Taking a Plunge

The shimmering blue water slowly began to emerge as I made my way up the highway, perfectly contrasted and coordinated at the same time with the bright blue sky above.

I manoeuvred into the right turn lane and made my way into the carpark, which was almost deserted on a Thursday afternoon. I grabbed my blue and white AMSL drawstring bag containing a towel, bottle of sunscreen, a dry shirt and glucose tabs.

My insulin pump was clipped to the inside of the pocket in my swim shorts, still running as per normal. My blood sugar was 9.3 before I left home. With 2 units of insulin left to act from lunch and some protein in play, I felt fairly confident to let it ride.

My comfy brown thongs with blue and red striped cotton straps came off as I buried my feet in the soft, white sand. I made my way closer to the shore line and perched my bag in the sand, setting up ship.

I disconnected my pump from the infusion site on my stomach and wrapped it up in the beach towel in my bag, not overly worried about insulin spoiling on that breezy thirty degree day. I slapped a load of sunscreen over my pale skin, recalling sore throbbing red marks of sunburn that were a painful reminder of previous non-compliant days in the sun.

The gentle wind whipped through my hair and burst onto my face. I could feel the refreshingly cold water hit my toes as I began to wade my way into the water. The salty sea spray hit my face as the waves crashed over the water and the bottom half of my body became submerged underneath it.

With the top half of my body feeling the cold of the sea spray, I took a plunge beneath the water.

As the waves pushed their way over me, crashed and then receded, with the sun shining brightly over the clear blue sky, I wasn’t thinking about diabetes. I wasn’t thinking about work. I wasn’t thinking about life.

I was drifting there, savouring the moment.

It felt good.

Less Is More?

The only resolution I set for myself in 2018 was to be more productive.

I want to get more shit done, by spending less time working at it.

(I know what you’re thinking right about now, but just hold up and let me explain for a minute…)

One of my greatest shortcomings is this uncontrollable urge to get anything and everything done in one hit. It’s easy to tell myself that I’ll smash this column out tonight, or that I’ll clear out my e-mail inbox in half an hour and then put my feet up and binge watch another two episodes of The Crown.

But that doesn’t always produce my greatest work.

I’ll tire of the seemingly infinite task at hand, and end up wasting away more time yawning, rubbing my eyes or trawling through social media once again. The longer I sit there, the more I begin to obsess over my work and do more harm to it than good. There are days where I’ll go to bed feeling lousy about myself, failing to remember the last spare moment I had to take some time out for myself.

So, back to my new motto – less is more. I’m learning to set boundaries. Spend an hour writing, or working, or whatever it is that I’m doing, and then stop and come back to it again later. Or even tomorrow.

Walking has been so therapeutic for me over the last few months, and just taking the time out every day to feel the afternoon sun on my face and collect my thoughts makes me feel a bit more human. Which is especially important when I’m living with a condition that involves so many different robot parts and feels monotonous at the worst of times.

I’m also trying to read more. Reading was a pastime I really enjoyed as a child, and I’ve really fallen off the bandwagon in recent years. I’m being realistic and aiming for a book a month. Besides, sleep feels so much more…restful after burying myself in a good book before bed. And, you know, it’s nice to take a break from reading about diabetes once in a while…

So what does all of this have to do with diabetes?

Tending to things like my self care and mental wellbeing helps me to feel better about living with this damned condition. I manage better. I’m not stuck in autopilot mode so often and then swearing at myself over a stupid mistake.

Besides, it feels surprisingly good not to have a resolution directly centred around my diabetes for a change…

What’s on your bucket list this year?

What Does Diabetes FEEL Like?

It feels incredibly permanent. It’s only been with me for the past seven and a half years, and yet I struggle to remember a life without it.

It feels incredibly monotonous. Checking my blood sugar. Weighing my lunch on the kitchen scales. Looking up carb counts on my iPhone. Pulling out my pump to give an insulin dose. Checking my blood sugar again. Pulling out my pump to glance at the insulin on board feature. Deliberating over a correction dose. It’s pretty hard to muster the enthusiasm to do the same thing over and over each day.

It feels extremely isolating. The twinges of jealousy that surface as I watch others my age who can live like there’s no tomorrow. Wondering if anyone around me can truly comprehend the burden of my condition.

It feels incredibly frustrating. One day can be perfect, while the next can be a complete trainwreck. I can do exactly the same thing that I did yesterday, and get a completely different result today. I can make a decision that makes complete sense on paper, and then stare at the result in disbelief.

It feels utterly exhausting. The physical and mental effort that this condition demands is huge, that there are days where I am left struggling to give my 100% to everything else.

It feels incredibly worrisome. Pushing thoughts to the back of my mind about what my future will look like. Wondering if I am doing enough today to ensure that I will live a healthy and complication free life.

It feels painful. Stabbing the tips of my already blistered fingers. Sticking a gigantic needle into my stomach to insert a new infusion site. Feeling the sting of insulin going into an overused area of skin tissue.

It feels ever so emotional. The journey from high to low and everything inbetween can be an emotional rollercoaster. It’s so hard not to let the numbers get to me.

It feels immensely guilt ridden. Pangs of guilt accompany every single decision I make that has an undesired outcome on my blood sugar.

It feels extremely disruptive. It doesn’t care if I’m trying to work, if I’m trying to sleep, or if I’m trying to chill on the weekend.

It feels incredibly close. Finding my tribe, who I can turn to when I’m having a shit day. Finding folks in the Diabetes Online Community, who I can reach out to at 3 in the morning while I’m waiting out a low blood sugar. Being able to hear the two most powerful words in the english language. ‘Me too.’ Making my world feel that much smaller.

It feels experienced. Every passing day arms me with that little bit more knowledge, that leaves me better equipped to deal with this condition. Like finding another piece in an incredibly difficult jigsaw puzzle.

It feels confident. Confidence to speak up for what I want from my healthcare professionals. Being my own advocate. Sharing what I feel passionate about. Finding my comfort zone when my condition has thrust me far from it.

It feels grateful. Grateful that thanks to modern medicine, tools and technology, my life has a far brighter outlook than it did a century ago.

It feels lucky. Lucky that I live in a country where insulin, test strips, pump consumables and healthcare won’t send me broke. That I have a supportive family and a job which affords me these privileges.

It also feels incredibly heartbreaking. Heartbreaking that in this day and age, people are still can’t access the basic tools and healthcare that they need to survive. Heartbreaking that these tools of survival are tied to income and extremely costly insurance premiums. Heartbreaking that without the subsidies I am afforded, these tools are extremely costly. Heartbreaking that people are still dying in some parts of the world because they cannot get their hands on the luxuries that I take for granted.

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.