My Diabetes Inklings

Finding Rainbows Among Storms

If there’s anything 2020 has taught me, it is how to find the silver lining of any situation. I’d like to think of myself as a pretty optimistic and resilient person. Because of that, I think people are surprised when I talk about trying to overcome imposter syndrome, which is rife in academia and to a certain extent in the diabetes advocacy community too.

As humans, it’s in our nature to compare how we’re doing against others. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, as comparing ourselves to a higher standard or benchmark can often push us to be better. However, it can certainly make for some pervasive negative self-talk and an overly competitive environment rather than collaborative one if we’re not careful.

What is key though, I believe, is surrounding yourself with like-minded people who truly believe in the work that they do rather than chasing the spotlight or the next academic achievement. That’s not to say we shouldn’t be ambitious in pursuing our goals and dreams, but to do so while staying grounded.

Earlier this month I found out that my application for academic promotion was rejected. I was absolutely shattered and spent the day moping around, being angry and upset. There were tears and comfort eating involved. My reaction surprised me because I had initially thought I was too young and early in my career to apply for promotion anyway. Yet I was bolstered along by my very supportive mentors, colleagues and friends. So I thought that maybe I had a chance and approached it with the “you gotta be in it to win it” approach.

When the outcomes were announced, my reaction surprised me. There was so much negative self-talk, beliefs that I wasn’t good or deserving enough and embarrassment with a sense of failure. After the initial shock and tears (literally, running to my husband who was still in bed and cried for a bit after reading the email), I told a few close colleagues.

Our conversations meandered from sharing the disappointment of the outcome (and a few choice words), to the nature of our teaching and research role in academia. Slowly, I came out of my haze and started to feel bloody grateful for my job. Never once did the words failure or embarrassment emerge. Instead, we talked about the opportunity we have to shape our future nutritionists and dietitians while trying to make a difference in the diabetes community and healthcare system through research.

Equally, the people I spoke with could’ve easily dismissed me and said I was naive to apply for promotion or laughed at my attempt to chase the academic ladder. (Although to be honest, I wouldn’t be friends with people who put me down…) Instead, we reflected on our environment, where we’re at in our careers and what we wanted from it and the bigger things in life.

I am so thankful to be reminded of WHY I’m in this job and career rather than just blindly chasing the next ladder rung. It brings me so much more happiness and contentment doing so in an environment where the stress and constant pressure are high. And with the current world situation, we definitely need more rainbows. So if you’re reading this, take this as a reminder/sign to focus on your WHY and to thank the people around you who keep you grounded, supported and sane.

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.