My Diabetes Inklings

Embracing A New Normal

How many times have we told ourselves that we’ll just “get through this week” and things will get better? Sure, it holds true when we have specific one-off events happening. Knowing me though, I’ll probably fill up any spare moment by saying yes to another opportunity I’m too scared to let go. Often this will come at the cost of time and space that I probably needed to recharge.

As an early career researcher in the academic world, the pressure that exists to keep taking on additional work and commitments never ceases. There are always grants to pursue, papers to write and professional development and networking opportunities to attend. On top of all that, I have a chronic condition that requires my 24-7 attention to manage.

In a way, I’m grateful to have diabetes in the background to remind me to look after myself. Some people might say that diabetes holds me back from taking on more. I would say that diabetes has taught me to be more efficient with my time while learning to be selective with the projects I take on.

That’s not to say that my fear of saying no to an opportunity doesn’t exist. I am very guilty of often taking on more than I can manage. Although I somehow seem to get through to the other side, I know this is not sustainable. I’ve seen many people in academia burnout and leave. Especially recently due to lockdown restrictions and an unstable workforce with budget cuts all round. Seeing and feeling the impact of this has been scary and sobering. It made me realise that our jobs are replaceable. There will be others lining up for this opportunity who are willing to take the sacrifices we won’t.

I’m slightly hopeful that mental wellbeing is starting to be taken seriously, particularly on the back of COVID19. However, it still comes down to my own mentality and approach to work/life balance. I need to stop waiting for “things to settle down” because they probably never will. As soon as one fire gets put out, something else will come along. I need to acknowledge that what is currently happening in my world now is my new (ever-changing) normal. To survive, I will need to adapt to it quickly in a sustainable way to avoid burning out.

What I’m going to commit to over the next few months:

  • Be realistic with my daily to-do list – look at my calendar for the day and account for mental effort + meetings.
  • Eat one piece of fruit every day (I’m really bad at this) and stay hydrated
  • Limit emails over the weekend (I’m doing well with this for students…not so well for everything else)
  • Remind myself not to feel guilty for turning down events that are not in my interest area

And now that I have written this and put it out there, let’s see how well I can stick to it!

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R U OK?

Today is R U OK day; very timely considering the currently environment we’re in. Melbourne has been facing various stages of lockdown restrictions since April. Our economy has taken a massive hit with people all around losing their jobs, feeling enormous pressures at work or facing uncertain futures. Social connections are surviving through online channels, if at all. Combined, it’s not surprising that many of our mental health states are currently quite fragile.

I have been feeling really isolated since working from home and not being able to visit family. There are days where I’m grateful for the uninterrupted quietness and other times the silence becomes deafening. I’ve learned to be more forward and open about sharing when I’m not coping. But as the days draw on, I’m finding myself turning my camera off to hide during meetings, becoming more withdrawn from conversations, getting teary over little things and that little voice in my head that says “I can’t do this” keeps getting louder.

A friend asked me what I was going to do to manage this and it was nice to talk about the actionable things that I could work on to get me out of this rut. My solutions were to:

  • Schedule days off and actually take them (i.e. not respond to emails; work on my side gigs that I enjoy; be more relaxed in my routine etc.)
  • Look at my work schedule and be realistic with what I can actually accomplish within my contracted hours
  • Chase the sun! Go for a walks while the sun is still out to get some Vitamin D.
  • Have a shower everyday! It’s my favourite way to unwind before bed, so I’m committing to it.
  • Listen to my body; when I need to rest, I will rest. Even if it’s just a 15 minute power nap. Naps are the most underrated things that exist.
  • Schedule things that I look forward to during the week. This could be scheduling a day off, a night for takeaway, a movie night (without multitasking on the laptop), heading to the nearby lake for a walk with pastries in hand.

Obviously I didn’t list all of these to my poor friend. But some of these are things that can be so easily overlooked; like ensuring you keep up with some physical activity, personal and sleep hygiene etc. It’s easy for these to slip away from the radar when things get muddy and your motivation is low.

So in this year’s R U OK day, I’d like to encourage you, not just to ask a friend if they’re okay, but to ask and be honest with yourself about how you’re doing. You are worth looking after. You deserve to be happy. And you are in the best position to make that happen for yourself.

Not sure where to start? Head to the R U OK website here: https://www.ruok.org.au/

They also have a list of more specific support services depending on the situation here: https://www.ruok.org.au/findhelp

You got this. I’ve got this. We can do this.

My Diabetes Inklings

Celebrating 10 Years of the ACBRD

Recently the Australian Centre for Behavioural Research in Diabetes (ACBRD) celebrated their 10th anniversary. I was honoured to be invited to share what this significant milestone meant for me as a person living with diabetes at their webinar event. The more I reflected on this, the more I realised the enormous ripple effect that research on the psychosocial, emotional and mental wellbeing of diabetes has on the diabetes community.

The focus on diabetes management has often been focused on the clinical aspect of it. Only in the past few years have we really started being more vocal and inclusive of the psychosocial, emotional and mental aspects of living with diabetes day to day. Diabetes advocacy has played a big role in getting this recognised. At the same time, clinicians are also more likely to now take this more seriously due to the published research in this area. it really shouldn’t take research to get clinicians to listen, acknowledge or validate the experiences of people living with the condition. But we will take all the help we can get.

Most importantly, the growing research in this area provides hope for me; hope that we will keep fighting the stigma associated with diabetes. And that this will ensure we receive the same care, empathy and compassion by clinicians and others as those facing other conditions such as cancer. Even if all of this research leads to a conversation, getting people to start thinking about how they talk about diabetes and to people with diabetes will make a difference. The emerging research also boosts my self-confidence to advocate for my own medical needs when I speak with my healthcare team.

As a researcher, recognition for psychosocial, emotional and mental wellbeing research in diabetes further highlights the importance of my own work and advocacy around peer support for people with diabetes in Australia. In return, the research is translated into the work that Diabetes Victoria, Diabetes Australia and the NDSS does for people with diabetes. Talk about impact!

While there is still a long way to go in this area with lots of topics to explore, it’s important to celebrate the achievements that have been done to date. So a massive thank you to the ACBRD for all the work that you’ve accomplished so far. I can’t wait to see the exciting new research coming out from your centre and be part of that. To find out more about the ACBRD, check out their website here and don’t forget to read their 10 year report for a summary of their work up till this milestone.