Peer support is a tricky and funny thing within the diabetes community. It exists in various forms; in person meetings, casual catch ups, to online forums and organised tweetchats. Peer support holds different meaning for each person. Some people I’ve spoken to think it’s unnecessary, many sing their praises and others see it as this dangerous or obnoxious underground club.
Being an introvert I struggle to talk with others in person, which is why I thrive in an online space. Having space and time to think about my responses without someone staring at you takes a lot of pressure off! I especially loved our OzDOC tweetchats with guided questions and the ability to hear different perspective on a particular topic. It was self-contained and easy to manage.
Discussion forums are my favourite place to lurk and learn. But they’re also a dangerous place for my mental health. Over the years, I’ve found myself being more frustrated than supported in these forums. Partly due to the horror stories people share of being treated so poorly by healthcare professionals, or the self-centred nature of people with their inability to look past their own noses and have empathy towards others. Especially when it comes to the infighting between the different types of diabetes. I had to step away from many of these forums as it put me in such a negative space.
Yet from these various online peer support platforms, I have met some of my closest friends to date. While we share the same connection of living with diabetes, I realised that I needed more than that to build a friendship. The most valuable question I have learned to ask myself is whether I would still hang out with these people even if we didn’t have diabetes. Yes, it’s great to have someone to vent to about a broken pancreas. But it’s easier to do this with someone I trust and value rather than airing it out in public. And I think part of this has evolved over time as my career developed and I prioritised my privacy.
Finding my own support network has been an endless case of trial and error with tears, heartache and self-doubt involved. But peer support is still the most valuable part of my diabetes management. When I talk about peer support, my biggest advice is always to approach it with an open mind and heart (easier said than done!). It’s akin to finding your own diabetes care team. Sometimes it takes a few tries before you find the right fit for you. At the end of the day though, it’s all worth it to find those precious gems of people you just click with.