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A couple of crappy anxiety days have left me feeling a little spent and exhausted. Add to that some low-key diabetes burnout, and I’m wondering if I can somehow leave diabetes out for the upcoming hard rubbish collection in our neighbourhood. 

The anxiety was mostly to do with a work thing yesterday which involved a live Q&A about type 2 diabetes remission. When I’m on my game, that sort of thing has me pumped! I know that the discussion will be lively and that there could be some contention in what we’re saying, and I thrive on robust debate.

But right now, I’m not feeling completely on my game. Burnout, lockdown and just feeling tired, combined with feeling a very long way away from friends and colleagues a lot of my work is with, has left me a little weary and downbeat. So instead of the fire I usually feel when I need to deal with something that could be a little controversial and provocative, I was dreading it.

A moment of light came after the live Q&A when I had a call from who wanted to speak with me about the new Type 2 Diabetes Remission Position Statement from Diabetes Australia. After watching, they decided to take the time to reach out to me and admit they were wrong about me. They thought I’d been dismissive and negative about the way they manage their diabetes, when in fact, it seemed I was the complete opposite of that. When I asked why they had thought that of me, they said, ‘You just seem so confident and assertive, and I mistook that for thinking you were really rigid in your beliefs about diabetes.’

It’s funny how we form impressions of people. Sometimes we can be spot on. Other times, not so much. I’ve been totally wrong about people in the diabetes community because once I’ve looked beyond the tweets, I see that there is far more to them than the soundbites that get all the attention.  

When people tell me (or, more likely, subtweet) that they think everyone should think the way I do about diabetes, manage their diabetes in the same way, feel the same about the issues important to me or that I think I speak for others with diabetes, I’m genuinely confused. I’ve never said any of those things. The about me page on my blog states: ‘This blog does not provide medical information or advice. I write about my own experiences of living with diabetes but please don’t think that you should take on board what I’m doing and apply it to you. We’re all different and our diabetes varies. Significantly. Get thyself to an appropriately qualified healthcare professional to help yourself out with your own particular brand of diabetes.’

I throw the caveat “my diabetes, my rules” around like glitter and anytime I do speak about diabetes, I am very clear that I am but one person in a very, very large choir, and that the audience should make a point of listening to lots of those voices. 

So, it is with no surprise at all that it seems that some corners of the LCHF world think that I completely and utterly condemn their chosen way of managing diabetes. What a lot of rubbish! I can only assume the reason they think that about me is because I have been pretty vocal about the way some in that community respond to others who have different ideas. I call out stigma and shaming, and I call out anyone saying that everyone should follow the same way of eating.

I stand by that. And I stand by it in all aspects of all types of diabetes. If anyone truly believes that there is one way and one way only to manage diabetes, they are very misguided.  

In case I was feeling too pleased with myself after that phone call yesterday, I was dragged back down to earth with a shouty email (in ALL CAPS) demanding to know why I don’t advocate remission in type 2 diabetes. Sweetie, I don’t advocate anything other than the rights of people with diabetes to do what they want to manage and treat their diabetes in a way that works for them. I advocate choice. Choice is critical and my passion lies in ensuring that people are given choice. 

I love my pump, I love LOOP, but I don’t reckon everyone should be on it. I don’t think everyone should do DAFNE or wear a Libre. I don’t think everyone should just follow what their doctors tell them to do. I don’t think everyone should be eating LCHF any more than I think everyone should be eating a vegetarian or Mediterranean diet. I wouldn’t try a vegan diet because the thought of no bacon makes me weep, but hey, if it works for you and you like it, can sustain it, can afford it and are happy doing it, high five!

Anyway, in a roundabout way, this post is to say that there is a new position statement about type 2 diabetes remission available and you can find it here if you’re interested

And it’s also to say that forming opinions of people in the diabetes world is perfectly fine and we won’t all agree or love each other (and that’s fine too). I know I’ve formed opinions of people based off one tweet, or one encounter. It’s probably quite unfair on my part, and when I’ve re-engaged with some of those people, I’ve found that they have a lot more going on that just that one idea of them I had. I’m glad I did try again. 

My anxiety is a little better today. I weathered yesterday’s storm and came out of it only mildly battered. I’ll call that a win. 

DISCLOSURE

I work at Diabetes Australia. I was not involved in the writing of the position statement that was launched yesterday. I’m writing about it because it’s interesting and relevant to my diabetes today and yesterday. 

I facilitated an event for Ascensia (disclosures at the end of this piece) last night/early morning and the crappy time was partly (mostly) my fault, because although I sacrificed the Aussies and suggested we draw the short straw in the time zone lottery, I forgot that daily saving would have kicked in for us meaning kick off time was 11pm and not 10pm. That may not seem much – I mean, what’s an hour? – but there is definitely a psychological barrier about doing work after midnight. (Anyway, I digress, and that paragraph has just about put me to sleep). 

The reason for last night’s adventures after dark was a facilitating gig for Ascensia’s latest Diabetes Social Media Summit (DSMS). The thing I love about (and why I am so keen to be involved) in these Summits is because they have tacked some difficult topics that are often hidden away. 

This one was no different in that we looked to address something that needs more attention – diabetes and women’s health. In my introduction, I wanted to make the point that diversity and inclusion is important when speaking about any aspect of diabetes, and that for us to be truly inclusive in a discussion about women and diabetes, we needed to hear from women who represent all corners of the diabetes world. I particularly referred to needing better representation from women in the LGBTQIA+ community. 

The other thing that we had wanted to make sure that we didn’t focus too much on diabetes and pregnancy, because so often that is the only easily information about women’s health and diabetes that can be easily found (and saying that, there does seem to be a bias towards women with type 1 diabetes). Of course, understanding and being aware of how diabetes can impact on pregnancy is important, but it is certainly not the only issue that women with diabetes want or need to know about. 

In fact, one of the discussion points was that for some women, pregnancy is not a topic they want discussed. There is the assumption that all women of childbearing age need information about having a healthy baby when that is not the truth. Contraception discussions do not necessarily equal an invitation for pre-pregnancy counselling, and there needs to be some sensitivity in how healthcare professionals in particular raise the topic, and rid themselves of the belief that all women want to have kids.   

There is so much more to talk about. So, so much more. 

We touched on how much our cycles can impact and influence glucose levels (and a very amusing tangent where we joked about how when we see monthly perfect glucose patterns, they clearly don’t belong to people who menstruate – or people who understand the absolute havoc hormones can wreak on CGM traces).

We spoke about birth control and how the OCP can also make a significant difference to glucose levels, yet many of us were not told about that. 

Of course, we spoke of menopause, but only briefly; briefly not because it’s not an important topic (or a super relevant topic), but because we just got caught up talking about other things (and perhaps my facilitating skills weren’t as tight as usual).

And we spoke about how cultural gender issues need to be shown and understood so that the experience of privileged white women with diabetes are not seen as the only experiences. 

For me, the central message that I heard time and time and time again was that topics about the very things that occupy a lot of the headspace of women with diabetes are simply not discussed with us. And there is little research to inform our decision making, or even to help us form the right questions to ask. At best, we are given some piss-weak explanation that points a finger at diabetes being to blame. At worst, we are dismissed. 

I do wonder when research and diabetes education will catch up. I know that there are some wonderful researchers doing some important work here, but we are so far from normalising discussions about women’s health and diabetes as part of our typical healthcare routines. We’re miles away from getting rid of the preconceived and outdated ideas about women’s sexual health. 

Beyond discussing different women’s health matters, we also spoke about just how these discussions fit in the diabetes community. This was a completely unplanned turn for the summit (it was not a topic on the agenda), but I’m glad we had it and I’m glad that I am writing about it. Because of the nature of women’s health, sex and diabetes, there is a lot of taboo, shame, fear, and vulnerability. I know that some of the rawest and most open I’ve been in my writing has been when I have been dealing with moments in my life that were so, so hard and I was so, so vulnerable. When I look back, I sometimes wonder if I was right to hit publish after writing, and perhaps I should have tucked away the paragraphs until I was feeling stronger. Or not published at all. While I have been told that my words have provided some comfort to others facing similar challenges, it left my gaping, open wounds very public and visible. 

After writing about miscarriages, I’ve been called selfish for wanting to have a child and potentially passing on diabetes to them. Writing about my fears of passing on diabetes to my child I’ve been told that perhaps I should have thought of that before I got pregnant. Speaking about body image concerns, I’ve been told to toughen up and stop being so shallow. I’ve seen and watched other women with diabetes experience the same thing, and I feel their pain as I watch them navigate the muddy, and sometimes distressing waters. 

We spoke about how women are treated in the diabetes community, particularly when we write about struggles and difficulties, and the words and terms that are thrown our way when we dare to share how we are feeling. The ‘angry woman’ trope that I’ve written about before has been directed to many others too. 

These discussions are real, and they are necessary. I am one of the loudest, most vocal supporters of peer support and have spoken about the value and importance of diabetes peer support and the online community on stages literally around the globe. Peer support saved me at times when I thought I was broken beyond repair. But it also can be a source of pain and bullying and nasty confrontations, and perhaps we need to have those discussions too so that when someone decides that they are ready to share and be especially vulnerable that they look out for themselves as much as looking out for the community. It’s all very well to want to share to connect and help with our own and others’ isolation but leaving ourselves exposed isn’t easy. 

One of the attendees last night reminded us that we could share with selected friends in the community, still allowing for that peer support but under the protection of a safe space. It’s interesting, because until maybe two years ago, I had never experienced how unsafe the community can be to individuals. I’d not felt that before. While I still share a lot, these days  I’m more inclined to turn to those trusted friends in the DOC who I know will be honest, open, but never nasty or judgemental. 

Online spaces are different for women than they are for men. The misogyny that is inbuilt to even those that we think are allies comes out, often surprising us, as throwaway comments about a woman’s age or appearance. It is ever present in the diabetes community too. I’ve rolled my eyes as some of the most vocal advocates who have loudly aligned themselves as being supporters of women, revert to type, with snide sexist commentary. I’ve seen people in the DOC referred to as ‘angry old women’ for daring to be furious, older than 25 and a woman! I roll my eyes now when I know someone has called me angry. I also know that they’ve just announced to everyone how threatened they are of women who dare to not go quietly, and how they expect us to remain in our place!

There was so much more that we could have spoken about last night. We didn’t touch on body image and disordered eating (and yes, I know that this is not the domain of women only, but this is about us!), we didn’t talk about sex all that much either, even though it is often highlighted as an issue that needs more coverage and information. Again, it’s not because they are not important topics; it was because the fluid conversation took a feminist turn that highlighted a highly biased social and healthcare environment where it is seen as perfectly fine that the needs, and concerns of fifty percent of the diabetes community are barely considered.

Perhaps if we had a more feminist approach to, and model of, healthcare, the misogyny that has meant the topics important to us have not been researched, and are not discussed, could be eliminated. And women with diabetes would not be feeling ignored.

Disclosure

I was invited by Ascensia to help plan the agenda for #DSMSWomen and facilitate the discussion. I have been paid an honorarium for my time. 

Another large diabetes scientific conference is happening and alongside it, another docday in the can. 

If you go back through the Diabetogenic archives, you’ll find a bucketload of posts about previous docday° events, including the very first one which was memorable for being in an overheated backroom of a café in Stockholm, the cinnamon buns served at said café, and Josephine, a diabetes advocate from Sweden stripping down to her underwear to show off her Anna PS gear. (If you’re looking for tops and jocks to snugly store insulin pumps, Anna PS is still the best place to go!)

It’s a far slicker event these days. Even before we went all virtual, the IRL events were held in cavernous convention centres alongside the actual conference. This was great for lots of reasons: it means that you can easily pop into docday° from the main program, and a variety of stakeholders started to come along. While docday° very much remains the domain of diabetes advocates and the work in the community, it was great to know that we were sharing our news with HCPs, researchers, industry and more. Plus, the temperature control was better. The biggest negative was that cinnamon buns were not as easy to find. 

Last night’s docday° was as memorable as ever, with a dynamic program of advocates from across the globe. A number of people wanted to address the issue of diabetes and stigma, and I introduced this topic with a quick overview of the Diabetes Australia National Diabetes Week Campaign, and one of the videos we made. From there, we heard Ken Tait and Michael Donohoe speak about the stigma experienced by people with type 2 diabetes, and Salih Hendriks and Dan Newman speak about how stigma impacts on open discussions about diabetes-related complications. Dan’s talk was one of the most powerful I’ve ever heard, and I will be thinking of his words for a long time. 

There was lots more in the two-hour event. Please do watch it!

I am an advisor to the #dedoc° voices program. I do not receive any payment for this role. 

I applied for and received a press pass to attend EASD 2021. 

I probably should stop thinking of my job as ‘my new job’. I’ve been at Diabetes Australia now for well over five years. But for some reason, I still think of it that way. And so do a lot of other people who often will ask ‘How’s the new job?’

Well, the new job is great, and I’ve enjoyed the last five years immensely. It’s a very different role to the one I had previously, even though both have been in diabetes organisations. 

One thing that is very different is that in my (not) new job I don’t have the day-to-day contact with people with diabetes that I used to have. That’s not to say that I am removed from the lived experience – in fact, in a lot of ways I’m probably more connected now simply because I speak to a far more diverse group of people affected by diabetes. But in my last job, I would often really get to know people because I’d see them at the events my team was running, year in, year out. 

Today, I got a call from one of those people. (I have their permission to tell this story now.) They found my contact details through the organisation and gave me a call because they needed a chat. After a long time with diabetes (longer than the 23 years I’ve had diabetes as an annoying companion), they have recently been diagnosed with a diabetes-related complication. The specific complication is irrelevant to this post. 

They’ve been struggling with this diagnosis because along with it came a whole lot more. They told me about the stigma they were feeling, to begin with primarily from themselves. ‘Renza,’ they said to me. ‘I feel like a failure. I’ve always been led to believe that diabetes complications happen when we fail our diabetes management. I know it’s not true, but it’s how I feel, and I’ve given myself a hard time because of it.’ 

That internalised stigma is B.I.G. I hear about it a lot. I’ve spent a long time learning to unpack it and try to not impact how I feel about myself and my diabetes. 

The next bit was also all too common. ‘And my diabetes health professionals are disappointed in me. I know they are by the way they are now speaking to me.’

We chatted for a long time, and I suggested some things they might like to look at. I asked if they were still connected to the peer support group they’d once been an integral part of, but after moving suburbs, they’d lost contact with diabetes mates. I pointed out some online resources, and, knowing that they often are involved in online discussions, asked if they’d checked out the #TalkAboutComplications hashtag. They were not familiar with it, and I pointed out just how much information there was on there – especially from others living with diabetes and diabetes-related complications. ‘It’s not completely stigma free,’ I said. ‘But I think you’ll find that it is a really good way to connect with others who might just be able to offer some support.’ 

They said they’d have a look. 

We chatted a bit more and I told them they could call me any time for a chat. I hope they do. 

A couple of hours later, my phone beeped with a new text message. It was from this person. They’d read through dozens and dozens of tweets and clicked on links and had even sent a few messages to some people. ‘Why didn’t I know about this before?’, they asked me. 

Our community is a treasure trove of support and information, and sometimes I think we forget just how valuable different things are. The #TalkAboutComplications ‘campaign’ was everywhere a couple of years ago, and I heard from so many people that it helped them greatly. I spoke about it – particularly the language aspect of it – in different settings around the world and wrote about it a lot.

While the hashtag may not get used all that much these days, everything is still there. I sent out a tweet today with it, just as a little reminder. All the support, the connections, the advice from people with diabetes is still available. I hope that people who need it today can find it and learn from it. And share it. That’s one of the things this community does well – shares the good stuff, and this is definitely some of the good stuff!

Want more? 

Check out the hashtag on Twitter here.

You can watch a presentation from ATTD 2019 here

Read this article from BMJ

Today is the day. The centenary of what remains one of the greatest medical discoveries ever. Here is a reworked post (first published here). There is not a day that I am not grateful for this discovery. And not a day goes by when I am not aware that the diabetes life I live and the access I have is not the same for everyone around the world.

And so today seems a really good day to make a donation to a charity that supports people with diabetes who need it. For me, when deciding which diabetes charities I’ve decided to donate to, it’s been important that the support is tangible. And that’s why I have repeatedly written about Life for a Child, and Insulin for Life on this blog, and supported them with regular donations for a number of years. Their works provides on the ground support, medications, diabetes supplies, education, as well as doing research. They also have an advocacy function, raising awareness of not only the work they do, but the people they support.

If you are able to make a donation it’s a great day to do it. In amongst the celebrations it’s important to remember not everyone will be able to do that today. Remembering them on this important day in diabetes history is very fitting.

Donate to Insulin for Life

Donate to Life for a Child

______________________________________________________________

There has been lots of discussion about what happened 100 years ago today – on 27 July 1921. University of Toronto scientists Fredrick Banting and Charles Best successfully isolated the hormone insulin. Today, that means that I am alive and kicking, 20 years after my islets stopped making any.

It means that type 1 diabetes treatment moved from being a starvation diet and not much else, to injecting a drug that was life giving and life saving.

It means that I take a drug that while giving me life, is also lethal and if not dosed carefully and with great consideration can cause terrible side effects.

It means that people with diabetes don’t die terrible, agonising deaths simply because they were diagnosed with diabetes.

It means that I need to be able to do crazy calculations to ensure what I put into my body completely and utterly imperfectly mimics what those with functioning islet cells do completely and utterly perfectly.

It means that there is a treatment therapy that gives us hope and life and allows us to live – sometimes very long, long lives.

It means that each and every day I feel fortunate to have been born when I was and not 100 years earlier.

It means I take for granted that I have access to a drug that keeps me going.

It means that there are far too many people around the world who still do not have access to the drug I take for granted. And 97 years later, that is not good enough.

It means that it was 97 years ago – 97 years ago – since the discover of insulin to treat diabetes and we are still without a cure.

And it means that I wonder when there will be the next breakthrough that is as significant and meaningful and life changing and life saving as what those two Canadian scientists discovered 97 years ago.

But mostly. It means that I live with hope. Hope that those scientists are somewhere working away, and perhaps – just perhaps – are about to find that next big breakthrough.

This stunning print is by Alex Durussel-Baker, a designer living in Edinburgh (click on print to be taken to her e-shop).
I’ve just placed an order so I can have this print in my office at home.
Alex is donating 20% of all sales of this print to Type 1 International, another charity I have written about a number of times, and supported financially.
You can see more artworks by Alex at her website, Diabetes by Design.

A week out from National Diabetes Week, and this piece has been sitting in my ‘to be published’ folder, just waiting. But the post-NDW exhaustion coupled with lockdown exhaustion, plus wanting to make sure that all my thoughts are lined up have meant that I haven’t hit the go button.

In the lead up to NDW I wrote this piece for the Diabetes Australia website. That piece was a mea culpa, acknowledging my own contribution to diabetes-related stigma and owning it. I also stand by my thoughts that the stigma from within the community is very real and does happen. 

But what I didn’t address is just where that stigma comes from. Those biases that many people with type 1 diabetes (and those directly affected by it) have towards type 2 diabetes come from somewhere, and in a lot of cases that is the same place where the general community’s bias about diabetes comes from. It is all very well for us to expect people with type 1 diabetes to do better, but I’m not sure that is necessarily fair. I think that we should have the same expectations of everyone when it comes to stamping out stigma. 

And so, to the source of stigma and, as I’ve said before, it comes from lots of places. As someone who has spent the last twenty years working in diabetes organisations, I know that the messaging my orgs like (and including) those that have paid my weekly salary has been problematic. I still am haunted by the ‘scary’ campaign from a few years ago that involved spiders, clowns, and sharks. (If you don’t remember that campaign, good. If you do, therapy works.)

For me personally, I don’t think much stigma I have faced has come at the hands of other PWD. Sure, there’s the low carb nutters who seem to have featured far too frequently on my stigma radar, however, the most common source of stigma has undoubtedly been HCPs. 

It’s not just me who has had this experience. The majority of what I have seen online as a response to experiences about stigma involves heartbreaking tales of PWDs’ encounters with their HCPs. 

While I will call out nastiness at every corner, and no stigma is good stigma, it must be said that there is a particular harm that comes when the origin of the stigma is the very people charged to help us. Walking into a health professional appointment feeling overwhelmed, scared, and frustrated only to leave still feeling those things, but with added judgement, shame and guilt is detrimental to any endeavours to live well with diabetes. In fact, the most likely outcome of repeated, or even singular, experiences like that is to simply not go back. And who could criticise that reaction, really? Why would anyone continually put themselves in a situation where they feel that way? I wouldn’t. I know that because I didn’t.

It’s one thing to see a crappy joke from a comedian who thinks they’re being brilliantly original (they never are) or the mundane, and almost expected, ‘diabetes on a plate’ throwaway line in a cooking show, but while these incidents can be damaging, they are very different to having stigmatising comments and behaviours directed at an individual as is often the case when it is from a HCP. 

Of course, HCPs aren’t immune to the bias that forms negative ideas and opinions about diabetes. In the same way that people with type 1 diabetes form these biases because those misconceptions are prevalent in the community, HCPs see them too. Remember this slide that I shared from a conference presentation? 

Slide from Jane Dickinson’s talk at ADA in 2019.

This came from student nurses. Just think about that. Students who were training to be HCPs who would inevitably be working with people with diabetes. A I wrote at the time:

‘They hadn’t even set foot on the wards yet as qualified HCPs. But somehow, their perceptions of people with diabetes were already negative, and so full of bias. Already, they have a seed planted that is going to grow into a huge tree of blaming and shaming. And the people they are trusted to help will be made to feel at fault and as though they deserve whatever comes their way.’

Is it any wonder that, with these attitudes seemingly welded on, that people with diabetes are experience stigma at the hands of their HCPs?

The impetus can’t only be on PWD to call this out. And the calls to fix stigma can’t exclusively rest on the shoulders of PWD – we already have a lot of weight there! It must come from HCPs as well – especially as there is such a problem with this group. Perhaps the first step is to see real acknowledgement from this group of their role here – a mea culpa from professional bodies and individuals alike. Recognising that no one is immune to the bias is a good step. Owning that bias is another. And then doing something about it – something meaningful – is how we make things better for people with diabetes. I really hope we see that happening. 

More about this:

Becoming an ally – how HCPs can show they’re really on our side. 

Ask a group of people with diabetes about their experiences of stigma, and for examples of the sorts of things they’ve heard and before long you’ll be able to compile a top ten list of the most commonly heard misconceptions that have contributed to diabetes having an image problem. When I’ve asked about this recently, the main perpetrators of these seemed to be healthcare professionals. More on that later this week. 

This year, in the Diabetes Australia National Diabetes Week campaign about diabetes-related stigma, two videos have been produced and they’re almost like a highlight reel of some of the stigmatising things people with diabetes hear. 

Let me tell you something I found really interesting. As part of the testing of these, I showed them to a heap of people with diabetes and a heap of people without diabetes. The reaction from people with diabetes varied from sadness (including tears), to anger and frustration, and mostly, recognition in everything they saw. 

The reaction from a number of people without diabetes was disbelief that this really happens. They simply couldn’t believe that people would be so insensitive; so cruel, so shaming. 

However, for so many people with diabetes, this is our reality. 

Here’s one of the two videos we produced. (You can watch the second one here.) Already, this is being shared widely in our own diabetes community. I’ve lost count of the places online I’ve seen this shared. Keep doing so, if you can. Because clearly, we need to get the message out to those without diabetes so they understand that not only is this sort of stigmatising behaviour harmful, but it is also horribly common. And it needs to stop. 

DISCLOSURE

I work for Diabetes Australia, and I have been involved in the development of the Heads Up on Diabetes campaign. I’ve not been asked to share this – doing so of my volition, because I think the messaging is spot on. The words here are my own, and have not been reviewed prior to publication.   

I don’t know too many people living with diabetes who haven’t experienced stigma. I know I certainly have. In twenty-three years of living with diabetes, it’s come from all directions: the media, healthcare professionals, work colleagues and even family and friends. That’s because people outside the diabetes community often have pre-conceived ideas about what diabetes is all about, and a lot of those ideas are plain wrong.

But stigma doesn’t only come from outside the community. In fact, for some people with diabetes, some of the most harmful and hurtful experiences of stigma has actually come from other people with, or affected by, diabetes. [Click here to read more…]

DISCLOSURE

This piece was published today on the Diabetes Australia website, and I wrote it as part of the organisation’s National Diabetes Week campaign on diabetes stigma. I work for Diabetes Australia, and am sharing this because I’ve chosen to – not because I’ve been asked to. The words here are my own, and perhaps the only thing missing from the published text is some of the decorative language I often use when speaking about diabetes-related stigma. Bottom line – all stigma sucks. Let’s #EndDiabetesStigma now.

Gosh, I love baking a cake! It’s excellent therapy, super relaxing and is one of my favourite stress busters. I can pretty much guarantee to turn out something that not only looks Instagram-pretty but will also taste divine. I’ve written before that one of the reasons I love baking so much is because it is the exact opposite of diabetes: I know precisely what I’m going to get when I follow the steps of the recipe, and know enough that when I’m making things up as I go along what works, what doesn’t and what will yield the best results. Which is the polar opposite of diabetes, where following a ‘recipe’ guarantees nothing but confusion, frustration, and a completely different result to yesterday, and making it up can mean winding up with a rollercoaster or a straight line on the CGM. No one knows. It’s a mystery. It makes no sense to anyone.

Not (any type of) diabetes on a plate.

Next week is National Diabetes Week here in Australia, and focus is going to be on diabetes-related stigma. I’ve spent a lot of time in recent weeks involved in the preparation of our campaign, listening to people with diabetes share their stories. You can check out this post on the Diabetes Australia Facebook page to see people sharing some examples of stigma they’ve experienced. It’s heartbreaking. It shouldn’t be happening.

I am very conscious that in the past I’ve probably contributed to stigma associated with type 2 diabetes. I’m horrified by it, and ashamed. I should have known better, and maybe if I’d bothered to learn from people with type 2 diabetes, I would have been more sensitive. When we blame and shame diabetes, we are blaming and shaming real people living with diabetes. I seemed to have forgotten that when I thought it was okay to demand that my diabetes was seen as the more serious diabetes, and that people make sure that they get my type of diabetes right.

And that brings me back to my cakes. And cakes in general. And comments about cakes. Especially comments about cakes being ‘diabetes on a plate’. They’re not. We all know that, right? And we all know that they are not any type of diabetes on a plate. Right?

Also not (any type of) diabetes on a plate.

And we know that when some idiot on a cooking show refers to a delectable, rich dessert as ‘diabetes on a plate’ that demanding clarification about ‘WhAt TyPe Of dIaBeTeS yOu MeAn’ is only contributing to the stigma. Right? 

Right?

Stigma sucks. It really does. It makes people just want to curl up and hide from others, and hide their diabetes. It makes people feel ashamed and guilty and, really, that’s just not fun at all. 

We don’t all need to love each other in the diabetes world – god knows that there are people who steer clear of me, and I am more than happy to return that favour – and we don’t need to align our advocacy efforts. But maybe we can all agree that all stigma associated with any type of diabetes is pretty nasty. That actually seems like a pretty simple thing upon which to agree.

Still not (any type of) diabetes on a plate.

More on this?

That time I wrote about this (and then a HCP misread it as me saying PWD don’t need to know what type of diabetes they have. It doesn’t say that…)

That time I owned my own shitty behaviour.

That time I wrote about how heavy diabetes stigma is.

Nope. Not (any type of) diabetes on a plate.

Last night, my gorgeous friend Andrea tweeted how she had seen someone wearing a CGM on the streets of Paris. When she rolled up her sleeve to show him her matching device, he turned and walked away. ‘Guess you can’t be best friends with every T1D’, she wrote. ‘Diabetes in the Wild’ stories have been DOC discussion fodder for decades – including wonderful stories of friendships being started by a chance encounter, and less wonderful stories such as Andrea’s most recent encounter. I was reminded of the many, many times pure happenstance of random diabetes connection has happened to me.

There was the time I was waiting for coffee and another person in line noticed my Dexcom alarm wailing, and the banter we fell into was so comfortable – as if we’d known each other forever! 

And that time that someone working the till at a burger flashed her CGM at me after seeing mine on my arm and we chatted about being diagnosed as young adults and the challenges that poses. 

Standing in line, queuing for gelato, is as good as any place to meet a fellow traveller and talk about diabetes, right? That’s what happened here.

And this time where I spotted a pump on the waistband of a young woman with diabetes, and started chatting with her and her mother. The mum did that thing that parents of kids with diabetes sometimes do – looking for a glimpse into her child’s future. She saw that in my child, who was eagerly listening to the exchange. But I walked away from that discussion with more than I could have given – I remember feeling so connected to the diabetes world in that moment, which I needed so much at the time.

I bet that the woman in the loos at Madison Square Garden wasn’t expecting the person who walked in at the exact moment she was giving herself an insulin injection to be another woman with diabetes. But yeah, that happened

I’ll never forget this time that I was milliseconds from abusing a man catcalling me out his car window, until I realised he was yelling out at to show me not only our matching CGMs, but also the matching Rockadex tape around it. My reaction then was ridiculous squealing and jumping up and down!

Airports have been a fruitful place to ‘spot diabetes’, such as the time my phone case started a discussion with a woman whose daughter has diabetes, except we didn’t really talk about diabetes. And the time another mum of a kid with diabetes was the security officer I was directed to at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. She was super relaxed about all my diabetes kit, casting her eyes over it casually while telling me about her teenage son with diabetes. 

The follow up to this time – where I introduced myself to the young mum at the next time who I overheard speaking about Libre, and saying how she was confused about how it worked and how to access it – but not really being all that sure about it, is that she contacted me to let me know that she’d spoken with their HCP about it, had trialled it and was now using it full time. She told me that managing diabetes with toddler twins was a nightmare, and this made things just a little easier. 

Sometimes, seeing a stranger with diabetes doesn’t start a conversation. It can just an acknowledgment, like this time at a jazz club in Melbourne.  And this time on a flight where we talked about the Rolling Stones, but didn’t ‘out ourselves’ as pancreatically challenged, even though we knew … 

But perhaps my favourite ‘Diabetes in the Wild’ story is one that, although I was involved, I didn’t write about. Kerri Sparling wrote about it on her blog, Six Until Me. Kerri was in Melbourne to speak at an event I was organising, and one morning, we met at a café near my work. We sat outside drinking our coffees, chatting away at a million miles an hour, as we do, when we noticed a woman at the next table watching us carefully. We said hi, and she said that she couldn’t help listening to us after she heard us mention diabetes. She told is her little girl – who was sitting beside her, and was covered in babycino – had recently been diagnosed. I will never forget the look on the mother’s face as two complete strangers chatted with her about our lives with diabetes, desperately wanting her to know that there were people out there she could connect with. I also remember walking away, hoping that she would be okay.

Five years later, I found out she was okay – after another chance encounter. I was contacting people to do a story for Diabetes Australia and messaged a woman I didn’t know to see if she, along with her primary aged school daughter would be open to answering some questions. Turns out, this was the woman from Kerri’s and my café encounter. She told me how that random, in the wild conversation made her feel so encouraged. She said that chance meeting was the first time she’d met anyone else with diabetes. And that hearing us talk, and learning about our lives had given her hope at a time when she was feeling just so overwhelmed. 

I know that not everyone wants to be accosted by strangers to talk about their health, and of course, I fully respect that. I also know there are times that I find it a little confronting to be asked about the devices attached to my body. But I also know that not once when I’ve approached someone, or once when someone has approached me has there been anything other than a warm exchange. I so often hear from others that those moments of accidental peer support have only been positive, and perhaps had they not, we’d all stop doing it. It’s a calculated risk trying to start a conversation with a stranger, and I do tread very lightly. But I think back to so many people in the wild stories – the ones I’ve been involved in, and ones shared by others – and I think about what people say they got out of them and how, in some cases they were life changing. A feeling of being connected. The delight in seeing someone wearing matching kit. The relief of seeing that we are so alone. The sharing of silly stories, and funny anecdotes. And in the case of that mum with a newly diagnosed little kid, hope.

Devices on arms make spotting diabetes in the wild a little easier. This beautiful design is from Jenna at @TypeOneVibes. Click to go to her Instagram page.

Today’s post is dedicated to Andrea whose tweet kicked off this conversation in the DOC last yesterday. Thanks for reminding me about all these wonderful chance meetings, my friend.

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