Can you handle a stressful job and diabetes? – Dan Howarth
I am Dan. I am a Clinical Nurse Specialist in diabetes. I am the Head of Care at Diabetes UK. I am a bad amateur rugby Forward. I have Type 1 diabetes. I have lived and worked all over the world. I love skydiving and Indian food (not necessarily in that order).
I’m sure you noticed that the diabetes thing got fitted in there. That’s exactly what I’ve had to do throughout my adult life – fit it in – and so that’s what I’ve done in the bio I was asked to write.
I was diagnosed 26 years ago and at that time I knew I wanted a career where I could help people. It may sound cheesy but I saw the amazing care my Paediatric Diabetes Specialist Nurse gave me and thought that, no matter what, I will always remember her and what she did for my family and me at that awful and confusing time. So I decided to become a Diabetes Specialist Nurse (DSN). Surely diabetes wouldn’t stop that?
Throughout my time as a DSN (in the North West of England, Central London and New Zealand), I have worked in many different settings, from primary care to in-patient care, NGO/charity work and even parliamentary work. In all of these jobs I encountered and worked through stressful situations, which at times caused my own diabetes to shout at me.
I have spent a lot of time working overseas, teaching health professionals about diabetes in low- and middle-income countries and even war zones. I loved this role and still volunteer to teach in low-income hospitals now. I’m lucky enough to have been all over the world, have embraced the difference in cultures and seen the differences in diabetes management.
Most people with diabetes will tell you it doesn’t stop them from doing things. And 99.9 per cent of the time it doesn’t, but things need to be remembered.
I was once in a meeting with a very powerful director of healthcare in India. I was trying to convince him to support a diabetes team in their fight to get better insulin access. As you already know I love Indian food, so often went into these meetings already bloated but greeted with more Indian snacks. This particular meeting was stressful enough, but mixed with sitting for long periods and high sugar snacks my glucose reached ‘multiple-toilet-breaks level’ (not an official medical term). My glucose was addressed and once I told the director why I’d needed the loo twice in half an hour the meeting continued and carried on over a bhuna (mine and his personal favourite).
Another time while presenting at an international paediatric conference in Miami I was nervous and drinking a lot of water. The stress of needing to be in a certain place for a certain time and the thought of facing a large audience made me nervous, as it would most people. So I did more blood tests. But I gave the talk and kept my glucose levels in range. The key was being prepared (both in terms of blood glucose and public speaking).
It’s not all highs.
I did a one-off insulin clinic in part of the occupied Palestinian territories. Stress levels were high as early morning starts followed by “what to do during a rocket attack” was more alarming than the regular “fire escapes are here” kind of brief. Having taken more insulin to deal with the adrenaline and worry, all seemed to be going to plan. I had a lot of people to see as the area had little diabetes support, and it was non-stop. Towards the end of my clinic I felt that funny feeling in my tummy and my heart started to race. Nerves? Anxiety? No – a hypo. I reached for the glucose which was dramatically timed with the sound of an explosion not far away. I’ll be honest, I probably took a little more of the sugary drink than I should have and the rebound high sugar on the ride home was totally expected.
Stressful jobs are stressful jobs for everyone, diabetes doesn’t mean our ability to do the work is in any way reduced.
Doing a blood glucose test during a meeting becomes a norm, no one has to be silent or give you privacy, and many people won’t even notice it happening. To some degree I feel I have learnt a lot throughout these difficult times. It has helped me become resilient, improved my organisation skills and have even more passion to show everyone that diabetes doesn’t hold me back. If your stress is known and regular, for example: insulin clinics in war zones, or running the country – being prepared can take the sting out of the frustration, and diabetes becomes the norm. Obviously my tales are just a couple that stand out, but there have been numerous stressful times when my diabetes was kept in line (those times just wouldn’t be that interesting to read about).
People without diabetes do these stressful jobs and so can you, the thing that makes you even better at it is that you juggle diabetes at the same time – you absolute superstar.
Share your tips
If you’ve got any great tips about managing your diabetes through stressful times, we’d love to hear them. You can share them in them in the comment box below.
And remember, you should never be treated unfairly because of your diabetes. If you ever need to talk, or you want to understand your rights, give our Helpline a call.