system that has completely revolutionised by diabetes management. In language that you understand, my A1c is the best it’s ever been. Without lows. Again: without lows! Please come on this journey with me…
  • I need you to understand that you are but one piece of the puzzle that makes up my diabetes. It is certainly an important piece and the puzzle cannot be completed without you, but there are other pieces that are also important
  • I need you to remember that diabetes is not who I am, even though it is the reason you and I have been brought together
  • And to that – I need you to understand that I really wish we hadn’t been brought together because I hate living with diabetes – edit: actually, I don’t hate diabetes anymore. Don’t love it. Wish it would piss off, but as I write this, I’m kinda okay with it
  • I need you to remember that I set the rules to this diabetes game. And also, that there are no rules to this diabetes game – edit: that may be the smartest thing I have ever written. I’d like it on a t-shirt
  • I need you to understand that I feel very fortunate to have you involved in my care. I chose you because you are outstanding at what you, sparked an interest and are able to provide me what I need
  • I need you to know that I really want to please you. I know that is not my job – and I know that you don’t expect it – but I genuinely don’t want to disappoint you and I am sorry when I do
  • I want you to know that I respect and value your expertise and professionalism
  • I need you to know that I hope you respect and value mine too.

And being a better PWD is being clear to my loved ones (who have the unfortunate and unpleasant experience of seeing me all the time – at my diabetes best and my diabetes worst) and helping them understand that:

  • I need you to love me
  • I need you to nod your heads when I say that diabetes sucks
  • I need you to know I don’t need solutions when things are crap. But a back rub, an episode of Gilmore Girls or a trip to Brunetti will definitely make me feel better, even if they don’t actually fix the crapness
  • Kid – I need you to stop borrowing my striped clothes. And make me a cup of tea every morning and keep an endless supply of your awesome chocolate brownies available in the kitchen
  • Aaron – I like sparkly things and books. And somewhere, there is evidence proving that both these things have a positive impact on my diabetes. In lieu of such evidence, trust and indulge me!
  • I need you to know I am sorry I have brought diabetes into our  lives
  • I need you to know how grateful I am to have you, even when I am grumpy and pissed because I am low, or grumpy and pissed because I am high, or grumpy and pissed because I am me.
  • Edit: I need you to keep being the wonderful people you are. Please know that I know I am so lucky to have you supporting me. 

I was thrilled and honoured to speak in the symposium at #IDF2017 all about peer support. I shared the program with Chris Aldred, better known to all as The Grumpy Pumper, and advocate Dr Phylissa Deroze (you can – and should – find her as @not_defeated on Twitter).

Speakers in the peer support symposium at #IDF2017

When we were putting together the program for the symposium, the idea was that it would offer an overview of what peer support can look like, beginning with how diabetes organisations and community health groups can facilitate and offer a variety of peer support options, and rounding up with the perspectives of people with diabetes who provide and participate in peer support.

I spoke about how diabetes organisations in Australia, through the NDSS, offer a suite of peer support choices, urging the audience to think beyond the usual face-to-face or, increasingly, online peer support group. Activities such as camps for children and adolescents with diabetes, information events, education sessions (such as DAFNE) are all avenues for peer support. Peer support need not only take the form of a group of people sitting in a (real or virtual) room talking about diabetes in a structured or unstructured way. It can happen just by putting people with diabetes in the same space.

I’d never met Phylissa before, but I quickly learnt she is the definition of the word determined. She spoke eloquently about her own type 2 diabetes diagnosis which was anything but ideal. Instead of feeling beaten and overcome by how she had been let down by the healthcare system, she turned to her peers, finding a group that not only helped her diabetes management, but also gave her confidence to live well with diabetes.

Phylissa now facilitates an in-person support group for women with diabetes in Al Ain in the UAE, and is a huge supporter of, and believer in, the power and importance of peer to peer engagement and support in diabetes management. You can read more about Phylissa’s work on her website here.

Grumps, in true Grumps style, gave a talk about how his approach to peer support is more organic and certainly not especially structured. Although involved in some more planned peer support, he believes the most effective way he can support others with diabetes is on an individual, more informal way. Kind of like this:

Click image to see tweet.

And as if putting into practise his talk at the Congress, last week he started a conversation on Twitter about his own recent experiences of being diagnosed with an ulcer in his foot opening the door for people to speak about diabetes complications.

Click image to see tweet.

The way we speak about diabetes-related complications is often flawed. The first we hear of them is around diagnosis and they are held over us as a threat of the bad things to come if we don’t do as we are told. They are also presented to us with the equation of: Well-managed-diabetes + doing-what-the-doctors-say = no complications.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.

From then on, complications are spoken of in hushed-voices or accusations. Blame is apportioned to those who develop them: obviously, they failed to take care of themselves.

And because of this, for many people, the diagnosis of a diabetes-related complication is accompanied by guilt, shame and feelings of failure when really, the response should be offers of support, the best care possible and links to others going through the same thing. Peer support.

Back to Grumps’ raising diabetes complications on Twitter. After sharing his own story, suggested that we should not be ashamed to talk about complications.

That was the catalyst others needed to begin volunteering their own stories of complications diagnoses. Suddenly, people were openly speaking about diabetes complications in a matter-of-fact, open way – almost as if speaking about the weather. Some offered heartfelt sympathies, others shared tips and tricks that help them. But the overall sentiments were those of support and camaraderie.

The recurring theme of the peer support symposium at the Congress was that we need to find others we can connect with in a safe space so we can speak about the things that matter to us. It’s not the role of any organisation or HCP to set the agenda – the agenda needs to be fluid and follow whatever people with diabetes need.

END NOTE

While we’re talking peer support, how great is it to see that the weekly OzDOC tweetchat is getting a reprise this week, with Bionic Wookiee, David Burren at the helm. Drop by if you are free at the usual time: Tuesday evening at 8.30pm (AEDT). I’ll be there!

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.

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