Sometimes I worry that I’ve completely exhausted blogging about type-1-diabetes and eating disorders to death. But then when I can’t sleep at night my mind won’t shut up; it’s over thinking all of the things that I haven’t said, niggling doubts and grievances I feel I need to let out. I just hope nobody reading these blogs is sick of my rambling!
Diabetes is always there, canoodling with anorexia and my fall back insurance of running high blood sugars without taking quite enough insulin. I fear hypos most of all and struggling to accept the basal adjustments my specialist nurses urges me to make. It’s still a constant battle to stay attached to my pump, and it’s disheartening to still hear ignorance and judgment on both type 1 diabetes and eating disorders wherever I go. The combination of the two still seems to be a wildly foreign concept to most members of the public that have no personal investment in the issue.
This is still frustratingly the case even after a number of notable print and online articles that have been published over the last couple of years on Diabulimia and the prevalence of disordered eating in individuals with type-1-diabetes. The brilliant documentary “The World’s Most Dangerous Eating Disorder” which was aired by BBC Three last year led to widespread acclaim and we were so pleased. For a while, with a surge in our website traffic and social media interest, it seemed like it could be a major breakthrough.
In retrospect it merely splintered the glass surround which makes it easier for outsiders to see through but the other side which means options of treatment and true acknowledgment is still so unreachable. This despite coverage of far too many unnecessary death and statistics revealing staggering mortality rate that prove that those with T1-ED and/or Diabulimia walk shakily close against the edge of a tall building every single day.
Yet the reaction to that reality is quite predictable a lot of the time, still: “how stupid can they be? How difficult can it be to just inject if it’s a matter of life of death? Don’t they realise how crazy they are to do that?” and oh of course, there friend or relative has type 1 and lives a healthy life, their diabetes does not really affect them at all!” The eye rolling and that frustrating and wholly misjudged that is still used by clinicians: “non compliant.”
There has certainly been positive change lately and that is an achievement, small feats that add up like another stone to the fortress walls and chip away at attitudes that ultimately need re-education. More of us are asserting ourselves, challenging stigma when we hear it. Some health providers have really stepped up and trained themselves and their teams (whether that be diabetic clinics or eating disorder units) as best as they can in the shadow of NHS funding cuts. On a wider level there have been conferences and numerous new research studies on the disorder.
Widespread discussion on the importance of the right language used within healthcare settings has been a hot topic on social media just recently. Twitterites Renza/Diabetogenic (@RenzaS) and The Grumpy Pumper (@grumpy_pumper) have been fantastic advocates on this matter, as well as Dr. Partha Kar (@parthaskar) and a handful of other HCP’s, all of which should be applauded. I only hope that this evolving dialogue continued to spread further afield beyond the tight knit diabetes community that is mostly found on Twitter or\ Facebook.
We are shouting, hollering. Louder now after some people have begun to notice, to react, largely as a result of the documentary. Still, it can be entirely frustrating and exasperating. It can often feel like you are left with nothing but a sore throat and strained voice as the people that should be listening walk away oblivious. It’s hard not to feel bitter, to dwell and let resentment fester.
Hope can fuel a surge in determination one minute, almost excited by the common goals, the shared anger and upset, and that camaraderie found among a group of fellows with type-1-diabetes. It can be a fierce energy that rises up and bounces back and forth with re-tweets and the swapping of blogs that for the most part, are completely spot on and relatable to you, in at least some parts.
That understanding, compassion and sense of community is truly valuable, it means we know we can fall down and be held back up. That we can feel comfortable to rant and moan about unpredictable sugar levels, neuropathic pain or even giggle over the humour of common #diabetesprobs. Plus those diabetes memes which can be hilarious to us, (well me anyway! Perhaps I’m too easily amused,) but absolutely baffling to those with functioning pancreases. I’ll never forget sending a friend some of those “diabetes cat” images and protesting about how funny they were. On the contrary, she was completely baffled and the humour I saw didn’t compute to her one bit. Not her fault at all, but hey a fellow diabetic would probably find them as funny as I do. Is there anyone with type-1-diabetes that can’t appreciate the thought of Hansel and Gretel style blood test strip trails and those don’t-give-a-fuck-attitude ee cards (see below!)? Laughing is a good remedy.
Friends and family can be amazing when they try to appreciate our daily struggles and be compassionate, but the fact is that only we can know what it feels like to deal with chronic and largely invisible illness every day, every minute and every second without any reprieve from it. For me at least, despite a sense of patience and the fact that I know I am cared about, it is still all too easy to detect a sense that I am a miserable bore when I talk about diabetes woes. I’ve been told that I am obsessed with my own disease and need to find other things to focus on by so called friends. I’m always complaining, and there’s always some medical pain I am suffering with. It makes me feel like a huge drama Queen and hypochondriac.
There is some truth in it, in that yes distraction can be good and thinking about your problems can make you more miserable. But the reality is that this illness never relents, and it can’t be ignored. The control it has over our bodies and our minds is like a swarm of hovering gnats hovering around us as we stand in a room with the windows bolted shut. You can swat them away but you’ll never catch and kill them. The only way to breathe is to let in some fresh air, and give them a way out. It’s not fair that we should be told to ignore the biting to the back of our necks when it just means we’ll be left covered in a rash of sore red welts. Why should we be ashamed to vent, if that is something that helps relieve the burden and ache of it all a little?
So I may have gone on a bit of a tangent here, down a rabbit hole. But I do have a point ultimately and that is the urgency of some real action. Awareness is always positive but it isn’t enough, especially when it is rarely put out into the public sphere. We need strategy, we need government action, and crucially we need the godamn media to sit down and pay attention for once. They seem to be completely deaf, the newspapers anyway, some more guilty than others of course. But every time there’s a ridiculous headline, they lump type 1 and 2 together or suggest we cure ourselves with okra, cinnamon or a better sleep routine, we make a fuss and call them out, sometimes they apologise and then a few weeks later the exact same kind of thing occurs. It’s blatantly disrespectful and insulting to be placated and then blatantly ignored for the sake of causing a reaction or even a moral uproar to stats on the amount of money diabetes care is draining from the NHS. (And yeah, better care and earlier interventions=less hospitalisation and less expenditure, isn’t it a no brainer?!)
I am saying all this but do I have any idea myself? Well yes, I do. First of all with the papers - as a DWED representative I am challenging myself to call the big wigs at some national papers and confront them on their failings. Starting with the Daily Express, yep. So wish me luck, right now a frustration is motivating me but I may want to hide scared tomorrow. Which is why I am stating this here: I will do this. I will record those calls and I will report back in a later blog.
Second is a project where you all can chip in and put your case forward if you wish. When I spoke to (the truly amazing) Norman Lamb in May for a recording which is uploaded in our members area, he offered to take DWED’s case forward to Jeremy Hunt and have it raised in parliament. This would be in the form of a letter that we will address to Jeremy Hunt that will specify just how crucial it is that people with T1-ED and Diabulimia have access to better care, which can be done with the shuffling of money, with training across the boards, more knowledge given to GP’s, AN OFFICIAL DIAGNOSIS. It may fall on death ears, but it’s worth a good damn shot.
What we need from you are testimonies that we can add to the letter. Real life truths from people with T1ED that want to push the message that further change is needed NOW, those that feel devastated and worn down, and let down by a lack of adequate support services. Submissions from friends, family and carers would also be so helpful, especially as sometimes their loved one is unable to advocate for themselves, or in the worst, most saddening instances, they are no longer with us to do so.
I will be setting up an online form for submissions in due course and will amend this blog with that link. [4/7/18: Please find the submission form here.]
Keep fighting everyone, it’s cliché but all of you out there with type-1-diabetes, with or without an eating disorder, are fighters and probably so much stronger than you believe. Hold on. Let’s act on this. We are all in this together. Keep looking at the stars instead of blackened night’s sky. We might not ever be able to shoot for the moon but we can aim for the stars.
By Claire Kearns.