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Sam Seaborn : You wrote a concession?

Toby Ziegler : Of course I wrote a concession. You want to tempt the wrath of the whatever from high atop the thing?

Sam Seaborn : No.

Toby Ziegler : Then go outside, turn around three times and spit. What the hell’s the matter with you?

This is from a scene in an episode of the West Wing, one of my all-time favourite TV shows. It’s election night, and President Bartlet’s staff are waiting for the call to be made. His communication director, the ever-curmudgeonly Toby Ziegler, is admonishing his deputy, Sam Seaborn, for making any sort of prediction or assumption about the outcome of the election, even though the President is a shoo-in for his second term. 

I get it – the idea of jinxing things is one of those superstitions that many of us hold close. I believe in science and evidence and research and nothing else, but even so, I throw salt over my shoulder, tap the table (or my head) and say ‘touch wood’ anytime I predict or claim something positive is going to happen. 

This introduction is purely to lay the foundations for a lot of tapping on wooden doors and tables, throwing salt over my shoulder, wearing an evil eye charm, and making the ‘cornuto’ sign (Italians will know…) at my laptop at the end of each sentence, because I am sure that by the end of the week (if not sooner), this post will not have aged well at all.

But anyway, here goes…

COVID has made its way to Casa Diabetogenic. We’ve spent the last two years desperately doing all we could do avoid it, obsessively following health orders to the letter, being super cautious about being in crowds, amassing a huge collection of masks (and wearing them any time we left the house), and being a pin-up family for vaccinations, getting our jabs the minute we could, and boosted to boot. 

Despite that, COVID announced itself on Sunday morning after a round of RATs. In the olden days, we would go out to brunch. In the present days, we do a saliva test to see if we have the plague.

Two of the three inhabitants of the house were positive. The one with diabetes (me!) was not. And I remain that way (salt over shoulder) forty-eight hours later, (touch wood). 

The positive tests became hour zero and from then on, we were in full isolation mode. Aaron was confined to our bedroom, the kidlet to her own. If either of them need to leave their room for any reason, they send out an alert, and mask up, and wipe down any surface they’ve as much as looked at sideways, and empty half a can of Glen20 in their wake. 

I prep and deliver all food and drinks to rooms and am at the beck and call of the infirm. We Facetime each other throughout the day to chat and check in on symptoms. I bossily remind them to keep up fluids and eat the segmented oranges I’ve delivered to them. I am annoying myself, so can’t even being to imagine how much I’m annoying them. We haven’t been in the same room as each other at all, and only see each other in the flesh when we are eating meals in the garden – sitting away from each other, necessitating speaking in very loud voices, giving our poor neighbours unwanted insight into our conversations. 

It’s slightly absurd. Until those two lines appeared on those two tests on Sunday morning, we had been carrying on as normal and not giving a thought to needing to isolate from each other. I’d just gotten out of bed, a bed I’d been in for eight hours with my COVID positive husband lying right there. I’m pretty sure the night before I’d handed him my fork so he could have a taste of something I was eating. While we were super cautious about being around others, we didn’t for a second think that we needed to worry about our little unit. Home was meant to be a sanctuary. Now I’m trying to elude the little virus that could from inside our own home. It’s the shittiest game of dodgeball I’ve ever played. 

My anxiety has remained mostly in check. I’ve gone into fight mode as I desperately try to disinfectant spray any hint of the virus. I only care that my family is okay and not feeling too poorly or taking a turn for the worse in any way. I’m worried that they won’t recover easily and quickly. I can’t stop thinking about long COVID.

And then there are the flashes of terror (like the middle of the night when I’m lying awake) and I wonder how my body WILL behave when (if?) it gets COVID and then, for a few moments in the cover of darkness, I find myself becoming a statistic, explained away by my underlying condition. They’re the words that ring in my ears thanks to every single presser from the NSW government. It’s so bleak and terrifying in those moments, and all I can do is remind myself that even though there are no guarantees, I am doing all I can. 

I’m obsessively checking my CGM because if ever there was an early warning alarm system, it’s my glucose levels. It’s a reliable tell to let me know that an infection is brewing. Straight, steady, in-range numbers greet me in the mornings, insulin doses not needing to be superpowered by Loop to keep me that way. 

All the while, I’m trying to understand how it is possible that I remain COVID free (cornuto sign). Because that makes no sense at all. Other than to believe I am some sort of extraordinary, turbocharged powerhouse of immunity (I mean, the vaccines and boosters probably have something to do with it too…)

Friends and family keep checking in and I boast about how, for once, my broken body is being legendary. ‘Are we…superhuman,’ asks my friend Georgie who has also managed to remain COVID-free despite being exposed left, right and centre, even though her immune system and mine match in their hopelessness. (Georgie, I just waved my evil eye charm around for you.)

I have developed this ridiculous superiority complex that is bound to be my downfall. Is it possible that my stupid, fucked up, overactive immune system that hasn’t shown any reason for me to believe it knows what it’s doing and keeps killing off things it shouldn’t has decided to be overactive in the right way, destroying COVID as it’s tried to move in? Do I have an invisible protective shield around me that has transformed me into some sort of crusader, fighting the evil coronavirus and winning? (There is a small salt mountain now behind me. Also, I’m an idiot.)

But then I remember that pride comes before a fall, and that this body of mine and this immune system of mine are not the sharpest tools in the shed at the best of times. And that thinking, let alone writing for anyone to see, that perhaps I might escape this round of COVID is only going to come back to bite me. And I think that I really should listen to Toby Zeigler, because truly, the last thing I want to do is to tempt the wrath of the whatever from high atop the thing. Probably best I don’t hit publish in that case…

The West Wing

Christmas eve and Melbourne is turning it on. Gorgeous sunshine and divine mid-twenties temperatures. It seems perfect and would be if it weren’t for the C word’s new O variant that is looming heavily. I went to the Queen Vic Market this morning with my sister for our traditional oyster breakfast, and kept having to talk myself off the ledge of overwhelming anxiety at the thought of being amongst far more people than I’ve grown comfortable.

But amongst it all, Christmas is here. A huge jar of buttery shortbread stars sits on the kitchen counter, grabby hands reaching in anytime we walk by. Crostoli have been made, eaten and more made. The Christmas tree is decked and glittery, wrapped gifts strewn. There is freshly assembled tiramisu in the fridge, time doing its magic so that when it’s served up tomorrow, it will be a perfectly pillowy delight of coffee and mascarpone. There is lasagna ready for this evening’s small gathering here. Tomorrow will see another two family get togethers and Boxing Day will be the final of the family assemblies.

I feel oddly relaxed, which is lovely because often at this point of the game, I’m a stressed mess with a list the length of all the versus of the 12 Days of Christmas, wondering where I can still find wrapping paper, and hopeful that the local bookshop will still be open for those last minute presents I forgot.

And so, I’m signing off for a few weeks as I enjoy some time off, dappled sunshine to light my days, memories to be made with my beautiful family, a new kitten cuddle, pups to take to the park, friends to hang out with, including some I’ve not seen in two years who somehow miraculously booked tickets on flights that actually made it to Australia. There will be walks along the beach, afternoons languishing on the back deck with my Christmas books (presumptuous of me, but it’s a good bet), outdoor tables at cafes where I’ll sit for hours, alternating between hot and iced lattes, and lots of food. And as little time as possible dedicated to dealing with diabetes, because I am so lucky that Loop has been part of my life

Two years ago, I was wrapping up one of the busiest advocacy years I’d ever had. My passport had been stamped well over twenty times as I flew in and out of countries across the world, presenting, running workshops, sitting in ad board meetings, fighting the good fight. It was exhilarating, exhausting, exciting. And 2020 started off in the same way. Until the world changed. But the advocacy efforts haven’t stopped. In fact, this year was probably my busiest ever. 2022 is already shaping up to be just as involved as this year, more so probably. I’m already scared to look at some months on my calendar, as dates are filling fast. I wouldn’t want it any other way. But that’s next year.

Thanks to everyone who has stopped by this year. I’ve had the most gorgeous messages from people – words of support, asks for help, messages of solidarity. I’m always so grateful to people when they reach out. And I’m grateful to everyone who has taken the time to read my words. I’ve always said that hearing the stories of others helps me make sense of my own diabetes. I hope that perhaps my stories here have helped others in similar ways.

And so, there is only one thing left for me to do before I close my MacBook and let the battery run flat over the next couple of weeks. And that’s make a donation to Insulin for Life’s Secret Santa campaign. Thanks to everyone who has already donated to #IFLSecretSanta this year. Hundreds of dollars of donations followed my earlier post about it. If you’ve been meaning to make a donation, please do. It is truly one of the most important things you can do at this time of the year.

I’m dedicating my donation to diabetes friends who have been incredibly important to me over the last year. Peer support continues to be a cornerstone of my diabetes management – I can’t see that changing any time soon. And I can’t see a better way to say thank you to those who have helped me by supporting a charity that helps others with diabetes.

Icing sugar rain on freshly made crostoli.

Last year, facing the first Christmas in the times of COVID meant that for many people, celebrations were very different to other years. Our huge Italian family gatherings were put on hold because the idea of sharing food around a table, sitting in close proximity, and basically bringing together thirty or so loud Aussie-Italians, all shouting, because we all believe we need to be heard over everyone else, was considered not especially COVID-safe. Instead, we met in parks for catch ups, physically distanced and masked up. 

We also waived gift giving for the year. Instead, I made donations in the names of all my cousins’ kids, and for the Secret Santa gifts we (thankfully) didn’t have to buy. (I remain especially Grinch-like about this particular Christmas activity and you can read all about why here.)

Charities are continuing to do it tough. Not only are fewer people able to donate, but more and more people are relying on their services to get through. 

Insulin for Life is once again running its Secret Santa campaign and what a great way to share some love this festive season! All donations make a difference, but to give you an idea, if you can spare $5, you’ll be providing a week worth of diabetes supplies – insulin, syringes, and glucose strips – to someone with diabetes in an under-resourced country. 

There’s lots of information available on the Insulin for Life website, but this one statement certainly brings home just how dire the situation is for so many of our diabetes brothers and sisters around the globe: For every two people alive with type 1 diabetes, one person has died prematurely due to lack of basic care.

Let me just share that again: For every two people alive with type 1 diabetes, one person has died prematurely due to lack of basic care.

Even though I have been volunteering for years now for different diabetes-related charities that support people with diabetes in under-resourced countries, I haven’t become immune to feeling shock when I see the stark truth written out in such simple terms. 

Every single person can make a difference and improve the situation for people with diabetes in these situations. Donating is not possible for everyone, but there are other ways to help. If you are on social media, you can amplify the cause and share this blog post, or the donation link with a few words explaining how impactful donations can be (use the hashtag #IFLSecretSanta). You can organise a fundraiser at work, school or with friends – doing the legwork to make things like that happen are important and make a huge difference too. You could do a Facebook or Instagram fundraiser. You can pass a hat around at Christmas drinks and ask people to throw in any loose change they have. No amount is too small. Every contribution matters.

I was just chatting with some of the amazing people from the Insulin for Life team, and I was thrilled to hear donations are already coming in from the community. Of course, I’m not surprised. The diabetes community has always been amazing at giving back, as evidenced by the amazing efforts seen over the years with Spare a Rose. 

Insulin for Life’s Secret Santa campaign is just getting started. Last year was the first year, and the community stepped up. And in 2021, even after the absolutely horrendous year so many have had, there are people in the DOC showing up to support the campaign once again. That’s what this is all about. It’s what it’s always about. 

Please click on the image and donate if you can.

The very first time I ever saw or heard anyone speaking of an insulin pump was about 14 months after I was diagnosed. It was National Diabetes Week in July 1999, and I attended an event organised by Reality Check, and supported by Diabetes Vic. Reality Check was a support group of young adults with type 1 diabetes. I don’t remember much from the program at the event, but I do remember a woman called Cheryl Steele. Cheryl was living with type 1 diabetes, and she was sharing her story of using an insulin pump and how it had completely revolutionised her type 1 diabetes management. Three moments from Cheryl’s talk stood out for me: the first was that she was able to be more flexible with what she was eating, the second was that a pump gave her more flexibility with being able to sleep in. And the third was that she loved her pump so much that she threatened to cut the arms off anyone who tried to take it away from her. 

The first time I heard about CGM was years before we had the devices here in Australia. I read about them in online blogs and in support groups led by PWD in the US. I read stories about how this technology was changing the way the managed their diabetes in ways I could only imagine. I heard about Libre for the first time a number of years later when I met Claudio Pelizzeni at EASD, and he shared his experience of using the device as he travelled the world (without taking planes).     

The first time I heard about DIYAPS was at an informal lunch thrown by Medtronic (I think) in 2015 (I think) in Boston (I think). I’m sketchy about the details, but I do remember with great clarity that at the other end of the table was a woman called Dana Lewis who I had seen online and read about, and knew to be amazing, but not yet met in person. She was talking about…well, to be honest, at the time I had no idea what she was talking about. All I could see and understand was that she was doing something that sounded like science fiction. She had a number of devices linked together and there was something totally magical happening.

The first time I heard about Loop (the DIYAPS I went on to use) was on a rainy New York night in January 2017 at a pub in the financial district. I was having a drink with a friend and just as he was taking the first mouthful of his stout he said, ‘Hang on, I need to bolus’, and he pulled his phone from his pocket and pressed some buttons. ‘What the what?’ I asked and he proceeded to explain Loop, how it worked, how he’d woken at between 80 and 100 (4 & 5) every single morning for the three months he’d been using it, and how he was sleeping better than he ever had.

When it comes to technology, it has always been up to me to first raise discussions about different devices or options. After seeing Cheryl talking about her pump, I asked my endocrinologist about getting one and his opening line (and closing line, as it turned out) was ‘They kill people; I’ll never allow one of my patients to use one’. That was the last time I saw him, and I went on the hunt to find an endocrinologist who would support my choice. I started on CGM because I enrolled myself in a trial. I was given my first Libre at a blogger event. I cobbled together my DIYAPS after sourcing what I needed. As brilliant as my HCP team is, they have not been especially proactive about suggesting, or even introducing the idea of, different diabetes technologies. It’s been learning through others with diabetes that has set me on that road. 

When I talk about what peer support means to me, it goes beyond moral support and shared experience. It has been the driving force behind much of the way I choose to manage my diabetes. It has been the impetus for investigating if something new might be right for me. It has paved the way for me to start conversations with healthcare professionals to make access happen. 

Peer support is absolutely essential for the mutual understanding and the tips and tricks for making day-to-day diabetes easier. And I’ve always said that hearing others’ stories help make sense of my own. But it is about much, much more. I’ve detailed the ‘first times’ when it comes to tech, but there have been so many more moments – moments that have helped make that tech work for me in ways I’d not thought, and certainly not had discussed with me by HCPs. 

When I speak with newly diagnosed PWD I ask if they know others. I gently suggest that it may be a good thing to think about – not necessarily straight away, but certainly at some point. I can never repay the debt of gratitude I have for people who steered me in the direction to the tools that make my diabetes life that little bit easier, but I can do all I can to give back and try to do that every day.

Over the last two days (or last two middles of the night if you’re perpetually in the wrong part of the world as it seems I am), I participated in the excellent first World Health Organisation Global Diabetes Compact Forum. (You can read the Compact which was launched earlier this year here.)

Once again, the WHO team had brought together stakeholders, including diabetes advocates, from across the world to talk about some critically important challenges facing people living with diabetes. These included access to insulin, research and innovation and prevention, health promotion and health literacy. The Forum was definitely not a ‘sit and be lectured to’ event. It was interactive, with everyone having the opportunity to participate and share their experiences and perspectives. The chat function was open and there was a constant stream of engaging, energetic discussion and sharing. 

The final session was about prevention and in his introduction, James Elliot, who expertly moderated the event, laid the foundation for the discussion. As with the previous sessions, there were no pre-conceived ideas or narrow focus about the topic. 

Prevention isn’t just about prevention of type 2 diabetes. There is a lot of work also going on looking at prevention of type 1 diabetes. And also, once living with diabetes, looking to do what we can to prevent diabetes-related complications.

When I spoke, the first thing I wanted to highlight was the problem I feel with the word prevention, and I revisited previous discussions in which I’ve been involved which highlight the struggle I feel with the word prevention. For too many people it is a word that offers a promise – a promise which guarantees that we can prevent aspects of diabetes that are often well beyond our control. I presented my case for instead focusing on how reducing risk is a far more accurate description of what efforts are truly about, a perspective that I have noticed is being used more and more.

The discussion pivoted to being about complications and associated stigma. Thankfully, this is not the start of the conversation about diabetes-related complications and the way people see them. When I wrote this piece back in 2013, I wrote about the way complications were presented to people with diabetes and how non-modifiable factors such as genetics, are rarely part of the conversation. There seemed to be a very one-dimensional presentation of diabetes-related complications: ‘take care’ of yourself, and you won’t get them. 

With communication around complications starting to be included in the language matters movement, I could see that too many people had been told that over-simplistic tale. 

It all got taken up a very significant notch when there was a concerted effort in the DOC to encourage dialogue about diabetes-related complications in a non-judgemental and safe way. Suddenly, we were seeing the hashtag #TalkAboutComplications accompany people’s stories, or questions others might have. This led to a real shift, as more and more people shared their experiences, with many saying that it was the first time they had seen others being so open about what was often considered a taboo topic. Starting to peel away the shame and secrecy of what can be a scary part of life with diabetes allowed many people to seek support from peers and help from health professionals. 

The legacy of the #TalkAboutComplications idea is that is that there are far more conversations today about diabetes-related complications. There is also a plethora of blog posts, podcasts, journal articles and conference presentations about the topic. I know that there is still significant stigma that we need to chip away at, but actually being able to easily find places online where conversations about complications are normalised and being part of those conversations is contributing to reducing that stigma. 

The session at the Global Diabetes Compact Forum was terrific because it tied together diabetes-related complications and stigma. With the theme of access this World Diabetes Day, perhaps we need to think about what that means when it comes to diabetes-related complications. While we absolutely do need to think about all factors at play when it comes to the development of complications, we also need to acknowledge that access is a factor when it comes to outcomes. Access to the right information, including information about risk reduction, access to insulin, access to glucose monitoring devices, access to complications screening, access to early diagnosis and treatment, access to peer support, access to stigma-free treatment, access to mental health support…all these have the very real potential to influence outcomes. 

It’s been a while since my last diabetes in the wild encounter. It makes sense. I’ve barely left my house for the last 20 months and I’ve not really been frequenting the places where I would usually have those happenstance meetings – cafés and airports. Gosh, remember airports? Remember the queuing and the waiting and the frustrations and the delays and the cancellations? Anyway, I digress…

It shouldn’t surprise me that it was a café that provided the setting for my accidental encounter with another person with diabetes. I was working away, happy to not be in my house, even happier that someone kept bringing me outstanding caffeine. Happiest because I knew that every single other person sitting there was fully vaccinated. 

I was doing the sort of work I do best in a café – editing. I get into a zone, concentrate on the task, and just read and edit in a super-efficient and fixated way. I don’t get distracted by anyone around me, and the noise becomes a reassuring beat that I work to. I completely block out anything on around me. 

Including the fall rate alert on my Dexcom app. Anyone who uses Dexcom knows that this is a particularly urgent, loud and unforgiving wail. It cuts through absolutely everything. I absentmindedly nodded in the general direction of my phone when I heard it, but didn’t make a move as I was totally focused on rewriting a particularly sticky sentence. (Probably like every bloody sentence in this post…) 

And so, I didn’t notice a woman sitting nearby get up from her chair and walk in my direction. I didn’t notice her stop right at my table. In fact, it wasn’t until she cleared her throat and said ‘Excuse me’ that I looked up, realising there was someone right there. She was fixing her mask behind their ears at the moment I looked up at her, my eyes focusing away from my MacBook. I blinked a few times and smiled, and then reached for my own mask before realising it was already on my face. I exaggerated my smile, so I was smiling with my eyes. 

There was a slightly awkward moment as I waited, because, look, I’ve forgotten how to engage with people. I probably should have said ‘hi’, but I’ve really lost the art of chatting with people. How do conversations start? So, I was thankful when she introduced herself. And then she asked, ‘Are you okay? I heard your Dexcom a couple of times. I just wanted to check you are okay.’

And that was how I broke my streak of having conversations about diabetes with other people with diabetes I’ve never met before. 

Turns out, I’ve missed it. Really, missed it.

We spoke for a while, sharing the usual things, comparing notes about which HCPs we see, and talking about which tech we are using. She is about to start looping, so I answered a heap of questions, remembering that I need to not be too evangelical and gushy about it. I toned down my ‘It’s the best thing I’ve ever done for my diabetes’ (because it is) by adding ‘But, of course it’s a learning curve and can be tricky.’

We told self-deprecating stories about how crappy our attitudes to diabetes have been at different periods. We shared our Covid-19 vaccination stories and compared when we’d be getting boosters. And we spoke about how we felt every time diabetes was mentioned in connection to Covid-19. 

Through it all my Dexcom kept squealing and I ignored it because I just wanted to slurp up a diabetes conversation with someone in real life, where all we really had in common was diabetes. It felt like a therapy session, a confession, and catching up with a long-lost friend all in one fifteen-minute encounter. 

When our conversation ended, she turned to return to her seat, and I settled back, searching for the sentence I’d been working on. But before I could do that, she turned back towards me and said, ‘I read your blog. I’ve seen you here before…well, used to see you here before Covid…and I wanted to say something. It’s really lovely knowing that there is someone like me who comes here.’ 

And then I cried. Because I remembered just what it is to connect. How real it feels. It’s why I started this blog in the first place – because I wanted to meet others just like me. Well over ten years of writing about diabetes, twenty years of diabetes advocacy, and that feeling of connecting never gets old.

Lots more diabetes in the wild stories on this blog post from earlier this year.

Gosh, there’s lots in the #DOC-iverse (#DOC-osphere?) about seeing diabetes, isn’t there? Yes, yes there is. Not sure about you, but I seem to be seeing a lot of bright, shiny, happy people (and a pop star or model or two) talking about diabetes, when usually they are pretty quiet about the whole diabetes thing. Which is fine. No one needs to spend their time advocating all about diabetes every minute of the day. 

But I wonder if any of the marketing boffins who threw together their messages of inspiration bothered to check to see what the International Diabetes Federation are up to for World Diabetes Day on 14 November. Afterall, that’s the showstopper event of the month, isn’t it? Celebrating the birthday of the bloke who I give thanks to every day for keeping me alive.

A bit of history about World Diabetes Day to help understand that it’s not just about privileged folks with diabetes showing off their high-tech gadgets strapped to their impossibly beautiful bodies. (And yes, I know I sound like the Grinch who stole World Diabetes Day, but I think that understanding the foundation of this day is kind of important because that all seems to get swallowed up in PR spin.)

World Diabetes Day means something. In 2006, it became an official United Nations Day thanks to United Nations Resolution 61/225. At the time it was one of only two official UN health days. But even before that, World Diabetes Day had been going on for some time. It was in 1991 that the IDF, together with the World Health Organisation, created World Diabetes Day in response to growing concerns about diabetes. 

Over the last thirty years, World Diabetes Day themes have aimed to be inclusive of people from around the globe, but perhaps there has been a (necessary) focus on how to improve diabetes outcomes for people in under-resourced countries. Maybe that’s why I find it a little galling when it appears that the day is about showing off your latest diabetes kit or shouting to the globe about how diabetes doesn’t stop people reaching their dreams. I love positivity and I’m often accused of being far too Pollyanna for my own good, but having a good look beyond our own privilege is important if we’re trying to get across a global idea of what is going on in the world of diabetes.

This year the theme is ‘Access to care: if not now, when?’. The World Diabetes Day website is full of resources that explain the theme. There are materials you can share to help explain just what access means to different people. 

It all seems to be a little bit of a throwback to community initiatives of the past. The diabetes community has been the creators of some absolutely stellar campaigns – ideas that seem to have been founded in similar frustrations about which I’m smashing on my keyboard today. In 2014 there was a campaign that asked us to ‘Put the World back in WDD’ which was in response to there being a very Western focus on World Diabetes Day. Sometimes it feels that some things never change. The #Insulin4All hashtag that was first used to highlight how people in under-resourced countries struggle to access insulin is now most often linked with insulin pricing in the US.

Access means different things to different people, and the materials the IDF has put together consider this. Even if you live in a well-resourced country, with decent subsidised, tax-payer funded (never free!) healthcare, it’s likely that some part of your diabetes care is still difficult to access. It may not be insulin or diabetes supplies that are your access issue – it could be mental health support or different tech solutions.

Here in Australia, thanks to Medicare, the PBS and the NDSS, we have well-subsidised diabetes care. It’s not perfect, but it is certainly better than I hear from friends in other places around the world. But there definitely are still deficiencies in our care. Mental health care is limited – and almost impossible, it seems, to access. Only 50% of people with type 1 diabetes can access subsidised CGM and Flash GM through the NDSS. People in rural and remote areas of the country have far more difficulty accessing quality, regular diabetes care. The outcomes for Indigenous Australians with diabetes fall far behind. As always, people who are disadvantaged in some way are disproportionately affected, and face more difficulties accessing the care they need.  

How you choose to celebrate (or not) this month and World Diabetes Day is entirely up to you. You may choose to ignore the ‘official’ theme of the day and focus more on other initiatives and once again, all perfectly okay. Just as YDMV, so may your diabetes advocacy. 

But if you are interested in focusing more on access, have a look at the World Diabetes Day website and pledge your support for greater access to diabetes care. Read about the Resolution that was adopted by United Nations Member States that calls for urgent, coordinated global action on diabetes. 

Look, I know. UN Resolutions don’t sound nearly as sexy as a six pack with a CGM plastered to it, but it is pretty cool that the WHO and the UN are talking diabetes. 

And while celebrating the centenary of insulin, learn where insulin is not easy to come by, and why that is. Through volunteer work supporting both Life for a Child and Insulin for Life, I have learnt a lot about the challenges faced by people with diabetes in under-resourced countries. If you can, please consider making a donation this month to either, or both, charities. 

And if looking to the community, it’s wonderful to know that there will be a docday° event on World Diabetes Day that is dedicated to the theme of access. You can learn more about that event here. It’s free to join, and will be live streamed on Facebook – you don’t even need to sign up.

But perhaps a final thought. How great would it be if those with really, massively high followings, (and followings not-only-in-the-diabetes-community), used this time to talk about making a real difference – a difference to people with diabetes who are struggling to access the basic drugs and supplies to actually live with the condition. 

Sure, ‘seeing diabetes’ helps raise awareness, but as ever, I ask how much of that actually cuts through and gets out of the community that is already seeing diabetes every single minute of every single day? 

A poster from the IDF World Diabetes Website. (Click image to be taken to site.)

I shared this photo to Twitter the other day:

I couldn’t care less if there are diet books on bookshelves at bookshops. Clearly there is a buck to be made with the latest fad diet, and so, diet scammers gonna scam and publishers gonna publish. 

What I do care about is the framing that health is limited to weight loss and dieting. 

Living with diabetes has the potential to completely screw up the way food, weight and wellbeing coexist. My own disordered thinking has come from a multitude of different sources. I know that even before diabetes I had some pretty messed up ideas about weight loss and my own weight, but once diagnosed all bets were off and that thinking went haywire! I know it didn’t help when, in the days before diagnosis as I was feeling as though I was slowly dying, someone effusively told me how amazing I looked after having lost some weight that I really didn’t ‘need’ to lose. And look at that! A little weight bias in there already as I talk about ‘not ‘needing’ to lose weight’. 

I remember that afternoon very clearly. It was Easter Sunday and my whole family was at my grandmother’s house. I’d had a blood test the morning before because I’d gone to my GP with a list of symptoms that these days I know to be ‘The 4 Ts’. (In hindsight, why she didn’t just do a urine check or, capillary blood check, I don’t know.) I was feeling awful and scared. I knew something was wrong, and suspected it was diabetes. 

But there I was, literally slumped on the floor against the heater (at my grandmother’s feet) because it was the only place I could feel any warmth at all. Sitting opposite me was a family member who felt the need to tell me how amazing I looked because I’d dropped a few kilos. I could barely see her across the room because my vision was blurry, but hey, someone told me I looked skinny. Wonderful!

That road to further screwing up my thought processes about weight and diabetes was pretty rocky and I was on it. I learnt that thing that we know, but we don’t talk about anywhere enough routinely, and that is that high glucose levels equal weight loss equals compliments about losing weight. (We don’t talk about it because there’s not enough research, but also because in the past a lot of HCPs have gatekept discussions about it because they think that by talking about insulin omission or reduction for weight loss will make people do it. Sure. And sex education for school-aged kids is a bad thing because by NOT talking about sex, teenagers don’t have sex. End sarcasm font.)

It has taken years of working with psychologists to undo that damage – and the damage that diabetes has piled on. I employed simple measures such as stopping stepping on scales and using that measure as a way to determine how ‘good’ I was being. As social media became a part of everyday life, I curated my feeds to ensure I was not bombarded with photos that showed a body type that generally is only achievable when genetics and privilege line up. I learnt to not focus on my own weight and certainly not on other people’s weight, never commenting if someone changed shape. I did all I could to reframe how I felt about different foods, because demonising foods is part of diabetes management.  

I was determined to parent in a way that didn’t plant in my daughter’s head the sorts of seeds that had sewn and grown whole crops in my own. While a noble ambition, I realise I was pretty naïve. Sure, we absolutely never talk weight at home, we never have trashy magazines in the house celebrating celebrities’ weight loss or criticising their weight gain. I’ve never uttered the words ‘I feel fat’ in front of my daughter even when I hate absolutely everything I put on my body. Food is never good or bad, and there is no moral judgement associated with what people eat. But the external messaging is relentless and it’s impossible to shield that from anyone. All I could do is provide shelter from it at home and hope for the best. 

But despite doing all I can to change my way of thinking and changing my own attitudes and behaviours, it takes a lot of work…and I find myself slipping back into habits and not especially healthy ways of thinking very easily. 

Which brings me to my favourite bookshop over the weekend and standing there in front of the health section. I was looking for something to do with health communications, or rather, the way that we frame life with a chronic health condition like diabetes. I wondered if there was anything that spoke not about ‘how to live with a chronic health condition’ but rather ‘how to think with a chronic health condition’. I didn’t want to read more about what to do to fix my body; I wanted to find out how to help focus my mind and love my body. But there was nothing. Nothing at all. 

Instead, there were shelves and shelves of books about losing weight, dieting, fasting, ‘cleansing’ (don’t get me started) and then more on fad diets.

When I tweeted the photo, one of my favourite people on Twitter, Dr Emma Beckett (you should follow her for fab fashion and fantastic, fun food facts), mentioned that it is a similar story in the ‘health food’ aisles of the supermarket, where there seems to be a focus on calorie restriction.

How has the idea of being healthy been hijacked by weight loss and diets? How has the idea that restricting our food, limiting nutrients, and shrinking our bodies equates health?

How did we get so screwed up at the notion that thin means healthy; that health has a certain look? Or that dieting means virtue? How is it that when we see diabetes represented that it so often comes down to being about weight loss and controlling what we eat, as if that will solve all the issues that have to do with living with a chronic condition that seeps into every single aspect of our lives?

It takes nothing for those disordered thoughts that are so fucking destructive, thoughts that I have spent so long trying to control and manage and change, to come out from under the covers and start to roar at me. Diabetes success and ‘healthy with diabetes’ seems to have a look and that look is thin. (It’s also white and young.) 

Health will never just be about what someone weighs. And yet, we keep perpetuating that myth. I guess that steering away from the health section of bookstores is selfcare for me now. Because as it stands, it just sends me into a massive spin of stress and thinking in a way that is anything but healthy. 

Last week’s Diabetes Australia Language Matters Global Summit was a terrific, snack-sized event that packed a lot into (just over) an hour. An absolutely stellar panel including Greg Johnson, Jane Speight, Partha Kar, Stephanie Haack, Nina Tousch and Tim Skinner made for an interesting, hopeful, encouraging and enjoyable discussion. I’m really proud of the way we were able to bring together people with diabetes, clinicians and researchers, offering different perspectives and ideas about why language matters.

During the event, Diabetes Australia launched our latest Language Matters Position Statement – ten years and one month after we launched our first. You can find it here.

If you missed the Summit, you can watch below.

Disclosure

I work at Diabetes Australia. I was involved in organising this event and hosted the panel discussion. I’m sharing this because I am choosing to.

NOTE

I work at Diabetes Australia. It is important for me to highlight this because I am writing about a TV show that has not been especially complimentary to that organisation. That is not why I’m writing though. I’m not here to defend or respond to the claims made about

Diabetes Australia. This post is about the way the story of type 2 diabetes is being told in the series. 

However, I think that it is important to highlight the lens through which I am watching this show and consider that bias. I think it is also important to consider that my position about stigma, blame and shame and type 2 diabetes has been consistent for a long time. 

This post not been reviewed by anyone at Diabetes Australia. As always, my words and thoughts, and mine alone. 

___________________________________________

It will come as no surprise to most people that when Diabetes Australia launched a new position statement about type 2 diabetes remission, there was a section on language when speaking about this aspect of type 2 diabetes management. There is also this point: ‘People who do not achieve or sustain remission should not feel that they have ‘failed’.’ 

Language matters. I wrote about my own concerns about how we talk about type 2 diabetes remission in a post a couple years ago. I am not saying that we shouldn’t be talking about it, or helping people understand what remission is, but I am saying that the way we talk about it must be considered. Because adding more blame and shame to people serves only to further contribute to the burden of living with the condition.

Unfortunately, the same consideration has not been given to a new show on SBS, grandly called ‘Australia’s Health Revolution’. The three-part show is presented by Dr Michael Mosley and exercise physiologist Ray Kelly, with the aim to show that type 2 diabetes remission is achievable with a low-calorie diet. Eight Australians with type 2 diabetes, or pre-diabetes are there as ‘case studies’.

This post is likely to draw criticism from some, and I accept that. But I will point out that it is not actually a commentary on whether remission of type 2 diabetes is achievable or sustainable for people with type 2 diabetes. I am a storyteller and a story listener, and I hear stories from people who say that they have achieved remission and others who haven’t. In the spirit of YDMV, I’m going to say that there is no one size fits all, and that this is a super complex issue. 

This post also isn’t a commentary on the struggles some people with type 2 diabetes face when trying to find a HCP who will support them to aim for remission using a low calorie and/or low carb diet. I think that my position on that is abundantly clear – if your HCP isn’t supporting your management decisions, find a new HCP. 

What this is about is how a TV show being shown at prime time is presenting type 2 diabetes, and what is being missed.

Michael Mosley is a TV doctor from the UK who has written books about low calories diets. I probably should be wary to say anything that isn’t glowing praise for the good doctor, because last time I dared do that on TV I was fat shamed. Of course, I wrote about it. Read it here. I know people who diligently follow his 5:2 or low-calorie eating plans and say it has greatly helped them and is terrific for their health. To those people, I say ‘Fantastic!’. Finding something that works is a challenge, and if you’ve found that and you are enjoying it and it’s sustainable for you, brilliant. Anything that improves someone’s health and makes them feel better should be celebrated!

I have no comment to make about Michael Mosley’s diets or the fact that he is selling something – books and a subscription diet plan. But I do have a lot to say about the way he is presenting type 2 diabetes. He is treating type 2 diabetes like an amusement park ride. He started in the first episode by sharing that he was going to ‘Put his body on the line eating a ‘fairly typical Australian diet’ … of ultra-processed food, to see if it pushes his blood sugar into the diabetes range.’ He then had baseline bloods and other metrics taken. 

The food Michael Mosley claims to be typically Australian bears no resemblance to the foods that I eat, that I grew up eating, that I cook, that any of my friends or family eat. But, unlike Mosely, I’m checking my privilege right here, and acknowledging that living in inner-city Melbourne with the means to buy fresh foods whenever I want or need and having an excellent knowledge of food and health, plus the time to make things from scratch (something I greatly enjoy doing) means that I am in a different situation to many people whose circumstances don’t mirror mine. 

I don’t judge what other people eat, and I don’t apply moral judgements to food. I consider what it costs to put food on the table, and food literacy. Plus, I am learning about how we have simply used the term ‘cultural groups’ to point to higher rates of type 2 diabetes in people of certain backgrounds is a lazy, get-out-of-jail-free card that doesn’t examine important factors such as food availability, poverty, education and history. 

I understand that while for some people, walking to the local market is easy and affordable shopping, others are at the mercy of what is on the shelves of their local supermarket. It is not as simple as saying stop eating processed foods when, for some people, that is all they have access to, or to tell people to cook for themselves where they have never been taught. These systemic considerations have not been addressed so far in the TV show, and without doing so, only half the story is being told. 

And mostly, I understand that there are genetics at play – massively. 

These are not excuses. These are factors that need to be mentioned and considered, because without doing so, we are presenting this as a simple, mindless issue and anyone who doesn’t put their type 2 diabetes into remission has only themselves to blame. 

Mosley ate his ‘typical’ Aussie diet for three or so weeks and when he had those same checks run to compare against his baseline, he found that his weight had gone up, as had his blood pressure, glucose levels, cholesterol etc. 

Now, if you are thinking you have seen all this before and jumped into a time machine and been taken back to 2004, you would be correct. We saw it first in 2004 when Morgan Spurlock entertained us with his documentary, ‘Super Size Me’. And then again in 2015 with Damon Gameau’s film ‘That Sugar Film’. There is nothing new about privileged white men eating the ‘foods of the poor’ and showing that their health has taken a hit. 

Michael Mosley then started eating a low-calorie diet to show just how quickly and simply his weight dropped, and other metrics moved back to within target range. 

Thankfully, alongside Mosley is Ray Kelly, and I am so, so grateful that he is there, because he leaves the sensationalist schtick behind to focus on the people and their stories, working to help them set achievable goals. He replaces Mosley’s melodramatic with compassion, simplicity with conversations about the complexity of diabetes, and privilege and assumptions with a genuine acknowledgement of the challenges – the social, generational, cultural, psychological challenges – faced by the people with diabetes and prediabetes on the show. 

When watching the show last night, my daughter said, ‘Is this like ‘The Biggest Loser’ on SBS?’. I smiled but pointed out that the difference is Ray Kelly. In this show, he is working with Lyn, a woman who is trying to lose weight. Lyn has decided she wants to climb a hill in her area. If it was ‘The Biggest Loser’, they would have tied a truck tire around her waist and made her climb to the top of the hill, with Michelle Bridges screaming at her while she was doing it. But here, Ray marked out the first challenge – a 50 metre there and back walk, to be increased to 75m the next day, knowing every step is one more than the day before. 

The big piece missing for me in this television series the absence of any sort of mental health professional (perhaps this will be included in the final episode?). Diabetes is never just about numbers. It’s never just about what we eat, or the medication we take, and it’s never just about what we weigh.  Addressing behavioural change must be part of this discussion if change is to be sustained. In an interview he did for the show, Mosley says ‘Anxiety also encourages people to eat more’. And yet, at no point has anxiety or any other mental illness and its impact into type 2 diabetes and obesity been discussed. 

Should we be speaking about type 2 diabetes remission? YES! Of course we should, especially as there is a growing body of evidence helping us to understand more and more about it. But we need to be doing it better than we’re seeing here. I don’t know Ray Kelly (expect for a couple of encounters on Twitter), but I feel that his approach is what we need more of. We certainly don’t need sensationalism and blame and shame. And please, we don’t need more stigma. 

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