Last weekend, we were in Carlton, waiting to order some lunch in a casual café. We stood there deciding what we wanted, waiting for our turn. We reached the counter and were about to order when the woman behind the counter said something. It took me a moment to realise she was speaking directly to me. ‘Sorry?’I smiled at her, asking her to repeat herself. ‘Your Dexcom,’ she said. ‘How do you find it?’ My smile got wider. ‘Oh, I love it! Wouldn’t be without it.’ I said. ‘Do you use one?’

She rolled up the sleeve on her tee-shirt, turning her body slightly. ‘No, I use Libre,’ she said, pointing to the sensor on her upper arm. ‘But I’ve been wondering about the Dexcom.’

She was young, and was diagnosed about four years ago. ‘It’s hard,’ she said to me, and then asked how long I’ve had type 1. ‘Twenty years,’ I watched her eyes widen. ‘And yes…I know. It can be hard.’

She told me she thought it was really tough being diagnosed as a young adult. ‘I remember not having to think about diabetes. It makes it hard that I have to think differently about things now because of diabetes. Like when I want to go out drinking. I think it would be easier being diagnosed younger so it’s all you know.’

‘I’m not sure there is ever a good age to be diagnosed with diabetes. I think each age would probably have its challenges. I’ve always felt that I maybe was a little lucky missing the teenage years and all that comes with it. But it certainly wasn’t easy being diagnosed at twenty four… it sucks all ‘round!’

Back in September, in a little street in Rome as we waited to order gelato, I had another ‘diabetes in the wild’ moment. The gorgeous Roman sun meant almost everyone was walking around in tank tops and strappy sundresses. ‘Look,’ said the kidlet, her eyes on the arm of the woman in front of me…and the unmistakable disc of her Libre sensor.

You can guess what I did next:

After introducing myself, we chatted about our diabetes tech. We spoke about funding and how we need the technology to live well, and how much easier it makes travel and negotiating time zones. Oh, and then we talked about the wonderful times we were having in Rome and the delicious food. It’s never all about diabetes!

After last weekend’s encounter, I realised that despite knowing a lot of people with diabetes, I still feel the need to reach out when I see another. And these days, I seem to always ask a version of the same question: ‘Do you know many people with diabetes?’ I guess I’m taking the temperature to see just what their support network looks like when it comes to other people in the know and how linked in they are with other PWDs.

We look to connect with the people whose stories mimic ours because that’s how we make sense of our own diabetes, or the diabetes of someone in our family. The other day when I visited with a family support group, the connection shared between the parents of children and teens with diabetes was clearly on show. One parent told me that until she started spending time with other parents of kids with diabetes she felt so isolated. ‘They’re the only ones who get it,’ she said me and I nodded furiously. Because while I don’t ‘get’ her situation, I certainly do understand what it means to find that connection with others who do.

For me, I do peer support in a very casual way. It is informal. How I have come to know those in my tribe has usually been completely serendipitous and the way we remain connected is too. It’s the occasional phone or Facebook messages, sharing something we’ve seen or checking in after we notice something on their social feeds. It’s the ‘Can we Skype now?’ from a friend in a different time zone looking to find a few minutes to catch up (or, even better, catching up with those in different time zones IRL thanks to my crazy travel schedule!). Or it’s the quickly organised ‘Let’s catch up for a coffee somewhere local’ from those not only in the same time zone, but also the same postcode!

We talk about the value of peer support, and there is increasing evidence to show just how valuable it is.

So for November and Diabetes Awareness Month, one of the things I think we need more awareness of is the value of those connections. ‘Prescribing’ peer support always seems an odd way of thinking about it, but perhaps there is some merit in ensuring that part of HCP training includes introducing the merit of peer support, and providing information about how they can point people with diabetes to others.

My tribe of other people living with diabetes hold me up, hold me together and hold me close. I wish that for everyone.