When was mental health, if ever, addressed in a healthcare setting throughout your diabetes journey? As I was listening to some of the panelists answer this question during Diabetes Australia’s Facebook livestream last night, I was reminded of my own experience.
I was visited by a social worker in hospital, a few days after I was diagnosed. At the time, I was actually feeling pretty good just to be relieved of my DKA symptoms – which included weeks of general exhaustion. I think I was pretty naive to the lifelong task of living with type 1 diabetes that was ahead of me. Not to mention the challenges to mental and emotional wellbeing that living with diabetes entails. I was left with a card that day in hospital, which I never ended up using.
In hindsight, support for my mental wellbeing would have been great a little further on into my journey. When I began undertaking diabetes education sessions, and learning just what it was like to live with diabetes. The frustration that came from doing things by the textbook, and not seeing the results on my blood glucose meter. The feelings of isolation that arose from watching friends go out partying and abusing their bodies as they all turned 18 and I couldn’t. The overarching feeling that nobody around me could ever truly comprehend just what I had to live with.
Mental wellbeing should be at the forefront of every encounter with a healthcare professional. It doesn’t have to be any fancy or overbearing effort. I just want an environment where I feel comfortable to talk and be honest about how I’m feeling and what I’m doing. That’s what I’ve learned to seek out from my healthcare professionals in more recent years. It’s also meant walking away from those who aren’t supporting me in the way that I need.
How do we create that environment? Address the whole person, and not just the person’s diabetes. ‘How are you going?’ goes a long way. Language matters. Use words and convey attitudes that are going to engage us and support us in our self management efforts. Don’t judge us. Because equally, the wrong choice of words can hurt us and sabotage those good efforts and turn us away from the support that we really do need.
Finding peer support from other people with diabetes in the Diabetes Online Community has also been a massive contributor to my mental wellbeing. It wasn’t until I began connecting with other PWD that I truly began to accept and feel more comfortable about living with diabetes. While peer support took me a long time to find, I truly think this is changing if what I am seeing in my communities are anything to go by.
Finally, over the years I’ve learned that living with diabetes means that I need to make the extra effort to take care of myself. That means little things like resting when I’m feeling exhausted. Being kind to myself when I’m having a rubbish diabetes day, and reminding myself of all of the good things I’m doing. Taking some time out for myself to do the things I love – a good TV show, some time outside in the sun or making myself something good to eat. Learning to lean on the people around me when I need to.
Because at the end of the day, I am more than just my diabetes.
Once again, it’s National Diabetes Week here in Australia – and I really encourage you to check out Diabetes Australia’s campaign that shines a light on diabetes and mental health – www.headsupdiabetes.com.au.