Diabetes solidarity – by Helen May

I work for an American company of about 400 employees: big enough that we get things done, but small enough that I know many of my colleagues. Although I live and work in the UK, I know quite a few of my colleagues “across the pond”. This is mostly via emails but I get to see them once or twice a year.

About 18 months ago I was visiting our head office on a training course with about 10 colleagues when I spotted one guy get a small device out of his pocket. I don’t think many people noticed and most who did had no clue what it was. But I did: I recognised his insulin pump and we got talking about our experiences. A few others overheard and we soon realised nearly half the people on the course had diabetes and a couple of others had family members with the condition. We did not distinguish between Type 1, Type 2, etc.; it was enough of a bonding moment to just talk about diabetes.

Until recently, I had forgotten this conversation. Then I was back in Boston with a larger crowd of colleagues early this year. During a coffee break one guy came up to me and thanked me for my blog. I must have looked confused because he had joined since the training course and I had no idea he had any connection to diabetes. He went on to explain his teenage daughter had Type 1 and someone else had mentioned my blog which he had been reading ever since and getting some insight into what his daughter experiences. She sounds like she’s feisty and, like me, does not want diabetes to get in the way of living her life.

Diabetes connections

This “outpouring of diabetes solidarity” doesn’t just come from America. Although I hope I don’t make a big thing about having diabetes, I don’t hide it: I test and bolus in public. To me, it is managing my diabetes in public but not managing it publicly. As a result, someone who recognises my actions, will quickly catch on that I have diabetes. Twice, recently, strangers have come up to me and discussed our shared condition.

The first was in the gym changing room. When I exercise, I test a lot because I find I often hypo and need to tweak my insulin: I test before I leave home; I test when I change, I test after my cardio, I test when I finish and I test when I get home. A couple of weeks ago, there I was, trainers on, leggings on, pump clipped to said leggings, blood glucose in acceptable range, … raring to go (ish) when a woman came into the changing rooms after her workout. She smiled and then started telling me how she uses exercise to help manage her diabetes. We exchanged stories and experience. Then went on our way.

The other was at a fused jewellery course (I like to vary my activities). The course was a full day of cutting glass, designing necklaces, brooches, etc., preparing the kiln, learning about different fusion techniques and glass types, … and being as creative as we could. Some were more successful than I at this last bit.

Smiling knowingly about our diabetes

Most of the time, I forgot about my diabetes. I was learning so much, absorbed in my design, searching for the latest glass shard which had penetrated my finger, searching for the best shade of blue/green/purple/white/clear/metallic/… glass/paint/metal that diabetes took a back seat. I have enough hypo awareness to know my blood glucose was not too low and alert enough to know it was not too high. I was suddenly dragged out of this haze when lunch arrived and I had to do my usual test, guestimate carbs and inject. As we returned to the classroom after eating, a fellow student came up to me with her handbag and surreptitiously showed me the contents: an insulin pen. We both smiled knowingly and went back to out pendants.

I used to have a boyfriend with a motorbike. Whenever he passed a fellow biker, they would decline their helmeted heads to one side in acknowledgement. I am starting to think people with diabetes have a similar greeting: a quick flash of an upper arm to expose their Libre, a rub of finger tips to acknowledge shared finger pricking sensitivity, a surreptitious handbag expose, or just a quiet “I have diabetes too”.

Diabetes does not dominate my life. It does not decide my friends. But, it is nice to share something in common with strangers.

Your rights at work
Read Helen’s blog on diabetes and meetings

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