To the precious ones

I was just discharged from an eating disorder inpatient unit after spending four and a half months there. It feels like it took me so much longer to get here, and my recollections are patchy and blurred. It’s only recently the fog is starting to thin, and my brain hosts a bed from which seedlings of hope and self-belief are tentatively beginning to sprout.

I feel scared. This was only the start of what will undoubtedly be a long and exhausting journey as I try to get better. I am a weak swimmer that having cast aside my armbands still needs a surround of floats to clutch onto., and I’m still in the shallow end.

I also feel sad. Suddenly alone and missing a foot. Uneasy with how quiet it is.

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I wouldn’t have made it this far without the solidarity and invaluable support provided to me by my fellow EDU patients.

This is to the precious ones.

The ones that held me up, that listened to me cry, that listened to me talk.

You made me laugh, and laughed alongside me. You made it feel okay to laugh.

You offered a smile, a hug, a “it will be okay”, a knowing look.

You encouraged me, applauded me, reassured me. Understood me.

Every one of them has made a difference to me in some way. I am truly grateful to them all, and thankful.

The best of people are the ones that struggle to see it - which breaks my heart. They are the most unique, the most memorable, the most talented. good natured and worthwhile.

I will miss then, I will think of them often, and sometimes “goodbye” is jrather a “see you on the other side., where we can start creating better memories.”

By Claire Kearns.

Choice

Backtracking slightly, this is my blog for Diabetes Blog Week Day 2, for which the focus was: The Cost of a Chronic Illness - Tuesday 5/16
"Insulin and other diabetes medications and supplies can be costly.  Here in the US, insurance status and age (as in Medicare eligibility) can impact both the cost and coverage.  So today, let’s discuss how cost impacts our diabetes care.  Do you have advice to share?  For those outside the US, is cost a concern?  Are there other factors such as accessibility or education that cause barriers to your diabetes care?"

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There's been quite a bit of media coverage and discussion on the dire state of medical care of those with chronic health conditions in the USA just lately. I’ve read a number of reports relating to people with diabetes having to resort to skimping on insulin doses due to the expense and even buying knocked-down, knock-off supplies through the black market.  As a citizen of the UK with access to the NHS I cannot imagine the hardship of such a situation and find it difficult to fully comprehend. I won’t try to do that because I feel the only people truly at liberty to comment on it are those in the thick of it. All I can say is that I feel very much for them. It isn’t right and it isn’t fair. I very much hope that the situation will change.

Even further away, people with type-1-diabetes in third world countries don’t even have the resources they need to survive. Some won’t even get a diagnosis and will die painfully without any access to insulin whatsoever. T1International is an amazingly worthwhile charity that endeavours to help those people where they can.  It hurts my heart to consider the struggle of those individuals. I know what untreated diabetic ketoacidosis feels like and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

With respect to all of this, I am hugely thankful for the NHS, I must stress that. Most of all, that lifeline we have to be able to access our prescriptions without any cost at all is huge. A vial of blood test strips can cost upwards of £25 and with my erratic blood glucose levels, I can go through them quickly. That’s not to mention the cost of insulin itself, of pump supplies and equipment.  Then there’s the option to be able to walk into hospital and be seen if we need to be, without an itemised bill arriving afterwards which lists every blood sugar reading taken, every nurse check and glucose urine dipping test. Yes we may sometimes have to wait, and yes sometimes we can be pushed aside when we need priority, but elsewhere there is simply no option of being able to walk in and that receive medical attention without a price.

The above is a disclaimer of sorts before I continue, to state that I am so they say ‘checking my privilege’. That said, I feel that what I have to say still deserves serious acknowledgement. I must speak of what I know.

An area where the NHS needs significant improvement concerns allocation of funds for the treatment of people with type-1- diabetes and a mental health condition, most significantly eating disorders. There is a fundamental flaw to be found in this area which means money is being wasted, flushed down the drain, often alongside a desperate cover-up of bleach, the stench of which is strong and lasting.

“In the NHS, when it comes to treatment for mental illness, you do not have any choice.”

This is what I was told by a psychiatrist that was overseeing my care as an outpatient at my local eating disorder service. I was on the verge of being sectioned if I did not submit to an inpatient hospitalisation. In agreement to this, I had found a facility that was trained in eating disorders and type-1-diabetes and would be willing to admit me with the appropriate referral, and had an advocate that helped me to stress the importance of this. However, this was not their go to route and so my view was dismissed. Instead, I was sent to the allocated unit that every patient was unduly sent to, the cheapest option.

The first day I arrived at that unit they did not have any needles on the ward to give me my insulin. They had not been trained and some of the staff were surprised to find out I was diabetic. 6 months down the line I was at the centre of a complaint concerning negligence and had been safeguarded by a whistleblower as a vulnerable adult. I had lost hope of recovery and felt traumatised by the entire experience. Now three years later, I still have nightmares about some of the situations I was put in.

On the flip side, while some of the health workers on that unit were downright ignorant and dismissive of my additional needs, others, mainly a handful of the nurses, were undoubtedly fantastic at their jobs. While overstretched and under-resourced, they did all they could, but they were just not clued up on type-1-diabetes and they should never have been put in a position whereby they had to try and cope without full expertise.

I am not the only one with a story like this to tell, far from. Those with diabulimia are routinely being ‘treated’ as those with more typical eating disorders.  This is never going to work.  There are studies that back up the notion that we need to be considered as having separate needs and that recovery must encapsulate care for both our physical and mental conditions.

I have heard accounts from those with diabulimia that are of a normal or even above ‘healthy’ weight that have been put on an anorexic diet. Many have suffered from oedema and have experienced rapid weight gain alongside flair up of complications such as retinopathy and neuropathy. All of this can be hugely distressing not to mention dangerous. 

Other considerations readily overlooked may be the need for extra water, and the entire fact that to become better a type 1 diabetic needs to be MORE hands on with regards to acknowledging food intake, whereas usually someone with an eating disorder is encouraged to step back and become more relaxed, less fixated about what they are eating.

Changes have been made, but the bottom line is that funding is being tossed away when it could be carefully put into specialist care, the right care.  Ignoring this makes a mockery of the fact that we have a national health service, and is an injustice to those people in other parts of the world that do not.

Returning to the words of my psychiatrist, I believe that everyone should have options and be listened to in a discussion regarding their own treatment.  Mental health difficulties can happen to everyone. Having an eating disorder does not mean all our thoughts are automatically scrambled and become irrational, especially where medical knowledge of a condition we have lived with for many years is involved. Often we are the expert more so than the practitioner we are speaking to.  Discussion and sometimes disagreement can be understood (yes, particularly when mental capacity may be compromised), but blatant disregard will automatically casts battle lines.

We are not just patients. We are not just statistics on a chart, a summary of our weight or BMI or HBA1C and we do not need a price tag around our necks.

We are people. We should all be given choice.

By Claire Kearns.

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Depression, diabetes and eating disorders

Depression: another big D word and largely silent, invisible illness. Standing alone it can be emotionally devastating and incredibly difficult to cope with. With diabetes involved, depression is often given further means to fester and grow quite dramatically, with stable blood sugar control often overlooked or given less attention than it needs to have. Most recent studies show that depression is twice more commonly found in individuals that have diabetes than those without. It has also been reported that around one in three people with long term chronic conditions experience poor psychological well-being, compared to one in four within the general healthy population.

But why? And how do we address it? Uncontrolled diabetes can be problematic enough to treat, especially with many health practitioners not addressing the emotional roots of the diagnosis at all. A dominating precense of depression can cause the pro-active approach a diabetic needs to take can fall easily by the wayside, with self-care becoming a burden. Of course, such despondency can often be a part of someone experiencing diabetes with an eating disorder as well. Depression, diabetes and an eating disorder make up a dangerous mix whereby each condition can be fuelled by the others, maintaining a cycle that is difficult to break out of.

Despite the high numbers of diabetics that also experience depression, any information available upon diagnosis is sorely lacking. You are typically given all the education that you need in relation to what insulin to take, what to do in cases of hypo or hyperglycaemia and which snacks are better than others, but what about the emotional issues? It seems quite rare that any insight or support is provided to acknowledge what coping with diabetes can do to your head.

Undoubtedly the realisation that type-one-diabetes is an incurable, unrelenting illness which will be with you for life can be difficult to accept at diagnosis. Then there's the possible perceived alienation from peers, the confusing and unanswerable question of 'why me?', the loneliness and isolation of it all. Furthermore, there is the urge to be free and able to do everything your friends can do without having to stop and test your blood/inject/eat every few hours. Such yearning can trigger a sense of denial and rejection of acceptance: what blind-sighted health professionals can term “non-compliance”. It can also be hugely challenging to deal with the influence of mixed media messages that can spread ignorance to the public and the barrage of unhelpful, intrusive comments that may come from the people around you. Nobody seems to tell you about any of this in the beginning.

Of course, this isn't always the case, some people do have good accounts of the process, where the right resources are offered and they feel supported. However, for every success story, there seems to be several other cases whereby a newly diagnosed diabetic is given a few leaflets, a clinic appointment in four months, and is then sent on their way.

Diabetes UK explains the following on their website: “Everyone reacts differently when they hear the news that they have diabetes. You may be initially overwhelmed, shocked, afraid, angry and anxious. Some people go through a stage very similar to mourning – as though they are grieving for lost health. “

Diabetes can also become a tool for self-harm, with suicidal behaviours complicating the issue even further. As well as the highly dangerous practice of omitting or reducing insulin which can be largely associated with an eating disorder, a sufferer of depression may misuse their medication in other harmful ways. This could be by overdose or purposely prolonging a precarious state of hypoglycaemia. Depression can jump on diabetes as a way of pushing the boundaries of life to a desperate and potentially lethal knife edge.

Patience Blystone spoke of how at the height of her illness depression provided her with yet another tool to hurt herself with: “Along with my eating disorder being shown through poor diabetes control, my depression has done the same.... Whether it's me screaming out for help or to be noticed, punishing myself because I feel I deserve that, or just neglect because I can't muster the energy to take care of my body.”

Talking about how she is now able to manage her depression more appropriately through an on-going process of recovery, Patience said: “I've coped with it by finding out what makes me depressed. I am a huge perfectionist, have terrible anxiety and in general am very pessimistic towards my own life. By realizing that setbacks won't ruin my life or make people dislike me, I've managed to always feel the need to be perfect. I can tell myself 'Well if this goes wrong I have THESE alternatives' and move on. My anxiety is a daily battle of tiny bouts of courage, tears, yoga, and just pushing past my comfort zone. And the being negative is just a day by day thing. I find if I enjoy the small things and try not to focus on the hard problems for too long it lessens.

Lucy O'Meara also believes that diabetes has played a role in the development of her depression. She talks of how the condition “majorly decreases (her) motivation which makes relapsing more likely and diabetes control go out the window.” Kayleigh Lovell, who was diagnosed with both type-one-diabetes at the age of six believes her own severe depression started gathering roots at the same age. “I find basic tasks like brushing my teeth or getting dressed almost impossible so taking care of my health is difficult. My eating disorder, OCD and depression have always prevented me from making my health a priority.” she says, “I often feel like I am committing a slow suicide.”

This is not to say that advances in treatment settings are not happening. Recent years have seen the link between psychology and diabetes being considered a lot more has been previously seen. Reports on the association of disordered eating have been a small part of this. Most significantly the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) released new guidelines which outline the importance of psychological support for children and young people with diabetes. They also updated their existing recommendations concerning this area in relation to adults.

But we need to continue making a noise.  Progress is being made in ripples but we need a crashing wave. If you are reading this and suffering from depression please speak out and don't be afraid.  There is nothing whatsoever to be ashamed of.  Vocalise your distress, shout about it if you must. Go to your GP, diabetic nurse, consultant or even a friend who can advocate on your behalf because you shouldn't have to suffer alone. Nobody should have to suffer alone or in silence. You deserve to be heard.

By Claire Kearns.

Early Intervention - NEDAW musings

Today is officially the last day of Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Before it passes over I feel the need to talk about the focus for 2017 as set by B-eat which is Early Intervention.


The topic is a difficult one for me, most of all because any focus on early intervention felt very lacking all those years ago when I became ill. It was more of case of waiting for sufferers of eating disorders to reach a point of acute danger before offering any substantial help, sometimes pushing so far that there was no in between from being given no care to then suddenly passing a line whereby you are an emergency  case. Weight was always the quantifier, and so often it felt like you had to lose more in order to get any kind of recognition or treatment. Messed up is having to push yourself to get worse just so you can get better.


This is still happening. But I have also noticed progress, with some being taken seriously at an early stage, where the outcome of recovery is more likely. The sooner the better, as more quality of life can be preserved. Unfortunately despite the change of direction funds are still being squeezed, with the NHS budget out of breath and gasping. Mental health beds are continuing to be cut, and so it’s still a struggle for many treatment facilities to take anyone beyond those at great medical risk. It’s further down that some head-way can be made I feel, using outpatient and day patient resources to stop further admissions down the line if at all possible.


I can’t stress how much those with diabetes and eating disorders need early intervention. The danger that someone omitting insulin can be in despite presenting as a normal weight is immediately life threatening. This HAS to be recognised. So often I hear that anorexia has the highest mortality rate out of any psychiatric condition, yet I’d take a wager that ED-DMT1, particularly involving insulin omission would overtake if it had an official diagnosis and the appropriate studies and statistics were available.


The need for early intervention AND timely recognition of ‘diabulimia’ symptoms alongside understanding of its seriousness must go hand in hand. Recently updated NICE guidelines are definitely a step towards that as type 1 diabetics are now listed as in need of urgent attention under eating disorder care guidelines.  If untreated the long term complications of ED-DMT1 can be so devastating, I won’t list them as we all know, the end of the line being loss of sight of limbs.


I do wonder where I might be now if I’d had help earlier. It’s hard not to dwell on that somewhat, 15 or so years down the line. I am definitely not the only one either. 


They have two patients with type 1 diabetes in the day-patient program I attended 3 years back now. They are getting trained up on the right way to deal with them, the NICE guidelines nipping at ankles with the worry they could get into trouble. This is the same unit that would hear nothing about that kind of specialist input while I was there. They told me they did not need training, and I felt like they were collectively sighing whenever I spoke of diabetes. I came out of that program far worse than when I went in. So yeah, that’s difficult to swallow. 


But I’m trying to let it go. 


Looking at younger people that are so vulnerable these days makes my heart sink. Even more so those I spot dabbling in eating disorder behaviours. I want to shake them or hug them and tell them to stop, but of course that would sound completely patronising and it’s not my place. I worry about the increasing coverage of diabulimia in the news being used as the catalyst for ‘ah maybe I will try that?’ thinking, but that’s the underside of creating awareness. Sensationalist reporting that focuses on weight and pounds lost certainly have a lot to answer for there, EDAW has once again shown that the media will never learn.


The emphasis needs to be on saving those years, months, hours that can be eaten away by an eating disorder. Of the lives that have been lost because help has come too late. 


Early intervention. To those who can act, make it mean something, please.

Seeds can grow

Seeds can grow and flourish.

I refuse to be a fucking shrub, alright?! (Subtle nod to the film Girl, Interrupted. Had to.)

SEED stands for ‘severe and enduring eating disorder. I only actually heard them refer to me as such in the past year or so, and was taken aback to have it used so candidly. By ‘them’ I mean my current eating disorder service providers.

A SEED patient is classed as someone with an eating disorder that has lasted beyond 7 years. Why 7 exactly I do not know, but that’s the line they draw. It feels like a line between worthy and not worthy of help. Like you suddenly fall through cracks into shadows, case aside, hopeless.

I understand that it is a way of being realistic about future expectations, of making it okay to only aim for stability. I agree that someone with a long history of disordered eating should be regarded differently to someone with say a year of anorexic or bulimic behaviours, and expecting big changes is too much. But I don’t think anyone should ever be labelled as unable to ever achieve recovery. It’s disheartening. It’s an opinion that colludes quite easily with the thoughts inside your head that tell you that you are worthless and good for nothing.

But boxes are for objects, not people. Language and attitude is key, because it’s not just that word ‘SEED’, but the way I have been made to feel. Disregarded. Left on a dusty shelf with rag dolls and unwanted stuffed animals.

12 weeks of CBT just last year was of help to me. I managed to make behavioural changes and start to tackle my negative thinking patterns. Yet because my weight chart didn’t show a steady line upwards from week to week they concluded it unsuccessful. My GP stressed that more therapy would be beneficial but they just refused to offer anything further. Now I just see a nurse every few weeks and it seems the only objective is to weigh me (a trigger every time as I try to stay away from scales these days) and make sure I am still alive. I actually last had an appointment around 2 months ago as have been waiting for a new appointment in the post, so really that shows how much I am of concern.

Of course I also see that early intervention is being implemented a lot more than it was in the past. This is a really good thing, and indeed best use of the light NHS money pot. It just means that for those of us that are of the old ‘system’, with the approach whereby not much help would be available until you reached an acute stage of crisis, when suddenly it would be all sirens flashing, it’s tough. We drew the short straws, pretty much. It stings.

Today I have seen how the approach can be different, though, it can be better. I attended my first session at Kings College Hospital which now has a specialist team that treats diabetics with psychological struggles, particularly eating disorders. My GP made the referral and I was so relieved that it passed by the commissioners without any trouble. I have come away from this appointment with renewed hope.

Therapy was very much on the agenda. Some med changes. Most of all, understanding. No weighing, just listening.

We need more places like Kings, desperately. An eating disorder alongside diabetes must be tackled differently from more typical eating disorders. Losing trust in clinicians is inevitable when they continuously get the facts about your chronic condition completely wrong. Some of the things doctors have told me about type 1 diabetes are just laughable. Of course, we know this illness inside and out, we are the experts, more so than some psychologist or psychiatrist that did a few modules on diabetes in medical school.

We must keep on pushing for more specialist pathways like that at Kings, more open doors that are widespread. Nobody should have to feel beyond hope and that they do not have the support to try and make changes. Small changes are so important.

An eating disorder is not living it is simply existing. Just like a seed, contained, without water it will remain as it is. But just a little sprinkling of rain can be all it needs to begin emerging and uncurling itself with green stalks and sometimes, eventually, rosebuds. Let’s see.

By Claire Kearns.