The theme for this year’s National Diabetes Week is “Heads Up on Diabetes”, a focus on the mental and emotional health impact on living with diabetes. People often think of diabetes management as finger pricks, following a strict diet, insulin injections and losing weight. No one talks about the mental impact of being diagnosed and living with a chronic condition and the emotional burden it places on you. For me, this has been the case during my diagnosis and throughout most of my diabetes care.
Being told at 19 years old that I had diabetes felt soul-crushing. I felt like I was going to be this “sick person” taking medication for the rest of my life when my friends were out living their lives and partying. Instead, I needed to grow up and take responsibility of my health. Not one healthcare professional asked how I was dealing with it. I remember crying a lot about it and feeling angry and upset. At the same time, I was expected to “get on with it” and learn everything about diabetes. It was overwhelming.
Over the years, I have learned to live with diabetes. There were many learning curves and realisations along the way. One of which was my ability to take charge of my life and make diabetes fit around my life and not the other way around. Doing so involved a lot of self-advocacy and confidence, particularly when it comes to communicating with healthcare professionals, that the diabetes online community helped me to build and develop in myself.
Eleven years on and although most of my thought processes related to diabetes management have become mostly second nature, there are still overwhelming times and moments where I just have no idea what to do. There are still many moments where the burden of living with diabetes gets exhausting, which is when I appreciate having friends I can talk to who just get it. Chatting with them validates what I’m going through and makes me feel normal and reassures me that I will be okay – something I wished I had when I was first diagnosed.
I wonder what difference my diabetes journey would have been with additional psychological support along the way. Knowing that there are services available at my disposal is to assist me when I’m struggling is reassuring. However I still don’t think this is emphasised enough or normalised in diabetes care just yet. Luckily I have built up my own support networks along the way, which took a long time and emotional effort to do so.
Diabetes sucks. There’s no doubt about it. Mental health within diabetes care is still an area that is severely under-rated and not well integrated into our routine check ups. Managing diabetes is more than just blood glucose testing, taking your medications and healthy habits. It’s also about having resilience to rise up again after each hurdle, the confidence to voice your needs to your diabetes care team and those around you and feeling heard and being reassurance that what you’re going through and feeling is normal.
I hope that this year’s National Diabetes Week campaign has helped others understand a little bit more about the emotional challenges that people with diabetes face in their day to day lives. Most importantly, I hope that healthcare professionals will start to consider how their language and actions impacts on our mental health during consultations and to start the conversation on how we are doing as a whole person rather than just how our diabetes is going.
Throughout National Diabetes Week, I shared some thoughts and perspectives on emotional challenges with diabetes, check out my #NDW2020 highlights on Instagram here.