My Diabetes Inklings

New Beginnings.

A while ago, I finally took a well deserved day off from everything. I skipped out on boot camp to catch up on some much needed sleep and I took a day off work. Instead, I took my lovely mum out for brunch at one of our favourite places and visited a dear friend in Ballarat (and my goddaughter).

My girlfriend and her little munchkin (aka my goddaughter).
My girlfriend and her little munchkin (aka my goddaughter).

I love bringing my mum out. We take this rare opportunity to chat about anything in our lives that is going on. I usually have heaps going on in the background that I don’t talk talk about at home, so it’s a good way to keep her in the loop with what I’m up to, where I’m headed as well as to catch up on the latest goss with my friends. In other words, yes – I do tell my mum almost everything!

Our conversation ranged from her recent venture onto Facebook and her excitement of catching up with old friends to me starting my masters course this year. Despite starting a brand new course, I felt more ready than ever about starting something new.

As I reflect on it, I realised the catalyst for my passion in healthcare came from my own experience with diabetes. The way I have been treated by various people in different settings has given me a precious insight into the world of diabetes. Along the way, I have met healthcare professionals from across the spectrum – those who are passionate about diabetes to those who can’t wait to see the clock strike 5pm. And I have made sure that I have taken away a lesson from each of them – from tips and advice to what not to do or say with patients. This is something that universities will not be able to teach. It’s one thing to give students a checklist of things to do and things to avoid, but it’s difficult to comprehend and integrate this into practice until you’re actually doing it with real patients.

I still think back to my first visit to see the dietitian who had a student with them at the time. Unfortunately for the student, they were doing the consulting. I say unfortunate because I ended up giving her an earful about how a normal person would never measure out my food portions to the nearest grams, so why should diabetes change that. If that wasn’t enough for the poor student, I ended up in tears because I said I didn’t really enjoy eating fruits at the time and the student dietitian just blankly repeated that I needed more in my diet. By this time I was quite ready to just have a mental break down after being overwhelmed with diabetes information. Thankfully, the dietitian stepped in and took over at this point. I was then asked about things I liked to eat and asked if I enjoyed smoothies or juices. I nodded wordlessly and was then encouraged to make my own smoothies or fresh juices at home with berries or bananas or oranges and low fat ice cream or yoghurt or skim milk and that way I would be incorporating fruits and dairy! How easy was that?! I remember blinking and staring at her blankly while asking ‘I can have smoothies?’ like an idiot. So rather than being overloaded with what I should and shouldn’t be eating, I was simply told to go home and start making some smoothies using whole fruits, low fat dairy and if I wanted, a bit of fruit juice. Simple and doable.

I hope I haven’t traumatised the student too badly and that she’s gone on to become a great dietitian since then.

Another thing I feel that has set me up really well for masters was my honours course. I deliberately chose a project that had clinical aspects as I knew it was what I wanted to be to doing. Admittedly, I was thrown into the deep end as the hospital I was at thought I was a dietetic student and knew all the basics of dietetics. This pushed me to fast forward my learning and have a crash course in dietetics practice 101. I remember being absolutely terrified with my interviewing my patient on my own. Thankfully, I had a great dietitian mentor who listened in and gave me great tips along the way.

Building up my networks has also definitely made an impact on my self-confidence. Figuring out what to say, the right questions to ask, all while still remembering to be myself has been a learning curve and something you can only learn by doing. Reading tips can only get you so far in terms of preparing mentally. It seems like the more events I go to, the easier it becomes because I know what to expect and I am getting to know more people.

And so with all these new skills that I have been honing and building upon, I am very excited to be starting my master of dietetics. Bring on the new skills and experiences and a hectic year!

My Diabetes Inklings

New Year, Same Pancreas, Different Mindset.

It always around this time of the year where everyone starts reflecting on the year that has gone by. ‘In a blink of an eye’ – some may say. Isn’t that always the way? When January, February and March rolls by, the year seems to be progressing quickly. Come June, July and August, people are whinging that this has been the worst year yet and ‘when will it be over?’ can be heard. October, November and December appears and we are all in slight denial that the year is coming to a close. A few weeks ago, I was going through my older blog posts and realised that Bittersweet Diagnosis is officially a year old! Pretty exciting.

As I scrawled through posts, it was interesting to see what I had written about, things I had deemed as important milestones/markers in life. I also specifically remember throughout the year at various time points I have said to myself that 2012 has been a tremendously good year for me. Here are some of my highlights of 2012:

  • Getting together with my boyfriend. (Pretty sure we heard a chorus of ‘FINALLY’ and ‘about time!’ when we got together) Cheesy, but thank you for being my rock and best friend and also for putting up with my madness.
  • Starting (and finishing) my Bachelor of Food Science and Nutrition (Honours). The workload, experience, networks and new friends I have made this year through my honours project has my mind still reeling and I’m still buzzing with excitement.
  • One of my closest friend having a beautiful baby girl (also my god-daughter, another highlight in itself) and getting engaged to HER rock and best friend. You’re going to pay for me your Maid of Honour and organising your Hens event (which, I’m sure you’ll love).
  • OzDOC tweetchats. Why haven’t we thought of this sooner?!
  • Oz Diabetes Social Media Summit and World Diabetes Day. I’m still buzzing with excitement with what the new year will bring following discussions from the event.
  • My re-diagnosis. (Dear doctors, please make up your mind!)
  • The loss of my adopted kitty cat. Some nights, I still expect to see her waiting for me with a disapproving meow when I get home late.
  • Heading back to the gym and losing about 5kgs in the last six months and maintaining that weight! (On the downside, I am in desperate need of new jeans and pants because they all just fall off me!)
  • Laser eye surgery. $5000 poorer but now when I fall asleep, I won’t wake up with my glasses imprinted on my face!

One of my resolutions from last year was that I would start building my networks with people in the diabetes industry. I had no idea this opportunity would first emerge itself through blogging, and later on being involved with Diabetes Online Community chats on twitter. It makes me think about why I started my blog in the first place. I was never one to talk to people about my feelings face to face, but I was good at expressing them in writing. I even wanted to be a writer at one point. I took breaks here and there from blogging and changed blogs multiple times over the years to have a ‘fresh start’. This was another fresh start I had created to write about my life with diabetes. It wasn’t intended to inspire people or to help people feel less isolated. Rather, it was selfishly about me and having an outlet to talk about how diabetes has touched and changed my life – just a place to reflect and think. The fact that it was propelled onwards to be featured at various places and to know I have been somewhat a positive influence on others, was heartwarming and exciting. But it was also extremely frightening. Particularly with the knowledge that people actually read this (not just my family and close friends, but people I had never met) I became extremely conscious about what I wrote at one stage because once it’s out in the interwebs, you can’t retract it. I over-thought the simplest thing and lost sight of why I started my blog in the first place! I have since always reminded myself of the initial reason to start writing this blog and will keep reflecting on things in my life – whether it may be diabetes related or not.

So, here’s a huge THANK YOU to everyone who has skimmed through my blog. I’m glad that by sharing my ‘pancreatically-challenged adventures’ that I’m helping others in some way.

My Diabetes Inklings

Goodbye Thesis!

Last Friday, before I left uni for the day, I did an amazing thing. I submitted my thesis. *cue victorious music* Despite everything that I have battled this year, I finally made it! Friday marks our absolute finish line with our final presentations to share our findings to our peers and the faculty. I’m sure I’ve said it many times, but this year has been an incredibly steep learning curve for me. In terms of academically, career-wise, health-wise and just me in general.

At the start of the year I tried not to be too phased with the thought of having to write a 12,000 word thesis. I took things one thing at a time, achieving smaller goals to hit the bigger goals. This technique works wonders for me. Before I knew it, I had comfortably stepped into my role as project manager of my Honours research, finishing lit reviews and assignments and eventually writing my thesis. There were many late nights across the board but never all-nighters. Having to find ways of working smarter rather than working harder was another challenge (hint: it involved many cups of tea and nibbles for motivation). Throughout the year I can tell that my writing has improved consistently. It helps that my mind works very systematically and I use this in my writing method as well. Just like in everyday life where I always have to plan a to-do list in my head the night before, otherwise I would stumble. On extremely trying days, I even needed to run through my checklist when I wake up (I was too scattered today, which is why I have forgotten my watch 😦 eep! My wrist feels naked!).

Another question I had to keep pursing was what I was going to do next year. Initially I was insistent on dietetics. Yet somewhere, in the back of my mind and at the bottom of my heart, I had this niggling feeling that “No, this isn’t right. Keep looking”. So I did. I explored and shut down the option of doing a PhD several times for many reasons. Yet, the more I became involved with diabetes in social media, I saw that all the things that I wanted to accomplish by helping others, sharing my experiences and providing them an opportunity to empower themselves can all be accomplished via research. And the more I looked into research, I realised that what I was really passionate about was promoting health and motivating individuals to take their health into their own hands. I started exploring research opportunities and public health nutrition etc., which has landed me in writing up a research proposal for a PhD next year. I do have the power to make these changes happen and am so excited to be able to do so! I know I’ve disappointed several people who were keen to see me in dietetics but I may go into that down the future anyway if I decide to take on patients. However, I would love to help develop programs and services to vulnerable, minority groups, starting with young adults out there who are less recognised and gets buried under all the stigma of diabetes by the public. A few people I’ve spoken to about this were initially concerned that it was a bit too close to home and I initially brushed it away. Until a few days ago when I realised I haven’t been able to keep up with my health regime because of uni, because of life. If I couldn’t do it, I’m at no position to help others.  I felt so defeated and disillusioned about it until I spoke to a new friend I met through the generation T2 event and again through OzDOC. She said that it needs to be acknowledged that it IS hard to live with diabetes and that some days you feel like a flat tyre. The fact that I can comfortably say that not only gives the program more credibility but lets others know that it’s okay to have bad days. Thank you for your words of wisdom. You know who you are.

Speaking of bad days (more like bad weeks). I took a whole week of gym last week because I was too tired, too stressed and my right arm hurt. A lot. From my blood tests. Even today (a week after!) my arm is still spotting some nice bruising (although it makes me a look a bit hardcore haha). But because I have been consistently snacking throughout the day (on fruits and rice cracks), my BGLs are never where I want them to be. That has gotten me a bit down but I’m now that my thesis is out of the way I’m going to start heading back to the gym and just do what I can as close to my program as possible. I do have my appointment with the Exercise Physiologist (EP) in the next few weeks too, which is a huge motivator of me going back to the gym actually.

So I’m still not sure what the point of this post was meant to be. But I’m just so happy that my thesis is done and huge CONGRATULATIONS to all my colleagues, for all their hard work and effort this year. Here’s to new friendships, knowledge, skills, and opportunities!

10 months, 10,987 words later a thesis is born!