Insulin is Discovered

On this day in 1921, at the University of Toronto, Canadian scientists Frederick Banting and Charles Best first isolated a pancreatic extract which had anti-diabetic characteristics. The idea of which had originally come to Banting in a dream one night in the fall of 1920.

After the extract was successfully tested on dogs with diabetes, Professor J.J.R MacLeod later provided Banting and Best with lab space and scientific direction to help produce and purify insulin.

J.B. Collop later provided technical expertise which led to the purification of insulin for use on patients with diabetes.

A year later, a man called Leonard Thompson was the first person to receive an insulin injection. The rest, as they say, is history.

Prior to 1922, the only treatment for diabetes was a severely restricted diet. Patients were essentially awaiting a death sentence.

Thanks to Banting’s idea, with the help of Best, Collop and MacLeod, this hormone that was first isolated 99 years ago today has gone onto save the lives of millions of people with diabetes.

I believe Banting sold the patent for insulin for pennies. He wanted his remarkable discovery to be available to everyone who needed it.

Now, I want you to walk over to your fridge. Have a look at the sticker that your Pharmacist has attached to your box of insulin. What you should be able to see is the full list price, which I am extremely lucky to receive heavily subsidised by the Australian government.

That price, which may be even higher in other places in the world, is a sobering reality that many people with diabetes in the world face in accessing this life saving juice.

So today, on the 99th birthdate of insulin, I want to say thank you to the many amazing advocates who are fighting for affordable insulin all over the world, with the support of not for profit organisation T1International.

I also want to acknowledge organisations such as Life for a Child, who are helping to provide life saving insulin to people in under privileged communities around the world.

I also want to thank Banting, Best, Collop and MacLeod for allowing me to be here today and drink plenty of coffee and eat plenty of cake.

Source: World History Project.

Stigmatising Food

A few days ago, I stumbled across this article that really spoke to me (even if it did fall short of acknowledging that these outcomes are equally likely to affect people with type 2 diabetes). It was equally refreshing to see photos of real people with diabetes rather than the usual cringeworthy stock photos, one of whom was even sporting a t:slim.

The point that really hit home for me was that people with diabetes are often seen to lack control or ability to properly care for ourselves. Food police, which are an unfortunate reality of living with diabetes, are quick to judge when they see you reaching for that donut at morning tea.

I’ll go as far as to suggest that very few interactions around food have supported me, as a person living with diabetes. Things like being asked at the dinner table what my levels have been like, if I have to be ‘careful,’ or even being told that certain food choices are ‘not good for diabetes.’ Bonus points if you can say it nice and loudly and turn it into a punchline.

In the diabetes community, we are passionate about so many different ways of eating. Sadly, we’re not very good at embracing all of these different ways. I think this is really hurtful, especially for the newly diagnosed who may feel that there is only one right way of eating. Unfortunately, many in the community add to the stigma around food by demonising some ways of eating at the expense of pushing others.

There is so much stigma around food when you live with diabetes. Conversations around diabetes and food have always been ill-timed, demoralising and left me feeling small. Coming off of National Diabetes Week, it definitely takes a toll on your mental health.

I know I’m not supposed to care about what other people think, but the overarching feeling is that others don’t think I’m taking care of myself. Language Matters. The words we use, and the attitudes we convey – they become reality. That in turn leaves me feeling like I’m not taking good care of myself.

I continually find it frustrating that so many of my peers only seem to acknowledge that I’m living with diabetes when it’s dessert time. Food police do a terrible injustice to the realities of living with diabetes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days of the year. They’re ignorant to the fact that living with diabetes stretches a lot further than the dessert table. It’s a life of blood glucose monitoring, insulin administration, decision making, carefully planned activities and mental burden. So much mental burden.

I’m not actively looking for a pat on the back, but living with diabetes is largely invisible to the people without diabetes in my life. When the people around me don’t often get to see all of the aspects that there are to living with diabetes, it gets lonely. It genuinely is nice to be engaged in real conversations around diabetes from people without diabetes, because it gives me that little bit of acknowledgement. I feel that little bit less invisible.

So, talk to me about my diabetes. I’m always happy to help spread a bit of awareness.

But know that it is never okay to comment on the food choices of another person – diabetes or not.

Supporting Diabetes and Mental Wellbeing

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 –

Ups and Downs.

The biggest misconception about diabetes is that you become unwell, you receive a diagnosis, and then you get better.

It’s easy to see it that way.

People don’t tend to see the marks on the tips of my fingers, the chalky orange powder on my tongue, or the pump sites hidden underneath my shirt. They don’t see the pager in my pocket, the thousands of thoughts racing through my head, or the life saving stash of insulin in my fridge.

When I look back on my own journey, I concur that I’ve come a long way from where I was in the beginning. I feel more informed, more connected, more supported and am managing in the way that I have decided truly works best for me. Plus, I have an additional decade of experience under my belt than I did back then.

While all of these incredible things have made my life with diabetes so much better, they don’t make diabetes itself ‘better.’ Diabetes doesn’t go away, even if you don’t see it. As much I love to shout to the world about all of the incredible things that have enriched my life with diabetes, it’s not without its challenges.

Diabetes still affects me.

There are days where I feel like I am flying high and could do absolutely anything. This weekend, for example. An amazing, sunny weekend where I drove myself down to the beach, cleaned out the inside of my car, ran some errands, finished my book, made zucchini slice and jelly crystal cookies.

Equally, there are days where I can really feel the weight of trying to manage diabetes in amongst the remainder of my life. A mere few weeks ago, I was juggling my day job while spending long hours revising for my uni exams. Which were on a computer, in the middle of a pandemic. On my last day at work before a much needed break, I was feeling exhausted, moody and withdrawn from everyone around me.

Over the years, I truly feel as though I’ve poured both the ups and the downs of life with diabetes onto the pages of this blog. Some feel there’s too much doom and gloom in diabetes narratives – and can’t relate to some of the things I’ve written about. Many of you have also provided amazing support when I’ve written about the tough times.

But the truth is, I don’t do it for the feedback good or bad. I just know that it’s something that I want to see in the narrative about diabetes.

This is our week to scream diabetes awareness out of every corner that we possibly can. If you don’t have diabetes, this is your week to listen to and amplify the voices of people with diabetes. This year’s theme is diabetes and mental health, and it’s definitely a topic that is worthy of more attention. Especially now, more than ever, given the times that we live in.

Keep an eye on Diabetes Australia’s socials for details of what’s happening this week. In particular, there’s a livestream discussion happening on Wednesday night at 7.30pm AEST on the Diabetes Australia Facebook page.

Happy National Diabetes Week.