Action plan

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.

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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.

Trying to be normal in an abnormal world

Most people experience some kind of anti-climax after the turn of the New Year. After all the wrapping paper has been cleared away along with the party streamers, it’s back to work or study, bills and the shuffle of everyday life. For those grappling with eating disorders, it can bring a sense of huge relief that a very stressful period is over with for another year.

But then comes the onslaught, my personal most-loathed part of January: the sudden excessive emphasis on diet, fitness and “getting rid of those extra Christmas pounds!”

On most days it can be difficult trying to navigate through a twisted tunnel of mixed messages when you suffer from an eating disorder, with or even without the complicated addition of type 1 diabetes. You are told by your doctors and by the part of you that wants to be healthy that you need to eat. You need to take insulin. To get better you need to refuel, replenish and relax.  But the environment around you, especially during January, suggests the opposite.

Media and society can easily push you back into a disordered mindset you are trying to escape from. It’s tough, pushing back and in particular rejecting the ideas that come from voices around you. It can seem like everyone is talking about going on some kind of diet, joking about how much they eat over Christmas. Even friends who don’t mean to trigger are suddenly opting for skinny lattes whereas in December they’d have ordered a hot chocolate with cream. Comments overheard all around “oh I have to get back on the treadmill!” “I need to get back into my old clothes!”

You have to try to keep reminding yourself that to recover you need to regain additional strength. Reserves are low, and whether underweight or not someone that has been restricting food or insulin will have a starved mind and depleted body. Low fat or calorie controlled might be unnecessary for someone of a normal weight without an eating disorder, but for someone with one this can be harmful without that stable level to begin from. Additionally, for someone with type 1 diabetes many of the eating plans that are promoted can be completely impractical.

An important message to note is that it has been proved that New Year’s resolutions rarely stick. Many individuals will give up on new fitness plans a few weeks in and may lose a few pounds but then gain a couple back. It is often a short-lived phase yet for someone with an eating disorder it can be a deep rooted obsession. It can kill us.

I just try to keep my head down; sometimes it is all you can do. Divert my eyes from the screaming front pages of trashy magazines and stupid television adverts. Remind myself that certain sources of media are only interested in making money and don’t care about potentially harmful messages they might be construing.

Repeat if necessary: I don’t need a new television package, sofa, dining room table set or to sponsor a child in Africa. I do not need to try out the 5:2 plan, join the gym or abandon eating completely for shakes or juicing.

I wish all of you that are struggling out there and reading this a happy and safe 2017. Please, try to be kind to yourselves.

 

By Claire Kearns.

Don't read below the line

There’s been a lot of coverage relating to diabulimia in the press just recently. Certainly in light of how largely disregarded the condition has been until now, despite its staggering prevalence. It’s great to see such acknowledgment, from the BBC article that brought a tide of traffic to DWED and the Indy’s comprehensive piece, both of which used quotes from our director and founder Jacquelline Allan. That girl knows her stuff and it’s so crucial to be getting accurate information out there, especially after numerous past occurrences of grossly sensationalist reporting . The death of Lisa Day has prompted some of this. It’s disappointing that such a tragedy is the one thing that brings forth attention, when all our continuous shouting merely falls on deaf ears. But despite that I know her family are determined to bring awareness to this fatal condition that caused the loss of their beloved sister and daughter. In turn, the newly opened service at Kings College London which will treat type 1 and 2 diabetics with eating disorders is hugely positive news which has placed diabulimia under a spotlight.

However, traffic can result in road collisions. By this I mean loud voices of the misinformed and uncompassionate. Those people that will skim a story but have already formed a negative judgement from the headline. A judgement that they want to push onto anyone they can, but most of all those that they see with a spot of vulnerability.

The best lesson is to never, ever read below the line. But it’s that self-sabotaging nature in me, and so I need this space to rant a little. Even if I fear I may just be preaching to the choir.

Eating disorders are not a result of stupidity or ignorance. On the contrary ,it is a proven scientific fact concluded through various different studies that the majority of sufferers actually have a high degree of intelligence. I have never met anyone with an eating disorder that is not smart, some to the point of intimidation. Instead, I have met so many talented people through treatment experiences and online support communities. These people can be great scientists, artists, writers.  

It is often the case that people that develop eating disorders actually think too much. Minds full of numbers and weights and ratios are not idle. Instead, they are over-occupied, fixated, obsessed. If you bring type 1 diabetes into the mix, the need to be clued up on nutrition and the mechanisms of your body is pertinent. You do not have the option to avert focus from any of that, and diagnosis can be a hugely overwhelming time. Furthermore, with diabulimia, insulin manipulation is a not a simple equation.

Manipulation is often the fuel of an eating disorder, it feeds and sustains it. You can become someone you do not recognise, and do things you would never dream of as a healthy person with a healthy mind. Deception is never a game for the idiotic, it is clever and sneaky. You learn to lie with conviction and run rings around those around you. You become the master of trickery. All the while you are blind to the fact that a mental illness is pulling at the puppet strings attached to your limp feet, legs and arms.

It’s not a choice. It is not a decision made with any rationality. Someone with an eating disorder and diabetes is not choosing to not take their insulin just because they can’t be bothered or want to throw their toys out the pram (in this case syringes and test strips!) They are not just being ungrateful for that crucial life source which is now so luckily available. The discovery of injectable insulin to treat diabetics is meaningful to everyone that has to rely on it to survive. But with a mental illness, with an eating disorder, survival is not a priority. It’s also not just “another label” that can be lumped in with anorexia and bulimia when it has characteristics that require treatment to be specifically tailored.

The roots of any eating disorder are deep and heavy. It isn’t an illness that just sits in a shallow pool on the surface but it is all consuming river. It is not vanity, or selfishness, or a fad. It is not just about appearance. Everyone that suffers from an eating disorder will have their own stories to tell and different reasons as to why they developed one. Often these psychological origins can be tangled and extremely difficult for the sufferer to try and unravel. 

“All diabetics have to do to stay on top of their health is take insulin” read one comment beneath a recent article on diabulimia. Firstly, this shows a huge disregard for the impact of type 1 diabetes as it is about so very much more than that. Secondly, again, someone with diabulimia isn’t just a diabetic, they also have a mental health disorder, meaning they do not think logically or the way that any mentally well diabetic usually would.

Ultimately, all I ask is that if you don’t know about a condition such as this, if it’s something that seems beyond your scope of understanding, please do not automatically judge. Do not assume. Instead, listen, try to learn, have some empathy. You do not know the influence that harsh, unkind words can have.  We are not all delicate flowers and Dave or John from Manchester and Bognor Regis aren’t necessarily going to bring forth tears. Still, ignorance spreads like wildfire, and if someone we care about adopts a similar view, well yeah, that can hurt.

I’ll end this with a suggestion: Just don’t read below the line, especially if it’s The Daily Fail online.

 

By Claire Kearns.

 

The Blame Game

I am sick of the blame that is constantly heaped on people with diabetes by media and society.

I am tired of being made to feel guilty for having a condition I did not cause.

Yet again today I spotted an article leading with the cost of diabetes to the NHS. The story mostly relies on statistics in relation to clinic attendance targets. Admittedly, it does in part refer to the impact of post-code lotteries and failures by specific departments to follow up on patients. Yet still, the majority of blame is always turned back onto the patients themselves.

It does not matter which publication this piece came from, as there will be more based on the same report. There doesn’t seem to be a week that goes by without one media source or another pointing their fingers at us. They total up the numbers: the hospital beds we are taking up, the nurses and doctors needed to attend to us and the prescriptions they must dole out to keep us alive.

Unfairly these figures are often based on the larger impact of type 2 diabetes upon NHS resources, and new stories will more often than not fail to distinguish the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes until after at least the leading paragraph or two. This is ignorant and misleading.

The fact is that type 1 diabetes is NEVER caused by lifestyle factors, and a significant percentage of type 2 cases present without any such evidence either. In turn, even if some type 2 diabetics do contribute to the onset of their diagnoses this is rarely with intentional fault. For example, being overweight or obese can be a cause of BED or overeating. Yes, a certain amount of responsibility has to be acknowledged but it is simply not as simple as having control or complete lack of. Mental illness can make you feel overwhelmingly powerless.

Nobody with full capacity over their actions would willingly choose this. Nobody thinks to themselves "oooh I am going to treat myself to the podiatrist, a poke and prod and the diabetes clinic and some laser eye treatment for retinoapathy this year. A few hospital admissions for ketoacidosis would be a nice break too."

There is always an underlying reason for "non-compliance" (that dreaded term some health practitioners love to throw around quite casually) beyond just laziness or stupidity. Neglecting to pay sufficient attention to a disease that can have such devastating impacts upon your own body; blindness, amputation, death, in my opinion always suggests some kind of psychological disturbance. Diabetic burnout, depression leading to disengagement and lack of self-care, anxiety related to hypo episodes, Diabulimia.

Oh, I am sorry for developing a chronic illness, and a mental illness to top it off. I am sorry I couldn't quite grasp the concept of having to eat the right things, and inject, and test my blood multiple times a day while maintaining full rationality. I am sorry Jeremy Hunt, for draining your pot of money.

Many individuals that suffer from eating disorders, whether that be alongside type  diabetes or not, will already feel intense shame. Shame for their actions and habits, the extent they go to maintain and hide their illnesses as well as the hurt it can cause to loved ones. I am ashamed of myself and in reaction I use behaviours to try and deal with that, to stuff it down and to punish myself for unspecific crimes. Surely this is enough? Please, leave us be and let us try to heal as best we can. Media sources, try listening instead of berating us and colluding with the unforgiving whispers inside our heads.

By Claire Kearns