My Diabetes Inklings

Diabetes is not me.

Diabetes is a pretty serious condition. The complications are endless and does not spare any part of your body. There’s diabetic retinopathy, gastroparesis, diabetic neuropathy, kidney disease…the list goes on. Basically, you could put the word ‘diabetic’ in front of any condition and it would be legit. Otherwise it would be hidden within risk factors for developing certain other conditions.

As a person living with diabetes, I understand this. This has been drilled into us, since our diagnosis. Time and time again, we are are threatened with a foot ulcer and amputation if we don’t get our diabetes in check. Thanks for the morbid and depressing reminder.

Recently, as part of my dietetics course, I’ve been out to various hospital sites for study days where we focus on a particular condition such as renal disease, oncology, gastro, aged care, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, etc. Most weeks, I sit through lectures and an occasional thing about diabetes will crop up. Yesterday, I heard something that made my stomach burn and my blood boil. ‘People with diabetes, once they get complications, they don’t have much to look forward to.’

Cue inner hulk taking over. I was speechless.

I know of inspirational people who have turned their lives around since complications. For them, that was their wake up call. They know how they are lucky to be where they are today. Of course, the story that comes to mind is one of #simonpalooza. Look up the hashtag on twitter. Or watch a short video of it here. Simon is one of the co-founders of OzDOC, along with Kim and Renza. He’s been through a lot in diabetes land and is now still happily quoting 80’s music whilst wearing cargo pants because of the diabetes online community. Complications are not the end of the world.

It’s sad to see that some healthcare professionals have become so desensitised to the conditions they work with. Well, at least it certainly comes across that way when they stand up in front us to talk about it. I sincerely hope that they are more empathetic with their patients. I have heard of healthcare professionals who are amazing at their work with patients but are extremely difficult to work with in a team setting or give terrible presentations. I guess everyone has their own strengths.

This has got me thinking about several things. Why are they so negative about chronic health conditions? Yes, there are bad repercussions, but it seems like most healthcare professionals define a person by their health status. It’s all doom and gloom for them, particularly when it comes to diabetes. You can literally see all these light bulbs flash off with all the related complications and relevant social history of the person. It’s so easy to judge and assume, it’s hard work to really get to know the nuts and bolts of a person. Building good repoire is so important. This has been continuously drilled into us, dietetic students, week in and week out and I can see how it can be the difference between successful management of a chronic condition or disinterest and disengagement.

Just as we don’t define a person by their chronic disease, diabetes does not define me. It is a part of me and people have to know that being diagnosed with a chronic illness is not the end of the world. Nothing can hold us back to achieve the dreams and goals we set out to accomplish. There may be road blocks and detours along the way, but do not let anything defeat you. You can do it! I can do it! We can do it! 🙂

My Diabetes Inklings

Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge – Week 2.

Day 8: Animals

If diabetes were an animal what would it be? Possibly one of the most random questions I have been required to answer!

Perhaps diabetes would be a sly fox – smart and cunning. Diabetes has a way of reminding us of its presence when we least expect it. But there are times where having diabetes becomes a tad handy. Like, being more knowledgable than the average person and pulling that out if they ever annoy you. Or, diabetes camps. Enough said. I have met some amazing and inspiring people on camps (adults and kids alike!). I always look for the bright and funny (and fuzzy) side of things.

Day 9: Caregiving

I’m not a parent yet, but diabetes has added another dimension to starting a family that I could do without. I’m encouraged by friends who have successfully started a family while juggling diabetes. I don’t think I can begin to fathom what it will be as a parent with diabetes. The emotions, paranoia and constant thinking of whether I am doing the right thing for my child is enough to put me off starting a family. But seeing my best friend through her first pregnancy and meeting my beautiful little goddaughter and watching her grow has probably been one of the most heart-warming things I’ve experienced. I’m also comforted by the fact that there are people around me who have gone through pregnancy with diabetes. I’m sure I will have more than enough support to get me through anything.

Day 10: Wordless Wednesday

This week, we had to post a favourite picture of ourselves. This photo was taken over Easter at a family lunch at our favourite local cafe. I’m very close to my mum and I cherish her with all my heart. She’s my rock, support, best-friend and a general go-to person for everything. Her wealth of information in cooking and food astounds me and I hope to be as good a cook as her in the future.

So here’s my Wordless Wednesday.

Day 11: Favourites

This is a hard topic because I rarely have a long-time favourite for anything, let alone a health app or social network.

Currently, I’m missing my iBGStar App. It is so simple to use and sync and even easier to add notes to keep track of patterns. My endocrinologist can see my average readings at the tap of a button. Moreover, it’s colourful. Did I mention it syncs automatically once you connect the iBGStar meter to your iPhone/iPad? Too easy. I haven’t been using it of late, since my switch to the Freestyle Insulinx, which has an inbuilt bolus calculator. I’m yet to get into downloading data and having a good look through that, but at first glance, it looks pretty sweet too.

My favourite social network would have to be instagram for now. It brings out the inner photographer in me and I love the various filter effects and seeing other great photos out there. A picture is worth a thousand words and there’s no place like instagram and their many filters to showcase that.

Day 12: Hindsight

Looking back at the past 4 years and more of living with diabetes, I have certainly learned many lessons along the way.

The biggest thing I have taken away, which is very relevant to my studies at the moment, is how to be a better healthcare professional. I’m currently studying to be a dietitian and our lecturers have always warned us about the grey-ness of healthcare. There is hardly ever any black and white situations and we just have to cope with it. Being a patient or client, I have observed and learned from personal experience what it is like to be spoken to condescendingly by a doctor. But also what it’s like to have a very supportive doctor.

Doctors tend to forget that we, as patients, are still people. We had a great discussion of this on our OzDOC tweetchat earlier this week. OzDOC stands for the Australian Diabetes Online Community (#OzDOC on twitter), open to anyone and everyone. Each Tuesday night, we chat about various topics ranging from diabetes management tips to fun hypothetical things like ‘the first thing we would do if we were cured from diabetes’. So in this week’s topic, we spoke of how we would treat someone with diabetes, after having been on the receiving end of it. And the responses were very insightful and personal. If you are interested, you can read the transcript here (be warned though, we are a chatty bunch!).

During the chat, themes such as judgment and compassion came up frequently, reflecting things we face with almost on a daily basis. Particularly around diabetes and the general public. It instils fear and anger in me that if some health professionals treat us this condescending and ignorant way, what are they feeding back to the general public? On the flip side, it reminded me of why I want to become a health educator within the diabetes area. I want to change this perception that diabetes is bad and self-inflicted. I want people to recognise that small changes in life could decrease their risk of type 2 diabetes by a mile. I want to highlight the fact that diabetes isn’t always black and white.

So with every experience I go through as a person living with diabetes, as a client of various healthcare professionals and as a young adult living life, I aim to become the best dietitian I can be and show my fellow pancreatically challenged friends that having a compassionate and understanding healthcare professional is possible. People like us exist. I have had plenty of fantastic healthcare professionals but I’ve also had my share of rudeness and arrogance too. We just have to be brave, hang in there, and find them.