The unexpected perks of working with others living with diabetes – by Amanda Hinkin-Page
I joined Diabetes UK last November along with my colleague Emma who, like me, is Type 1. I didn’t realise how refreshing (and reassuring) it would be to work with others also living with diabetes.
There is an automatic sense of comradery when I hear the beep of Emma’s glucose meter over the felt desk partition, or when our Team Manager, Julian, rewards us with (almost) sugar free cocktails on a Friday after work. Diabetes can have the power, and the tendency, to cause loneliness. But within Diabetes UK it is the common ground we are all familiar with, it is acknowledged, and I have no need to explain why I’m chugging down Skittles at 9:07 on a Wednesday, mid-hypo.
I am one of around fifteen in Supporter Care who respond to the calls, emails and social media enquiries at Diabetes UK. On a day to day basis we deal with setting up and renewing our Supporting and Professional Memberships, as well as responding to the letters and donations that get sent through to us.
Enquiries can range from a young person living with Type 1 and asking advice on managing their diabetes whilst backpacking around Vietnam, to an octogenarian requesting our MacLeod Seventy Year Medal, to someone newly diagnosed with Type 2 wondering whether bananas are still okay. We also regularly get sent donations that have been fundraised through community events, such as bake sales, school fetes, anniversary celebrations and raffles. It’s so encouraging to hear about the effort and creativity that people put into raising awareness (and money!) for those who have been affected by diabetes, and are also passionate about making a difference.
One thing I can say about Supporter Care, is that we do A LOT of talking and typing, and make A LOT of hot beverages. On Fridays we also have our traditional snack buffet to celebrate the week. We do try to make healthy choices but, it is Friday, and every now and again a chocolate button sneaks in. The Friday Buffet does have its draw backs however, one of them being the juggling act between snacking and taking calls. If not handled sensibly this can lead to the well-known ‘power-chew’ conundrum where your phone rings half-way through a scotch egg, and you either chew like there’s no tomorrow or try and answer the call without splattering it over the computer screen.
I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when I was 17. I had gone away to Uganda for the summer of 2007, and began to feel quite unwell whilst I was there. At the time, I remember thinking it must have been dehydration, or a bug I had picked up, and it wasn’t until the middle of September of that year that I was diagnosed in my home town of Ampthill, Bedfordshire.
I found it difficult to talk openly about my diagnosis, and isolated myself over the first few weeks simply because I believed nobody else would understand. It was not until the end of that first year that I realised the impact of my diagnosis, when I was eager to focus more on tequila shots than insulin shots.
Knowing what it’s like
Diabetes is a condition that I personally find is often underestimated, and misunderstood. I care about supporting people with diabetes because I know how it can affect a family, as well as an individual (at the time my mum was more upset than me). How it can affect not just what you choose to eat, but when you choose to eat, and how much. Furthermore, it can influence how you feel about your body, how you negotiate your job, as well as any plans you have for the future; whether you want children for example, or where you go on holiday. In short, a diabetes diagnosis can feel overwhelming and hopeless. As someone who has experienced a few troughs and peaks however, I find it satisfying to try and help as best I can.
I thoroughly enjoy talking to those who have lived with diabetes much longer than I. One of the perks of being in Supporter Care is having the opportunity to offer our medals to people who have lived with diabetes for 50, 60 or 70 years. I feel amazed by the journey that not only Diabetes UK has come on in the last century, but medicine in general. The studies, inventions, trials, and funding going into research makes me feel hopeful about a diabetes diagnosis, especially when I get the chance to talk to someone diagnosed in the 1950s when many of the options available now were simply pipe dreams.