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!

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.