Prioritising Emotional Wellbeing in Diabetes Care

How many healthcare professionals ask you “how are you going” during an appointment?

Not how are your numbers going.

Or how your diet is going.

Or, how are the number of hypos you are having each week going.

When I say ‘how are you going,’ I mean ‘how are YOU going?’

I must admit that I was surprised in hearing psychologist Lisa Robbins express confidence in the abilities of diabetes healthcare professionals to identify burnout triggers, during our live webcast at DX2Melbourne. It’s my view that the right healthcare professional would be able to identify those triggers.

In my humble experience, I often felt a lack of emotional support from my endocrinologist and my doctor in my early days of type 1. I never felt that they had the time for me on a busy clinic day, and I didn’t really feel too important when there were younger children and families around who understandably required more attention.

It was often hard to open up and be honest with them for fear of judgement. My very first endocrinologist told me that I had very poor control, just weeks after my diagnosis. Meanwhile, my general practitioner often told me that “my sugar levels are too high” without actually offering anything more substantial or helpful.

For the record, I certainly don’t expect that an endocrinologist or general practitioner should have to fill the role of a counsellor. They are qualified professionals in high demand. No doubt they have far better things to do with their time than listen to me blubber on about my diabetes.

However, I do expect that health care professionals will listen to me. I do expect that health care professionals will make me feel comfortable to open up to them. I do expect that health care professionals will look beyond what’s written on the charts and talk to me about what’s going on. I expect that health care professionals will show some empathy during consultations. And I expect that healthcare professionals will offer support and encouragement.

This is not a big ask. This can be done. Even on a busy clinic day. Even when time is limited. Even if you’re meeting me for the first time. Even if you are a general practitioner who is not a diabetes expert. Nobody has to be qualified to be supportive and empathetic, in my opinion. Above all, prioritising emotional wellbeing will assist diabetes healthcare professionals to better address the need for any further psychological support.

Emotional wellbeing helps me to see value in my diabetes healthcare team. It encourages me to continue to manage my diabetes to the best of my ability. A good experience motivates me to keep in touch with my diabetes healthcare professionals and to ensure I have my regular checkups. Above all, emotional well being has helped me to prioritise my health. It’s the difference between walking out of the doc’s office holding back tears, or with the biggest grin that I can’t wipe off my face.

Obviously, my endocrinologist and general practitioner are only individual pieces of the “emotional” support puzzle in my diabetes care. I have my wonderful diabetes educator, who has my undivided attention during every 60 minute session I have with her. I have my family at home, whom I have learned to lean on a little. There’s the wonderful Oz Diabetes Online Community, who I can hang out with on Twitter every Tuesday night. I have my soapbox right here at Type 1 Writes, where I can vent about any topic of my choosing. I also have some amazing d-peeps who I am lucky enough to call friends.

Three years ago, I certainly felt very alone with my diabetes.

Finding emotional wellbeing has helped me to embrace it.

Diabetes Disruptions

Last night’s OzDOC chat on diabetes disruptions really put my mind to work. I can’t say that I think of diabetes as being disruptive all that often. Yet as I began to answer some of the chat questions, it became pretty clear to me that it was. Diabetes is disruptive. It’s disruptive to my day, it’s disruptive to my mindset and it’s disruptive to the people around me.

One disruption that easily comes to mind is the time I have previously wasted, obsessing over what I need to bring with me every time I leave the house. I tend to overthink things quite a bit, especially with the more time that I have up my sleeve.

How long will I be gone? How far away from home will I be? Am I going to be comfortable at the party with all of this crap weighing me down? Do I really need all the stuff I have brought with me?

I’ll spend far too much time tucking things into pockets and jackets, only to pull them out once again. Thankfully I now have my grey marle pencil case, with all my travel gear ready to go every time I head out.

Another disruption that comes to mind is the people around me. I am too nice of a person. While I don’t particularly feel the need to explain myself, I do feel conscious of the fact that I might not be polite to others. Like trying to find the right moment to excuse myself and walk away from someone who is talking to me.

Then there are days where diabetes puts a damper on my mood. Or I’m not having the best day, and having to deal with diabetes on top of it simply makes it worse. I’m more quiet, withdrawn, and probably don’t do my best at explaining this to the people around me. But I feel ridden with guilt for it afterwards.

I’m also really conscious of the perception toward diabetes that I’m feeding to others through my actions. I don’t want people to think that I’m ill or unwell. I’m quick to deflect people’s looks of pity with confident explanation of what I do to myself to manage. Okay, cutting the queue at Pathology yesterday probably didn’t help my cause, but you can’t live with this lousy condition without the occasional perk…

The one disruption that I would easily wish away is a low blood sugar. Correcting a high is easy enough. I’m pretty confident in my ability to keep tabs on pump failures and ketones. Yet a nasty low is enough to knock me sideways. It frustrates me that I can’t even go for a walk around the block without having to worry about going low.

While diabetes will continue to be disruptive in every which way that it pleases, always remember that you most certainly are not.