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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

I generally don’t do my best work at 2am. I’m just not the spring chicken I used to be, and being awake, engaging and remotely coherent when I am usually in the middle of some decent REM sleep is a big ask these days. 

But living in Australia, and wanting to remain as active as possible in global diabetes work and activities has meant that I have had to suck it up and learn to get on with it. I’ve become expert at stealthily getting up about so as not to wake my family, moving like a ninja about the house. I make a pot of tea, have hypo supplies handy, and layer on red lipstick to create the illusion of being alert and awake, completely together and impossibly glamourous (I fear I am only fooling myself) before settling into do whatever it is that I am needed to do in the wee hours. 

Last night, it was a 1.30am call for a 2am event. I’d snuck in a couple of hours sleep ahead of the rude alarm that woke me. When I logged onto the event platform, I still had my ‘morning voice’ on, but the hot tea helped lubricate – and wake up – my vocal cords. Thankfully I was only required to speak and not sing an opera. (Silver linings!)

But despite grumbling about the hour, I’m glad I did it. Because the following couple of hours was a discussion about hypoglycaemia that combined lived experience stories from people with diabetes, peer support, all articulated with fabulous input from clinicians and researchers.  It really was an exercise in how to put together an online diabetes event! 

The event was the Lilly Hypo Summit, and I co-hosted with Bastian Hauck who is an absolute pro in any hosting seat. When I was asked to be involved, I had visions of a very staged and scripted event. I have worked with industry enough to understand that their compliance rules often means that events are required to be defined to the nth degree with all content being scrutinised by legal eyes, leaving little room for spontaneity or free discussion. How could we possibly get the true experience of hypos across if we were constrained by needing to stick within a pre-planned programme? I mean, hypos don’t do that, so discussions about them surely shouldn’t have to – and simply couldn’t if we were to do it justice. 

Amazingly, we managed to put together an engaging and somewhat impulsive and free-formed event with full support from the global engagement team. They trusted the PWD who were shaping the event enough to understand that what we were trying to do was be respectful to the people telling their stories by not in any way censoring them. Plus we promised no one would throw caution to the wind, and talk about replacing their traditional diabetes management with bathing under a full moon and dancing to the beat of an inner drum (or something), which considering last night was a full moon, was a pretty important promise to make. We created a space for PWD to share their stories and highlight the incredibly complex challenge that is hypoglycaemia, and we punctuated those stories with research and clinical advice. 

I knew that it was going to be a good event, because the speakers were remarkable. When it was over, I had dozens and dozens of messages from people congratulating me on my hosting, but there is a secret that I feel I should share. Hosting is impossibly easy when you are interviewing brilliant people. And it was programme overflowing with brilliant people. The PWD who spoke had fascinating tales to tell, and told them in wonderfully disarming ways. I’d not met them all and it was great to be just as surprised as the audience when hearing their stories. And then we had two remarkable researchers who I respect greatly, and I know to be incredible communicators.

I really want to write more about what was discussed at the event, and will try to do that in upcoming posts, but for now, I just want to share this world cloud. We asked people to describe their hypos in one word. I’ve done exercises like this before and they never, ever reveal the same words. This is what the group came up with last night:

But to finish this post, I want to ask the question that one of last night’s HCPs, Pratik Choudhary, from the Leicester Diabetes Centre in the UK, asked us: ‘Do you see hypos as a slope or a cliff face?’ I can’t stop thinking about this, because I’ve never been asked about hypos this way, but it makes so much sense to consider them in this context. Of course, there are so many factors at play, but this either / or scenario does perfectly capture the in-the-moment way that I feel about hypos. I wonder what you might think about your hypos. Does it fit in here, or is it something completely different?

DISCLOSURE

I was an advisor to Lilly Diabetes for the Hypo Summit. I have been paid for my time. I have not been asked to write anything about the summit, but am sharing because there was so much amazing content at the event. No one has reviewed this post prior to publication. 

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.

Last night, all tucked up in my study at home, I participated in my eleventh (I think?) #docday° event. (A refresher: #docday° is a place for diabetes advocates from the diabetes community to come together, meet, mingle and share the work they are doing. The first #docday° was in a tiny, overheated backroom of a cafe in Stockholm that served outstanding cardamom buns. It coincided with EASD that year. After that, the events were moved to rooms at the conference centre where the diabetes meeting is being held, and an invitation is open to anyone and everyone attending, including HCPs, researchers and industry reps. I’ll link to previous pieces I’ve written about #docday° events past at the endow today’s post.)

The first #docday° for 2020 heralded in a new phase. It was at ATTD in Madrid, #dedoc° voices had been launched and that meant that there were even more PWD at the conference, attending #docday° and sharing their diabetes advocacy stories. All #dedoc° voices scholarships had been awarded to advocates from Europe because the budget wasn’t huge, and didn’t extend to flying in and accommodating people from other continents.

And then, the world changed, and flying and accommodating people at diabetes conferences didn’t matter anymore. And that meant that we could open up the scholarship program to people outside of Europe, and provide people from other parts of the world with registration to attend the EASD and ISPAD conferences. It means that mine wasn’t the only Aussie accent heard at #docday°. And it meant that people from further afield found their way to a seat at the table. These advocates – like the others I’d heard before them – were remarkable and doing remarkable things. I think perhaps the thing that has linked everyone who has been involved – wherever they are from – is their determination and desire to make things happen. It’s a common thread – that hard work and not expecting anyone to hand us opportunities that stands out.

A few years ago there was a discussion during a tweetchat about diabetes and advocacy, in particular about getting involved in advocacy efforts. In response to one of the questions posed – something do with how to get more people involved in advocacy – someone said something along the lines of ‘If someone gave me an opportunity to be an advocate, I’d take it.’ I remember being absolutely flabbergasted by that tweet, because, in my experience, that’s not how advocacy works. When I think of all the people who are visible in the diabetes advocacy space (and probably many that are not all that visible) no one was ‘given an opportunity to be an advocate’. It reminded me of the very first bloggers summit I went to at EASD in Berlin in 2012. As is usually the case when there are a group of PWD at an event together, there were questions online, asking why those people were there. Someone pointed out that it was a group of bloggers – people with diabetes who write and share their experiences about diabetes – and someone who was rather annoyed at not being invited said ‘Well, I’d like to have been invited. I don’t have a blog or write or anything, but I’d still like to be invited.’ Even then, relatively new to this all, I remember thinking ‘That’s. Not. How. This. Works’.

While no one is handing out ‘opportunities to be an advocate’, #dedoc° voices is helping in other ways. The program is open to everyone, and takes care of many of the barriers that make attending difficult. No one needs an invitation, or to be involved in a diabetes organisation, or work with industry, or to be invited. Every single person who is part of the diabetes community is welcome to apply. And if you are successful, you are given an opportunity to speak at #docday°. Actually, EVERYONE is welcome to speak at #docday°! Again, it’s just a matter of contacting the team and letting them know you are doing some great work that benefits your community.

At last night’s #docday°, I was (as I always am) in awe at what people are achieving and what they are doing. Tino from Zimbabwe is one of the most amazing advocates I’ve ever come to see, working alongside his local diabetes organisation to improve access to education in his country and beyond. Nupur, Snehal and Rohan from Blue Circle Diabetes Foundation in India are running a NFP, raising diabetes awareness with just one example of their work being a hotline they’ve set up to provide psychosocial support for PWD. And Sadia from Meethi Zindagi spoke about all the work the organisation is doing, with a special focus on the health needs of women with diabetes. We heard from Ines who built and grew a program that supports kids with diabetes to participates in sports, and Delphine who started and runs a club specialising in supporting runners and walkers with diabetes. Both women are from France and their talks last night made me put my runners today and beat the pavement around my neighbourhood! Still in France, Leonor and Nina spoke about one of the more recent additions to the #LanguageMatters movement with their new position statement.

There were others, but instead of reading about them here, why don’t you watch them. The video from the whole event is available for you to watch. I know you’ll be inspired. And I hope that if you have something you want to share you’ll think about joining in next time!

More about #docday°

docday° at EASD 2016

docday° at EASD 2017

docday° at EASD 2018

#docday° at EASD 2019

Disclosure

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 ATTD 2021. Thanks to the Tadej Battelino and the ATTD team for making this possible to press accredited folks.

There have been a number of times here on this blog and in other online platforms that I have been critical about the low carb community. Actually, let me be more specific. I have been critical of the response from certain corners of that community, particularly the corners that are free with their fat shaming, and accusing people with diabetes who choose not to eat low carb as not caring about their health, and attacking others for daring to suggest that there could possibly be more than one way to eat. This has come from a long list of incidents I’ve either seen or have been involved in, such as the time I was fat shamed for saying that intermittent fasting is great for some, but not for everyone, and the time that people in the LC community got angry at the idea of saving the lives of children with diabetes from developing countries

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised really at what happened earlier this week just before I published a post on diabetes and menopause. As I often do, I look to the community for others’ experiences. And so, I tweeted (and shared on Facebook) this:

The responses were many and great. One aspect of the generosity of the DOC is the willingness and openness to share not only experiences, but to offer tips and tricks for what has worked for them. I’ve always found that so amazing, especially when addressing issues that are considered a little taboo. Menopause is one of those issues. But even so, there were so many replies from people who have either gone through menopause, or started to think about it. 

And then, out of the blue, came a reply from a nutritionist. A nutritionist I have never encountered before. I don’t follow him on Twitter, I have no idea who he is. Which is all fine. My Twitter is public and if I ask a question everyone is free to offer their input. Here is his reply:

I replied that I am not a healthcare professional. And then came this:

Followed by this from me:

(I’m not going to share anymore of the tweets in what turned out to be a rather long back and forward thread, but if you click on any of the tweets above you will be able to find the whole mess.)

He kept going, demanding to know why I am critical of low carb diets and health professionals who promote them (which he apparently had deduced from reading through my Twitter feed). I’m not. Which is what I repeatedly tweeted to him in responses to his continued demands that I explain my stance on diets and diabetes, and, as a healthcare professional, I must stop giving ‘personality-driven healthcare advice’. I reminded him that, a) I am not a HCP (which I had already stated), and, b) I share my experiences, not give advice. He helpfully suggested that my blog posts read that way. 

I had asked about menopause. I asked people with diabetes who had either been through menopause, were going through it now, or thinking about going through it. I asked whether it had been a topic of conversation with their HCPs. 

This bloke – who doesn’t have diabetes and has never experienced menopause – had nothing to offer, other than attacking me for my choices. And my choice is that I believe in choice. 

It’s not okay for a healthcare professional to enter into a discussion with a person with diabetes seeking peer support, and telling them what it is that they do and don’t do in that community. I am so over this sort of paternalism in healthcare. I’m over HCPs bullying their way into our community and trying to shape it into what they want. 

I’d also add that a man hijacking a conversation started by a woman about menopause is pretty shitty behaviour. I’m also over misogyny and the way male healthcare professionals centre themselves in discussions that are not about them. It happens all the time. It happened on Monday.

A tweet about menopause. And not even about food and menopause! It sounds somewhat ridiculous really. I don’t look for this sort of reaction, and I certainly have never baited anyone from the LC community. I don’t post photos of high carb meals accompanied by a ‘dare you to say something’ comment. (But I should say, that even if people are doing that, there is still no valid reason to criticise what another person is eating** or criticise the way they choose to eat.)

I understand that there will always be difficult people in any community. Unfortunately, it is people like this who are often the most seen from the LC community. And it’s why I am critical. But be clear – I am not critical for the advice they are giving, or the eating plan they are following. I am critical of, and will continue to call out, this sort of behaviour. 

**Okay, I know that I said that there is no valid reason to criticise what another person is eating. But I am adding a caveat to that because I do (and probably will continue to) criticise anyone who wants to drink flavoured coffee. Or instant coffee. Or coffee from a bag. I fully acknowledge and accept my status as a Melbourne coffee snob and will not be entering into any discussions that caramel, pumpkin spice or unicorn flavourings are okay. They are not. Don’t @ me.

I went to my first international diabetes conference back in 2011. It was the IDF World Diabetes Congress in Dubai. In a slightly convoluted way in, I was there as a guest of the City of Melbourne. The next Congress was to be held in my home city, so the tourism arm of our local government attended the conference, talking up all that Melbourne has to offer. I was invited to go and spruik the city I love so much, encourage people to make the (very) long haul trip Down Under… and hand out little clip-on koalas while standing next to giant koalas.

After attending and getting a taste for what was on offer at one of these large-scale conferences, I realised that I wanted to be able to be involved in others moving forward. Undoubtedly, it was great professional development for me – as someone working in advocacy in a diabetes organisation – but it was also a great way to network and meet others in the advocacy space, learn about what they were doing, and work out how we could collaborate. I can’t begin to think of all the terrific projects that started in the corridors, running between sessions! And most importantly, I realised that having PWD at diabetes conferences meant that what was on show was being shared with our peers in a way that made sense. 

The struggle, of course, was getting to these conferences. Australia is a long way from anywhere and with that comes expensive travel costs. The organisations I have worked for cover maybe a max of one event per year as part of my professional development, so the rest of the time it was up to me to find a way in. Good thing I know how to hustle! In fact, that’s the way that most other PWD who attend these meetings get there. 

My disclosure statements at the end of posts detail the support I’ve received. Sometimes I’m an invited speaker so that makes covering costs easy. In recent years, research projects I’m involved with, or ad boards I’m a member of, often run meetings alongside international conferences, so my travel and some accommodation are covered. I was informed early on by other advocates that there are often satellite events run by device and pharma companies, and I became very good at begging asking for an invitation, and then following that with more begging asking for help to cover accommodation and travel costs. I know that it doesn’t come easy for lots of people to ask for money, especially when most of the time the answer is going to be no, but I’ve developed tough skin in 20 years of advocacy, and can take rejection. It just propels me to the next ask! (For the record, HCPs also do this hustle to help cover their costs. It’s not just advocates!) Another thing that has helped is my growing conviction about how critical it is – and non-negotiable – that people with diabetes are at these meetings. #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs may have started as a whisper, but now it’s a roar that comes with an expectation that we must be there, and we must be supported to get there!

Pretty much every single time I have travelled overseas to one of these meetings, I am out of pocket. Some of the costs are always borne by me. I am fortunate to be able to cover those costs, but I am fully aware that it is one of the many reasons that advocates don’t pursue attending. 

I get that there are myriad reasons that getting to these meetings is difficult. It can seem that there is no way in; there are costs to cover; time needs to be taken from work; it means leaving family; getting registration can be difficult for non-healthcare professionals. And for many, they simply have no idea how to actually make the first move to attend. It can seem daunting. I know that it can seem that it’s always the same people at these events, and I think that’s partly because once people have found out the process of getting in, they keep doing it, because they realise it’s not as daunting as they first thought! 

And so, that’s why initiatives like #dedoc° voices are so magic. It is an opportunity for all PWD to apply for a scholarship which will offer an access-all-areas pass to professional diabetes meetings. Want more details about this great program from advocacy group #dedoc°? Try here and here. The pilot for this was at ATTD in Madrid, just before the world turned upside down. It was a brilliant showcase of just how an open application process works, breaking down barriers that prevent people from attending. 

While the #dedoc° voices at ATTD in Madrid offered travel and accommodation costs, as well as registration to the conference, the other two times the initiative ran (ISPAD and EASD) were virtual events, so only registration was covered. 

And that brings us to 2021, and the first global diabetes conference for the year, ATTD, which kicks off next month. Applications for #dedoc° voices is open to PWD from all around the world now, but closes on Friday. It’s been a super short timeframe for this event, but it won’t take you too long to apply. You’ll find all the details right here

Run don’t walk, and apply now, for your change to not only get to ATTD, but also to meet diabetes advocates from across the globe. It’s your way in. What are you waiting for?

Disclosure

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

Today I’m talking menopause, because for fuck’s sake, why don’t we do that more? 

Actually, I know why. It’s because it’s considered an exclusively ‘women’s issue’ and has been the butt of jokes from male comedians and talk show hosts, and really, who gives a fuck anyway? 

This post is likely to continue being sweary, because as I’ve tried to find information on diabetes and menopause it seems that the road is similar to pretty much any other issue about diabetes and women’s health. Sure, there’s quite a bit out there about pregnancy – and you bet I take some credit for that because back in 2001 when I started working in diabetes organisations the very idea of lived experience-led information about diabetes and pregnancy was not typical at all, but we wrote a resource and it is still (in a very updated format) still available) – but it’s up there with trying to find details about women with diabetes and  sexual function and sexual health. 

I am literally counting down the days until Dr Jen Gunter’s new book, The Menopause Manifesto, makes its way to our bookshelves, because I know it is going to be an absolute wealth of no-bullshit, evidence-based, straight-talking information. Her previous book, The Vagina Bible, (known in our house as ‘The Vible’) delivered that in spades as it busted myths, is easy to read and matter of fact, and suggested just where Gwyneth Paltrow might like to shove her $300 jade eggs (spoiler: not up her, or anyone else’s vagina). I was so pleased that when she mentioned diabetes a few times in her book, the information was spot on. In fact, I think that her explanation as to why women with diabetes may experience yeast infections more commonly was one of the clearest I’ve ever read. 

Now, Jen Gunter has turned her full attention to the issue of menopause. This great piece is an excerpt from the book (due out at the end of the month and available for pre-order now), and the part that stood out for me was the bit where she said that often, menopause gets blamed for everything any time a ‘woman of a certain age’ has symptoms they take to their HCP. 

Sounds a little familiar, doesn’t it? I guess I’ll have to add ‘Sometimes it’s not menopause’ to my lexicon, right there alongside ‘Sometimes it’s not diabetes’. How easy, and convenient, it is to simply dismiss someone’s concerns simply because there is something easy (and perhaps obvious) to blame it on.

Of course, with diabetes and menopause, there is the bit I have learnt where some of the symptoms of aspects of menopause look very much like the symptoms of aspects of diabetes. Looking into patenting a game called Hypo or Hot Flush in the coming years. I think it might be popular with PWD of a certain age. The winner gets a cold compress and a jar of jellybeans. 

Here’s the thing. I’m not actually menopausal. I don’t even know that I’m necessarily peri-menopausal yet. But in the same way that I wanted to know all there was about diabetes and pregnancy before I was ready to get pregnant, I’m trying to prepare myself as much as possible for the somewhat mythical period of menopause. Forewarned is forearmed or whatever that saying is. The problem with that is that there is so little info out there that arming myself is proving a little difficult. And it appears that I am not alone in my thinking.

In much the same way as speaking about sexual health when I’ve found myself in a room with a few of my female diabetes friends (and wine), it seems that once we hit our mid-40s we start wanting to talk about menopause as well, searching out any titbits of information that may just help us know what we need to get ready for. We’re desperate for tips and tricks and a glimpse into what we have in store. And it seems that very few of us is having these conversations with our healthcare professionals. 

Lucky for me, my endo has spoken with me about it a little – after I’ve asked. She tells me that the mean age of the start of menopause is 47 years, which is smack bang my age, so I’m expecting to have some firsthand experience soon. And when it comes to sharing that experience, I am already committed to writing about it in a way that moves from the focus on loss that seems pervasive in most of what I’ve read about it – the loss of fertility, the loss of libido, the loss of vitality. #LanguageMatters in menopause too, and the idea that we are writing off those going through it when it’s possible they still have half their life ahead of them sounds a little grim. 

So, my question is, what do people with diabetes need to advance discussions around this? What do we want to know? And when and how to we want that information? Is it a matter of just starting to talk about it more in public forums? Do we routinely start asking our HCPs for information so that slowly (because everything in healthcare takes time) it is on their radar? Do we need more research? (Yes, the answer to that is a resounding yes.) Do we need a snappy hashtag? Is that hashtag #HypoOrHotFlush? (No, I think not.)

If you’d like to join the conversation, please respond to this tweet. Or to this post. Or send me a message privately. And I’ll follow up with another post in a few weeks. 

Looking for more?

Great post here by DOC legend, Anne Cooper.

Sarah Gatward has written a terrific series of her experiences of menopause on her blog here.

I want to acknowledge that not only women experience menopause. Thanks to this brilliant website, Queer/LGBTQIA+ Menopause, that I kept referencing today, which provides fantastic advice for how to speak about menopause to capture the experience of people who are not cisgender and/or not heterosexual.

Last night, I had the honour of speaking at the World Health Organisation Informal Consultation on Diabetes, which is currently taking place as a virtual event. It’s a three night/three day (depending on where you are in the world) event that has brought together people living with diabetes from all corners of the world. 

This was a widely advertised event, and anyone could apply. The expression of interest call out was all over Twitter, Facebook and diabetes community groups. Unlike some other initiatives and programs, PWD didn’t need to be nominated by a diabetes organisation or HCP to be part of it. You just needed to fill out the application form (which didn’t take too long), and submit. Clearly a lot of people with diabetes saw it and thought it was something they wanted to be involved in! I’m not sure of the overall numbers, but there is certainly terrific representation from a number of communities. 

On my Zoom screen I could see a combination of familiar faces, faces of people I know of but have never met or engaged with, and a whole lot of new faces. Hearing their stories, and reading the discussions that are filling up the chat box are enlightening. And reassuring. Because once again I was struck by how strong, vulnerable, admirable and strong-willed others treading the diabetes path can be. There are striking similarities and glaring differences. But common threads that run through the narratives we heard And mostly? There is support and gratitude to be there and to bear witness to others sharing their stories, ask questions and learn. Not a single snipy comment or passive aggressive remark – not because we all agree or are a homogenous group. But rather because we respect and value and admire the people who have the courage to stand up and be present. 

I was invited to speak in a session about diabetes advocacy. The session’s title was ‘Strategic communication in global diabetes advocacy’, and it included Christel Marchand Arpigliano from Beyond Type 1 and Lauren Carters-White, a research fellow from the University of Edinburgh. Christel spoke about how when we tell our diabetes stories, we are translating the language PWD use – language that makes sense to us – into words that reach a broader audience. 

Lauren used some terrific examples from around the world to show the impact data and evidence can have in advocacy efforts. 

And I rounded out the session by talking about how when we bring the two together, we win the hearts and minds of the people we are trying to influence – decision makers, legislators, policy makers, educators, healthcare professionals and researchers. Because when we have the emotional pull of how diabetes impacts on daily life, combined with the evidence to show what that means, we can’t be ignored! I highlighted how working with healthcare professionals and researchers to further our messages means that our lived experience can’t be dismissed. 

I also spoke about how the power of stories is magnified when there are many voices and many different narratives. I have rarely, if ever, heard someone share their diabetes with the pronouncement that they speak for all with diabetes, or that their story is THE story. But they are all experts in their own lived experience and that certainly should be celebrated. And its power should not be underestimated. 

I think the thing I have felt most strongly in that Zoom room is the camaraderie and solidarity – again, not because we are all on the same page and all want the same things. But rather, everyone truly supporting each other and bringing others into the conversation has been an overarching quality of the meeting. No one dominates; no one is more important than anyone else; no one claims to be THE advocate. We are all advocates working together, and supporting each other for a bigger cause. 

Of course, we want, and expect, to see action come from the three days of meetings and workshops, and I have confidence that will happen. But in the meantime, to have such large group of dynamic people come together whose only agenda is community and to build each other up, rather than tear each other down, reminds me that THIS is what diabetes advocates can do and what the community is mostly about. Those snippy voices who try to minimise people who are truly trying to improve outcomes for people with diabetes aren’t present. Because what a waste of time that would be!

I may have spoken about, and given tips about how to win others’ hearts and minds in my talk, but it’s my own heart and my own mind that have been won over by my peers in this event.

(You can follow along the discussion by using the hashtag: #WHOPLWDs)

Disclosures

None. I am not being paid to attend this event, and have not received payment, honoraria or in kind donations for my presentation, and am attending in my own time. I might need a nap later today though, because the 11pm-3.30am time for Aussies on the east coast is tough going!

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