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This week, my socials have been flooded with a topic that rarely gets much of a look in: menopause, and in particular diabetes and menopause. 

It’s a welcome change! It was World Menopause Day on Tuesday, and with it came an avalanche of great content shining a light on this particular aspect of diabetes – something that really doesn’t get much coverage at all.

Square graphic with the words 'The Diabetes Menopause Project in black text on a pale pink background.

I shouldn’t be surprised that a lot of what I saw was people with diabetes sharing their own stories. These are the trail blazers who could see that there needed to be more awareness, more recognition, more attention to the issue and took matters into their own hands and shared their stories. (I’m looking at you Dawn Adams, you amazing woman!)

Here are just a couple of things that I’ve seen this week:

Dawn’s story at Diabetes UK about managing diabetes with menopausal hormone therapy (MHT, also known as HRT).

And Dawn again here at JDRF – UK with this gorgeous piece about how there are peer networks offering support for others going through perimenopause and menopause. 

This Twitter thread from Diabetes UK, highlighting just how they’ve listened to the diabetes community and calls for more research and information about diabetes and menopause. Their Diabetes Research Steering Groups have made the topic a research priority in coming years. That’s what I call being led by the folks you’re representing!

Twitter has joined the chat with a new account focused exclusively on diabetes and menopause with this neat bio: Peer support for those with diabetes going through the menopause – all types of diabetes, all stages of menopause – we’re in it together. You can follow Menopause Mithers here

Not diabetes specific, but worth a share, is this brilliant Instagram video from Dr Jen Gunter which looks at the origin of the word ‘menopause’ (of course I love this!). Oh, and there’s a whole chapter in her book The Menopause Manifesto about language. 

First page of chapter 2 of Jen Gunter’s The Menopause Manifesto and reads ‘The History and Languages of Menopause: From a Critical Age to the Change’. Black text on white background.
Of course I love this too!

I’ll be linking all of these to The Diabetes Menopause Project post as a one stop easy place for links about menopause and diabetes. 

If you google the words ‘diabetes public health campaign’, you will find myriad offerings from around the world. There are the good, the bad and the outright ugly. (Click on links at your own peril.) And many of these campaigns are the foundation of broader messaging about diabetes. 

Why is it so hard to get messaging about diabetes right, and how do we fix years of getting it wrong? 

The vast majority of type 2 diabetes messaging focuses on personal responsibility. It could be about losing weight, losing centimetres off your waist circumference, eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, being more active … you name it, it’s up to YOU. 

It’s not just type 2 diabetes. Messaging aimed at addressing specific diabetes-related complications for all brands of diabetes also has a strong focus on personal responsibility: get screened/talk to your HCP/don’t miss appointments/don’t bury your head in the sand/look after yourself. The implication is that all accountability lies at the hands of the person with diabetes. 

There are so many assumptions and that is one reason the messaging really hasn’t worked. There are more reasons, of course, and these are complex, multifaceted, and convoluted. You can almost understand why going with the easy ‘fix yourself’ messages are the ones that have been used. 

The thinking behind so much of what we think and do about diabetes is misguided because too often we look to apply solutions that are medical in nature when we need to be considering social solutions. In a recently published New York Times article, writer Roni Caryn Rabin suggested a need to reframe (type 2 ) diabetes ‘…as a social, economic and environmental problem, and offer[s] a series of detailed fixes, ranging from improving access to healthy food and clean water to rethinking the designs of communities, housing and transportation networks.’

Telling people to eat better without establishing if there is affordable fresh food available and affordable, and the knowledge for what to do with a box from a farmers’ market, or to walk for half an hour a day without first asking about safe and accessible walking paths, leaves out a very big part of the equation. Assuming people have those structures in place is naïve, and yet that is what is assumed time and time again. 

And telling people to not miss screening appointments lest they develop a diabetes complication is perfectly sound advice. Provided there are health professionals available, accessible, and affordable within decent timeframes. It takes only a cursory glance on Twitter to see that people with diabetes have difficulties when it comes to making those important appointments – and, for many, that’s been even worse with COVID.  

Individual responsibility goes only so far when there aren’t the social and system structures around to support individuals. And it doesn’t go anywhere when generic messaging is the only messaging employed with the expectation that everyone will respond, and act as directed. Because there’s no time for nuance in a snappy campaign message.

We see time and time again that vulnerable people are disproportionately affected when it comes to health outcomes. In diabetes, we talk about high-risk groups, but what is the point of that if there are no solutions that are targeted for specific cohorts? Plus, if the at-risk messaging is thrown into the mix of the ‘fix yourself’ messaging, it gets very murky. Are people also now meant to be personally responsible for their backgrounds, age, family history…?

Messaging doesn’t only live on the websites and socials of those creating them. There is often a PR machine behind them that does its dark PR arts magic to get the message out there beyond those confines. News outlets pick them up and run, run, run with the messaging, dumbing it down to soundbites that often focus on anything that will get cut through. And often that’s the ‘fix yourself’ messaging. 

And of course, the flow on effect of that is more blame, more shame, more stigma, more misinformation, more judgement, more discrimination. More people in the community not familiar and intimately connected with diabetes believing they’ve learnt something new, but really, they’ve probably only added more about how lacking people with diabetes are when it comes to personal responsibility. And on they go to perpetuate the myths about diabetes and personal responsibility. 

The times the messaging is right is when people with diabetes are directly involved in developing and finessing it. We can predict the ramifications of messaging gone wrong because we’ve been on the receiving end of it. There’s never not a good time to engage people with diabetes, and I’ll always, always advocate that. It’s good policy because #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs.

But in the case of developing messages about diabetes, engaging people with diabetes can reduce harm to us. And surely that should be the starting (and middle and end) point for anyone doing anything about diabetes. 

It’s World Mental Health Day and that seems as a good as any a day to speak about diabetes and mental health. Actually, every day is a good day for that, but with every health organisation’s social media manager’s attention turned to today’s health promotion day, I’m jumping on that bandwagon and adding this post to the myriad on Diabetogenic that address the very significant issue of diabetes and mental health. 

I don’t think it’s fair to say that we don’t speak about diabetes and mental health these days. We do. As is so often the case, the conversations started in the community, led by people with diabetes and then were slowly, but surely picked up by other stakeholders. Many health professionals are tuned into mental healthcare being part of diabetes care. And in recent years, diabetes organisations have followed the lead of the community by running public health campaigns aimed at raising awareness of diabetes and mental health. Thanks to peer-reviewed research, we have evidence to show that diabetes impacts mental health and that mental health impacts diabetes. 

But even if we say confidently say that diabetes mental health is on the agenda, there is still good reason to believe that more light be shed on the topic, and more attention be given to it. And to really advocate for mental health care to be seen as part and parcel of diabetes care. I really do believe that would make a huge difference. 

When we talk mental health in diabetes, there’s a lot to consider. Of course, there are the diabetes-specific things like diabetes burnout and diabetes distress. Plus, eating disorders can take on a particularly diabetes-focus with conditions such as diabulimia (which really, really needs to be listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – it’s such a difficult, under-researched, misunderstood, yet very present reality for so many people living with diabetes). 

But there are also ‘every day’ mental health conditions that are increased when someone lives with diabetes, such as depression and anxiety. Just how much of that is linked to diabetes?

And for those of us who dabble in the advocacy world, there is advocacy-related burnout to contend with too and that can and does start to impact our own diabetes management and mental health. 

I couldn’t even try to estimate the number of times I’ve given talks about diabetes and mental health from a lived experience perspective. But I am always happy to be asked, and always willing to talk about it, even if it means being quite vulnerable and exposed when I do so. 

I remember when my work in diabetes organisations started to focus more on mental health, and I also remember when those discussions were accompanied by a change in narrative. Suddenly, a lot of what we spoke about – from diabetes-related complications to risk reduction – came with a side serve of mental health commentary. It helped to show the undeniable link between the two. And the community responded to that favourably.  

Diabetes has never just been about glucose levels, or carbohydrates. And there are healthcare professionals and researchers and organisation leaders that understand that – probably because they have spent time really listening to people with diabetes, rather than just churning out the old tropes about the ticking time bomb of diabetes. Actually, those tropes have probably contributed to a lot of diabetes-related distress.

Starting conversations about diabetes and mental health can be difficult. I like to think that all HCPs these days are aware of the intersection between diabetes care and mental health care, but sadly, I don’t think that is necessarily the case. If the stories I frequently see on social media are anything to go by, there is still a way to go when it comes to having frank, open, honest discussions that recognise that the mental health of people with diabetes needs attention. 

These days, I know that my mental health is really not that great. While I know that may seem alarming, I actually see it as progress. Being able to identify that I am feeling this way means I can do something about it. In years gone by, I had no awareness about my mental state. I didn’t know what to do about it. 

When I talk about how my mental health is faring – especially when feeling as I do now – there is often surprise. I am not backwards in coming forwards and I know that many people see me as confident, assertive, and self-assured. And I am that way. I’m also pretty bubbly and positive about life in general. But with it comes some dark times and dark thoughts and dark days that are really not especially easy to manage.

I don’t know about others, but when things are dark, everything seems bigger and scarier. I had a low the other night that hit below 2.0mmol/l, and ordinarily I’d deal with it and move on. But during the hypo and since then I’ve not been able to stop thinking about it and worrying about it. It never pays to play ‘what if’ in diabetes, and yet most of my thoughts when remembering the other night have started that way. The constant crap that I’ve been dealing with in the advocacy space for far too long now feels unbearable, and seems so, so nasty that I feel a wave of anxiety just being online. The burden of simply doing diabetes feels massive. The other day, I cried when my insulin pump demanded a battery change. And I can’t shake this overwhelming feeling that I have no idea what I am doing with my own diabetes management and am so anxious about complications, even though there is no good reason for it. These are the dark feelings. The reason sleep gets disturbed. The reason that my heart beats faster.

If I could wave a wand and make one thing come true this World Mental Health Day, it would be that everyone with diabetes has access to mental health care as part of routine diabetes care. And if I could wave that wand for a second time, I’d want my own mental health to build back up and become a little more robust than it is right now. That would be really, really great. 

Square graphic with the words ‘Mental health care is diabetes healthcare’. The words are in black on a pink striped background. The word ‘diabetogenic’ is in pink on the lower right hand side.

C/W This post contains content about diabetes and suicide and intended self-injury. 

If you need help, this Wikipedia page has a list of mental health crisis lines around the world.  And for a list of contacts actively updated and maintained by the Wikimedia Foundation, go here. 

We talk a lot about taboo topics in diabetes.  For years, there have been concerted efforts to shine a light on many of the issues and topics that have not received enough attention but are very important to people with diabetes. Often it is people in the diabetes community who find ways to delicately begin conversations, and that is then followed by an interest from researchers and clinicians.

But there are still some topics that are often seen as just too difficult, just too fraught, just too scary. 

Suicide and intended self-injury (ISI) fall into that group. 

At EASD this year, I was invited to join a meeting for the RESCUE Collaborative Community, a project that is lifting the veil on one of the most difficult issues in diabetes mental health. The name of this project is a clue to what it is trying to achieve: RESCUE (REducing SuiCide rates amongst individUals with diabetes).

The mission of this project is:

To reduce rates of intended self-injury (ISI) and suicidal acts by people with diabetes through improved understanding of the risk factors and implementing strategies to address them.  In support of this mission, RESCUE works with stakeholders across the health spectrum including patients and care partners, academia, healthcare professionals, advocacy groups, industry, payers, federal and state agencies and regulatory bodies.

This is a big issue and a difficult one. There is a lot to think about, a lot of unknowns and a lot of questions to be asked. To work out how to help people with diabetes who are at risk, there needs to be a better informed workforce, with evidence to develop strategies that are going to help. And we also need to know how to approach the very basics when talking about suicide and ISI in relation to diabetes. 

When it comes to diabetes and mental health something comes up frequently: there is limited dialogue and understanding between diabetes HCPs and mental health HCPs. I remember hearing Georgie Peters speak at the IDF World Diabetes Congress in 2017 about living with diabulimia. She said that she would be told to ‘go home and take your insulin’ – a completely inadequate approach. In her talk, Georgie said that is the same as telling someone with anorexia to ‘go home and eat’. But when trying to navigate care from two highly specialised health areas, that sort of response is rife. 

And so, how to we make sure that when looking at diabetes and suicide and ISI, we are mindful of the specific diabetes issues that need to be considered? 

At the meeting last week, we spoke about trying to identify people with diabetes who may need attention. Contemplating how insulin may be used as a way to self-harm is one consideration, so people being admitted to hospital with frequent DKA, and people admitted for a serious hypo could be a starting point to investigate. Of course, not everyone who has DKA or a serious hypo is self-harming. Diabetes gonna diabetes and sometimes, things just happen. But it certainly does seem a good place to begin, with targeted approaches to ask questions in an appropriate way that might help identify people who need mental health support, in particular about ISI and suicide, with an aim of reducing risks. 

One of the other discussion points was asking about the role of peer support and the community when talking about suicide and diabetes? Is peer mentorship an idea? How can peers support each other? In the way that #TalkAboutComplications kickstarted meaningful community discussions about the taboo topic of diabetes-related complications and helped people with diabetes feel safe to first open up and speak about their own experiences of living with diabetes-related complications, could there be a way to signpost discussions about serious mental health conditions. And would this break down stigmas, help people realise they are not alone, and seek help, or at least ask where to seek help? Or, is this a burden too big for peer support?

There’s a lot to unpack here, and there really are no simple answers. But this work spearheaded by Professor Kath Barnard-Kelly with a team of dynamic health professionals, with input from diabetes advocates is lifting a veil to start to look for those answers. 

For more information about the RESCUE Collaborative Community, click on the image above.

MORE

#dedoc° voice, the brilliant Niki (@WhatNikiDidNext) live tweeted a symposium on suicide and ISI at EASD, and you can see her tweets here. Presenters at this session were Kath Barnard-Kelly, Marissa Town, Tadej Battelino and Simon O’Neil.

Disclosure

My travel and accommodation were covered by #dedoc°, where I am employed as Head of Advocacy. Thanks to EASD for the press pass.

I was invited to attend the RESCUE Collaborative Community meeting. I was not paid for my time to attend.

The last time I was in Stockholm was seven years ago for the 2015 EASD Conference. This year, as I walked to the conference centre from the train, everything about the venue flooded back. ‘Here we go again,’ I thought. Except this time was different.

I wrote this about #EASD2015:

‘There is much mention of the ‘patient perspective’ and on Monday there was an entire symposium dedicated to it. Unfortunately, there wasn’t an actual ‘patient’ on the panel, which surely is weird...But despite the limited presence of PWD in the official programme, there are a lot of satellite events and activities taking place.’

One of those satellite activities was the first ever #docday°. It was in a musty, overheated, overcrowded back room of a co-working cafe, and it brought together a rabble of diabetes advocates from around the world who had somehow made their way to EASD. I think most of us were there with Roche or Johnson and Johnson for one of their blogger events.

But #docday° was different. This one was completely about and by people with diabetes, showcasing community and peer support. People shared their advocacy efforts and what they were doing in their own networks to support people with diabetes, and shared ideas about how others could do the same. Despite being all about diabetes, we were not welcome as a group at the biggest diabetes conference in Europe.

Fast forward seven years to this week, and the same spirit from the first #docday° event was visible. But this time, it was on stage as part of the scientific program at the conference. The #dedoc° Symposium was on the first day of EASD and it set a tone of inclusion and collaboration, making a very clear point that people with diabetes have a rightful place here, at professional conferences.

Adding to the #dedoc° symposium were the #dedoc° voices – diabetes advocates from across the world – participating fully in the conference. This is the largest scholarship program in the world for diabetes advocates and they made sure they were seen and heard! Everywhere! You only needed to walk the corridors of the conference to see the voices collaborating, not only with each other, but with health professionals, researchers and industry. Social media coverage of the EASD is dominated by the constant stream of ‘reporting back’. And almost evert single health professional I spoke with at the conference knew about #dedoc° and supported our very clear mission of #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs. How amazing is that?!

#dedoc° is all about inclusion. That’s why we can, hand on heart, say that we welcome advocates from around the world to become a #dedoc° voice. But it’s more than that. Our events are open to everyone, including our symposia at diabetes conferences. At EASD, our session was the only one that was live streamed to everyone and anyone via our socials channels. No one needed a costly registration to get inside the Stockholsmassan or another way in. Everyone could see Andrea Limbourg speak about some incredible work from advocates in Indonesia, France and Ireland, and Jeff Hitchcock explain how Children with Diabetes managed to keep supporting families of kids with diabetes throughout COVID, and Tom Dean share details of the brilliant #DiabetesChat and how he has embraced the idea of providing a truly welcoming platform for diabetes friends from around the world to gather on Twitter Spaces for a weekly chat. And Bastian Hauck tell the story of that overheated room for the first #docday° and how what happened on that afternoon planted a seed for a global movement of people with diabetes. #dedoc° provides a platform to elevate others. It’s a privilege to be part of it. 

If you missed the #dedoc° symposium at EASD, here it is!

Disclosure

My travel and accommodation were covered by #dedoc°, where I am employed as Head of Advocacy. Thanks to EASD for the press pass.

Let’s talk about perimenopause, periods, and diabetes. I’ll just wait a moment while a heap of people log off right now.

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If you’re still here, hi! Shall we go on? 

For the first, I don’t know, maybe 12 years I had my period, I had absolutely no regularity to it at all. I could never understand people who told me they got their period like clockwork, because for me the clock worked intermittently. It was less ‘that time of the month’ and more ‘that time of whenever’. Sometimes it came every three months. Sometimes every four and a half. It was a little surprise that showed up without warting when it felt like it, stayed for a few days, was minimally annoying (never particularly heavy and hardly any cramps at all), and then disappeared again, only to appear when it next felt like it. I spoke with my GP, and they weren’t concerned, and told me to celebrate the fact that I didn’t need to deal with period palaver each and every month. 

This was all good and well until I was ready to have a baby.  A regular period suggests that ovulation is happening regularly and that is kind of important if you need an egg to be fertilised. That wasn’t happening for me. Some fun fertility treatment (‘fun’, in this instance, means ‘frustrating, lots of tears, desperation and wondering why my body wasn’t doing what it was meant to do’), and I managed to get pregnant and have a baby. 

And then, from six months or so after I had our daughter, my periods started happening regularly. Like clockwork. It was as though pregnancy had rebooted the reproductive bits of my body and for the last 18 years, I’ve been paying GST on period products every month. 

During this time, I learnt that periods and diabetes don’t play nice. I’ve struggle to find patterns in my cycle so as to run different temp basal rates on my pump to accommodate. Anytime I’ve thought I’d nailed it and settled into a neat routine, the next month everything would go haywire. I guess I settled into another routine: a routine of no routine, where I just had to wing it at whatever time in my cycle things started to look a little sketchy. Loop certainly helped. I could see there were days each month when it was working overtime for no apparent reason, but those days didn’t correspond with the days the previous month. Or subsequent month…

And so, that brings us to present day when it’s time for another life transition or whatever euphemism you want to use to avoid using words that distract attention from hormones, uteruses, blood, and vaginas. 

The pretty regular cycles have stopped. I’m not back to three or four (and a half) monthly, it’s more like six weeks or three weeks or some other weird timeframe. My period is on the most bizarre schedule now that is, quite frankly, bloody (yes, I know) annoying. And when it does deign to stop by, it either stays around longer (as in days…) or pops in for just a day or two. Or, even worse, seems to be done after a few days, only to return a day afterwards. Truly, it sucks!

I have made an appointment with my gynaecologist to check-in (it’s probably cervical screening time again) and for a check-up. I know that my experiences are in line with what heaps of other diabetes friends have experienced (yeah, we turn to each other because where else is there to go?), but I have a heap of questions to ask, and accept that there may not be answers. 

And I’ve spoken with my endocrinologist. I think that I only ever think of my endo as my ‘diabetes doctor’ but really, her expertise in hormones is pretty bloody useful right now. And the fact that she does some work in a menopause clinic is hugely useful! 

But here’s the thing. There are not pages and pages of information out there about diabetes and menstruation or diabetes and menopause. Or how diabetes affects your period during perimenopause. In fact, as with so many things that affect those of us dealing with periods (when they start, when they happen and when they stop), there is a dearth of information and very little research. I mean, it’s no surprise, because the patriarchy in health (as everywhere else) is all powerful. (Don’t believe me? Look at the number of resources about, and treatments for, diabetes and erectile dysfunction as compared with diabetes and menstruation or diabetes and menopause…)

Meanwhile, I just keeping trying to work it out, and speak with friends with diabetes to listen, learn and laugh as they share their stories. And watch as we start to open up more and write more and talk more in our own communities and advocate for more attention. Because that’s the story of diabetes community – we start the conversations that need to be had and that sets off a chain reaction where others get on board. So…get on board!

A photo of my hand holding Dr Jen Gunter's book 'The Menopause Manifesto'. Black writing and a megaphone on the pink cover. There is a blurred bookshelf behind.
Dr Jen Gunter’s Menopause Manifesto is really an incredibly useful resource. It’s not diabetes specific (although, there is general information about diabetes that is excellent). Click on the image for where to purchase. 

More? Here’s The Diabetes Menopause Project.

I recently was invited to run a workshop for health advocates (not just diabetes) who are affiliated with health and community organisations either as employees or volunteers. I was asked to primarily focus on safety in advocacy communities – both online and in person. All participants were women. This was interesting to me because the workshop was open to anyone who was a health advocate – not just women. I could see why, after a few short minutes in, it was women who were keen to come together for this topic and talk about it in a safe space, with other women. 

I was delighted to be involved for a couple of reasons: 1. It’s important and 2. I know that when I run a workshop properly, I walk away learning a lot. And this was a topic I wanted to learn about. I set about developing a very vague program that would leave a lot of time for experience sharing and co-developing ideas that could be used by everyone in the room. I had a few discussion starters and things that I think have worked for me, so they formed the basis of the workshop, but most of the suggestions came from the day and with permission, I’m sharing some of the ideas here. 

Before I do that, though, I want to highlight the overarching message was that health communities and groups are really important and really valuable. I know I frequently talk about not needing to love everyone in the diabetes community, and how critical it is to find the people you want to be around, who are supportive, who build you up, who you build up and who make you feel safe. That squad becomes sacred. Everyone else spoke of the same thing. One woman mentioned that it had taken her years to find the right people in her health community before truly understanding how peer support can be so beneficial. Many mentioned that it took time to work out exactly what they were looking for – was it friendship, solidarity, advocacy mates, opportunities to grow professionally? There are as many reasons to ‘do’ peer support as peer support models!

But even knowing that, it came as no surprise that every single one of the dozen or so women participating in the workshop had examples of where they had felt unsafe, vulnerable, targeted, or exposed in their own health communities. As stories were shared, there were frequent looks of recognition and heads nodding. Many said it was the first time they had ever spoken about these experiences. And others took time to warm up, asking several times if anyone would know what they had said – worried that they may be identified. This reminded me a little of the Ascensia Women’s Diabetes Social Media Summit I facilitated last year. I’d probably done close to a dozen of those before and each one involved a lot of social media outreach while the event was taking place. But this event was different. This one, was not quite as open. As facilitator, it’s my job to read a room, and the reading I got was that there were a group of women who wanted to share in private. And so, we did. As happened again at this recent workshop. 

None of the ideas I’m sharing will identify anyone, and this post has been reviewed by the people who attended. Safety of the women is my primary concern. So, here are some ideas that may or may not be of use to folks out there:

  1. You are not alone. Feeling unsafe in a community group can feel isolating, especially if there are cliques and groups that seem to form alliances. But there will be others you can turn to – often outside the group. I know I have turned to people outside the diabetes world at times to learn about how they have managed certain circumstances. It’s fascinating just how transferable things can be and how universal others are!
  2. There are reasons that functions such as block and mute are available on all social media platforms. But go one further. By blocking certain accounts, you may still see people you would prefer to distance yourself from. Mute their name, their account handle and, if they are associated with any specific words, terms or hashtags, mute those too. (So, want to not see my stuff? Block #LanguageMatters and mentions of coffee, stripes, bookstores, baking and red lipstick.) 
  3. Keep records. Even of things that seem irrelevant. I have an online folder where I collate anything that has ever made me feel unsafe or helpless. It’s shared with others, so they know what’s going on. 
  4. Talk to your workplace or associated organisation. This was one of the points that I wanted to raise. As all participants were either employed by, or volunteers for, health organisations, they have access to several services to support them if they feel unsafe. Perhaps they can use the organisation’s EAP which can be a terrifically helpful resource. It’s also important that those records you keep are seen elsewhere and there is a timeline of when things happen, and they are reported in real time. I do this a lot, mostly because it helps to talk to someone. Sometimes it’s done proactively. Other times, it’s after something happens. For example, the first time I spoke about DIYAPS and a slew of HCPs made formal complaints about me daring to talk about something so dangerously off label. Or the time a diabetes educator wrote to my employer after I called them out for tone policing me. There have been the multiple times people in the low carb community have become aggressive and threatening. Or just weird. There have been times when I’ve spoken with the CEO or other senior managers about situations and as well as being great sources of advice and comfort, it also means that they have an idea of how things started and are going. Oh, and it means there are few surprises!
  5. Walk away – for a bit or a lot. No one is obliged to continue to be involved in advocacy spaces or being part of a community if it is not working or if it is feeling unsafe. 
  6. Go incognito. My name and face have always been associated with the advocacy work I do because that is what I have chosen. But there are times that I wish I’d come up with a nifty pseudonym (Blossom?) and a cute meerkat picture. I know that probably wouldn’t have been possible considering the number of quite public facing things I do means there’s limited anonymity. But there are lots of super effective advocates who are anonymous when doing any online work, and that is absolutely an option. It doesn’t mean that you don’t need to do any media or presentations. It just means not linking the public stuff to your socials. A couple of women at the workshop do that, and I somewhat embarrassingly squealed when I realised that they were amazing anonymous campaigners I’ve learnt so much from over the years!
  7. Learn the anatomy of gaslighting. It’s an artform, but it’s a predictable one. And expect to be gaslit if anyone ever takes objection to what you do – especially if the source of that objection is from a group that is used to not being challenged. Don’t believe me? I present exhibit a: #AllLivesMatter and exhibit b: #NotAllMen. The term gaslighting was coined to refer to misogynistic abuse and manipulation and it often presents that way these days. Learn how it works and you’ll be astonished at how frequently it is used to disempower women.
  8. Be prepared for your work to be challenged; to be told you’re not good enough; to be told that you are not worthy; to be told that your work is irrelevant and insignificant; to be criticised for your successes and to be diminished. The first time that happened to me, I was crushed. Now, it’s only mildly soul-destroying. (This isn’t to say that people can’t disagree with your work. Of course, they can, and they will. And that’s perfectly fine. It’s when your work is dismissed and disparaged, and you are personally targeted that it can be especially challenging.) 
  9. Cry. This was my suggestion. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it really helps. I think it just comes from the idea of giving myself permission to not have to be confident all the time and to admit when I am feeling especially vulnerable. When there were weird emails coming to me about fundraising activities, I spent a lot of time bawling. 
  10. Be public about how you are feeling and your experiences. This is a tough one, because it can add being vulnerable onto an already vulnerable situation. But if you are able to assess if it is going to help you get through it, go ahead. 
  11. Ignore it. That sounds naïve considering some of the points I’ve shared, but we all agreed that in some instances, this does work and is the best way forward (albeit with keeping notes). 

It is undeniably true that women face a lot of rubbish online and a lot of that is from men. Women who dare to be strident, vocal and stand up and are confident often get it more. We see it everywhere. But I will add that as a straight, white cis woman, I know that the lousy behaviour I’ve experienced is nothing compared to women of colour and people from the LGBTQIA+ community. I’m so grateful to people from those groups who are bravely sharing the horrible attacks they receive and absolutely feel that doing what I can to support them, listen to them and believe them is essential.  

The women in the workshop are so committed in their advocacy efforts. It seems unfair that they have had periods where they’ve felt unsafe or targeted. I know how hard it is. Maybe the tips in this post might help others and if they do, great! And if you are reading this and prickling because you object to what you’re seeing, please remember that these experiences are from women who have had a tough time. That doesn’t in any way delegitimise what you have experienced. But I hope that everyone does understand and accept that in living with the patriarchy and with internalised misogyny pretty much part and parcel of everyday life, women do face an unfair share of rubbish, including in advocacy communities. 

One of my favourite memes on social media is the response to people who tell the world they’re taking a break from or leaving social media groups or platforms: ‘This is not an airport. There is no need to announce departures.’ (Aussie airports at the moment are full of cancelled flights, so departure announcements seem to be few and far between, but I digress.)

And so, I didn’t announce that I was taking a little break from the online world. It wasn’t really planned. But it has coincided with a couple of weeks break from work and it’s been nice to step away a little and just be. Plus, it’s given me a lot of time to write and write and write and smash deadlines for some of the freelance work I never seem to have enough time to get done. (My submission emails inevitably start with ‘I’m so sorry for the delay in getting this to you…’) But here on Diabetogenic, I’m the editor, so delays are only holding me up and it would be weird to apologise to myself for repeatedly missing deadlines, especially when I don’t even have deadlines (mostly because I don’t set them because I know I’d never meet them) and there I go digressing again and is it any wonder I get nothing done?!

Having said that, I’ve received dozens of emails from people asking when to expect a new post, so to everyone who has messaged or wondered: ‘I’m so sorry for the delay in getting this to you…’.

But here I am back again, with a heap of great things I’ve seen recently and I want to share them here in a bit of an interweb jumble!

I’m writing

Yes, I know it’s weird to share my own writing on my own blog, but whatever! Plus,, there is nothing wrong with a bit of self-promotion. I’m back writing for diaTribe and absolutely delighted to have had these two pieces published recently.

This one is about how it’s important to tell stories of people with diabetes who choose to not run marathons or climb mountains in amongst stories of those who do. 

And this one is about a new type 1 diabetes screening program for Australian children. I write about the reservations I had about having my daughter screened when she was little, but how things might be very different with research like this. The response to this article has been lovely and a lot of parents with diabetes have reached out to say that they have had similar concerns and feelings to those I articulate in the post. 

Advocacy through art

I’m a huge fan of Jenna Cantamessa’s artwork, and this beautiful image and accompanying post is one of the reasons why! Click on the artwork to be taken to the TypeOneVibes Instagram account to read Jenna’s words.

Stripped Supply

I’m always happy to promote smart women doing smart things and so let me introduce you to Ashley from Stripped Safely. Here we are at the recent Australian Diabetes Congress.

When Ashley’s boyfriend was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, she realised there was a gap in the market when it comes to mail ordering NDSS supplies. Remember the old days when we used to be able to easily place an order online and have our pump lines or BGL strips delivered straight to our front door? Well, Ashley is making that happen again. It’s a subscription service and is super easy to use. Details about how to use Stripped Supply here.

Gong

You bet I’m proud to share this! Diabetes Australia’s Heads Up on Diabetes campaign recently received an award from the Australian Patients Association. The campaign was recognised as the Best Patients’ Campaign and how wonderful that shining a spotlight on diabetes and mental in such a powerful way has been awarded. 

I’ll just say that while it is truly amazing to be acknowledged in this way, the real measure for me of the success of a campaign is how the diabetes community responds and it was clear from year one of this three-year campaign that people with diabetes from across the world absolutely loved it, as evidenced by the number of times the campaign videos were shared online. Oh, and there’s something quite incredible about sitting in a conference room and seeing our work played back to us by someone from outside the organisation. Yeah – that’s happened a number of times! 

The Human Trial

So much buzz in the diabetes world at the moment about the incredible documentary out of the US, The Human Trial. Until 9 September, you can stream the film for free by going to this link. You will be prompted to make a donation if you can. All funds raised go to diabetes research.

More about this documentary soon.

Advocacy through poetry 1

At the recent Australian Diabetes Congress, I had the honour and pleasure of chairing a session with an brilliant array of diabetes advocates from Australia and across the world. One of the speakers was Ash Byrne who began her presentation with an incredibly powerful poem and then went on to speak about the mental health burdens of diabetes. You can see Ash readying her poem, Invisible, at this Facebook link.

Advocacy through poetry 2

Aussie diabetes advocate and #dedoc° voice, Leon Tribe shared this poem on Twitter earlier this week which beautifully explains the power of language and communication between people with diabetes and our healthcare professionals. (You may need to click on the image to read the poem more easily.)

Stigma – diabetes and beyond

I have a new thing, and I didn’t want to talk about it. In part, because of stigma. Mostly, because of stigma.’ 

This is the start of a powerful post from Dana Lewis where she shares how the stigma that comes with diabetes has influenced how she feels about being diagnosed with another autoimmune disease. Read it here.

TEDx does diabetes advocacy

I’ve been a long-time fan of Grainne Flynn’s advocacy work and have shared her posts here before. Recently, she did a TED Talk about grassroots advocacy. It is all shades of brilliant and an absolute joy to watch. So… watch!

#dedoc° is busy! 

There is a lot going on in the world of #dedoc°! Here’s just a taste of upcoming events that everyone can get involved in. Plus, the #dedoc° voices program will be kicking off again later this month at EASD with a cohort of new voices and alumni on the ground in Stockholm as well as following along virtually. 

I’m so excited to be part of the #dedoc° symposium at EASD! Delivering a community led and focused symposium as part of the scientific program at a professional is a Big.Deal. We’re continuing to live and breathe #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs in the most impressive ways!

Disclosures

As always, I am thrilled to share things that I’ve found interesting, but disclosures are important. I’ve not been asked to share anything you see here, but figure if I find something interesting (or feel like doing same shameless self-promotion) you might too. I also figure that being transparent is important as is reminding you to consider my bias when sharing things.

  1. I am a paid contributor to diaTribe
  2. I am the Head of Communities & International Affairs at Diabetes Australia
  3. I am the Global Head of Advocacy at #dedoc°

This year’s eye screening appointment had aspects that were comfortingly familiar, and anxiously new. And I’ve come home with a very different feeling to the way I usual feel.

I’ve been going to the same private eye clinic for twenty years. I usually see the same orthoptist and always see the same ophthalmologist. This year, I saw a (new for me) orthoptist who opened with the clanger ‘Do you check your glucose levels?’ (I wasn’t aware it was a choice…) and followed up with ‘What is your glucose level usually?’. (This is not a question.) The rest of that appointment was comfortingly familiar – no changes in what I can read on the eye chart, excellent eye pressure and no vision changes. She put in drops and sent me to the next waiting room to wait to see my dreamy ophthalmologist.

And he is dreamy. I adore him. I mean, I hate seeing him and I tell him that each year. Then he laughs and thinks I’m neurotic, because I am neurotic, and that is how pretty much each and every year’s appointment starts. Comfortingly familiar. 

This year was no different. He always asks how I am, how my family is, how work is going, what’s going on with my diabetes and other friendly chatter to settle me in and get an idea of what is going on in my world. He asked if I’d had much of a chance to travel and how I was dealing with COVID times, or, as I now think of it, normal life. Comfortingly familiar.

As was the way he shone the Very.Bright.Light in my eyes, made reassuring ‘hmmm’ noises and told me that there was absolutely no hint of any diabetes-related eye stuff going on in my eyes and that was truly great after twenty-four years of diabetes. I always do appreciate the way that he is such a great cheerleader for diabetes longevity and acknowledges what a slog it can be. Comfortingly familiar. 

So,’ he said. ‘It’s all great news again from a diabetes perspective. However…’

Huh? ‘However…’? We don’t do ‘However…’. We do me standing up and promising to return the following year. Not ‘However…’ Yet, here we were. The anxiously new part. 

‘…However, I can see really early age-related macular degeneration in one eye. Really early. There’s nothing to worry about at all.’ He looked at me. ‘You don’t need to worry.’

And then I laughed, and he laughed because the idea of me not worrying is hilarious, and I had already jumped beyond worried and landed somewhere near stressed, anxious and ready to burst into tears. (I at least managed to wait until I got home for the last part.) 

I had questions and he patiently answered all of them. We spoke about family history. Apparently if a parent has AMD, their kids have a 50% chance of developing it. (Looking at this as a positive because it means that my sister might be right. Happy to take this one for the team, Toots!) He then spoke to me about things to do at this stage that help. The first is to not smoke. I’ve never been a smoker, so that’s an easy one. Then he asked, ‘Do you eat well?’ My heart sank. Another food-related thing? Turns out that eating leafy greens is protective which is fine because I love vegetables and it’s mandated in the hipster suburb where we live to eat three serves of kale a day. And finally, keeping up with regular appointments. Annual visits are still final.

‘So, Renza, It’s not diabetes. This is because of your age. After all, you’re 50 next year.’

‘Settle down!’ I said and suggested he dial things back a little. ‘I’m not even 49 yet.’ He looked at my chart again and needlessly pointed out that regardless of my current age, I am still turning 50 next year. (I’ll just point out that this was also comfortingly familiar because he frequently mentions that I am getting older.) 

I sighed. And got into the car with my dad and told him my news, opening with the comfortingly familiar and then moving onto the anxiously new. We went for a coffee, and I tried to focus on the positives. And then I got home and had a little cry. 

Because here’s the thing. I expect things to break. I’ve been told that things are going to break thanks to diabetes since the day I was diagnosed. And so, whenever something doesn’t break, it comes as a huge surprise. I’ve been holding my breath all week in anticipation of today’s appointment. I know that this is just a tiny hairline crack at this point, but it still has triggered a lot of stuff in my head right now. Sure, this may not be a catastrophe and sure, there is enough rational thinking to know that it’s early, I’m linked in with great healthcare professionals, and we know what to look for. But still. It’s another thing. Another worry. Another concern. Another part of my body not working completely properly, or at least indicating that it’s not going to work properly in the future. 

And so, I’m home now with a very different feeling to the way I usually feel after my annual eye screening. I’m already turning to the community to see who I can find there who might have some advice and understanding. I’m involved in a European ad board which relates to AMD and DME, so know that there is a whole network there who I can talk to. And I’m writing here to see if anyone out there has an experience to share. Because that’s what I do. Turn to community. I have the HCP stuff sorted. Now I’m looking for my people in the real world…

Waiting with diabetes (after dilating drops are in.)

More about eyes

How having a brilliantly kind ophthalmologist means I never miss an eye screening.

A chance encounter with an optometrist friend.

The comfort of knowing how eye screening appointments go.

The time I had a needle in my eye.

Always a worrier when it comes to eye screening.

All about my first cataract surgery. And after my second surgery.

What my dad has to do with my annual eye screening.

Psst…forgotten something?

If you’re in the northern hemisphere right now, you’re possibly all caught up in the sunshine, splashing around at the beach or spending time off work just taking time out. If you’re from the southern hemisphere, you’re either smart and have taken a holiday to Europe because EVERYONE.IS.IN.EUROPE.RIGHT.NOW, or under fifteen quilts in front of a roaring fire, counting down the days until it gets warmer. Sadly, I’m in the latter group.

I get it. Things slip by either way. 

But! You only have a few days left to make sure you don’t miss out on applying for a #dedoc° voices scholarship. Wherever you are, a scholarship means you have something to look forward to in a couple of months’ time and the absolute thrill of either virtually or in-person attending a global diabetes conference or two. That’s right – TWO! EASD (European diabetes conference) and ISPAD (paediatric diabetes conference) are the next international conferences on the diabetes conference calendar. Both will be hybrid, with the in-person locations being Stockholm and Abu Dhabi respectively. 

We’re well over two years into the #dedoc° voices program now, and the awesome thing about it is that it’s not just about the few days of the conference where you get to learn from incredible researchers and clinicians, while waving the lived experience flag and being surrounded by others with diabetes. I mean, that is all pretty great. But being a #dedoc° voice goes way beyond that!  Once you receive a scholarship you are part of a network of remarkable diabetes advocates from across the world, and this network is the most supportive, encouraging, brilliant group of people, always ready to help. Every single week, I see people reaching out for support and advice and the responses are swift and many. I’ve not seen a single example of anything other than support, and have watched advocates truly flourish as they have worked with others, developed mentoring relationships and been supported to do brilliant things. 

Unless you’re part of the program, you wouldn’t know this. And here’s the deal: anyone can become part of it. The #dedoc° voices program is open to people from across the world and everyone is in with an equal chance. You just need to spend some time completing an application. It is a competitive process, and places are limited. The people who get accepted are the ones who have taken some time with their application and really been able to demonstrate just how they are going to #PayItForward to their diabetes community if successful. No one is a shoe in; having a high follower count on socials means nothing if your application is sub-par. We take people who are new to the diabetes advocacy space, and are looking for a hand carving out their space, as well as seasoned advocates who are keen to work with others and become part of a global network, outside their own country.

So, get on it! Click on the image below, fill in the form and join us! You get to work on your advocacy while giving back to the community, all while wearing the #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs badge. How amazing is that?!

More on #diabetogenic about the #dedoc° voices program:

#dedoc° voices helping people with diabetes get into professional conferences

How #dedoc° voices supported people with diabetes in Ukraine

More on why to apply to join the #dedoc voices program

Disclosure

I have been an advisor for a number of years, and am now working with them as Head of Advocacy. 

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