A long, dark shadow | Diabetogenic

Just what is the emotional labour associated with living with a life-long health condition like diabetes? I’ve been thinking about it a lot this week, firstly because I was asked to give a talk about it to a group of researchers to help them understand barriers they may experience with getting participants into their research. It was a great discussion, with plenty of questions and hopefully a new understanding of the burden diabetes unleashes on us. And then, I thought about it when I was feeling the weight of that burden – more so than usual. 

The emotional labour of living with diabetes is a complex, often invisible force, shaping our lived experience in profound ways. It’s the mental and emotional effort we put into the never-ending demands of the condition. It’s accompanied by an inner dialogue that asks if we’re doing enough, trying enough, feeling enough, being enough. It comes on top of the physical labour of doing diabetes, which in itself, is significant. It’s an ever-accruing emotional toll of being perpetually alert, constant decision making and wondering how those decisions might impact our immediate and long-term health and wellbeing. The emotional resilience required to do diabetes each day is an additional burden of itself, the sum of all these parts equalling an unforgiving weight that, at times, just feels too damn heavy to carry anymore.  

But it doesn’t end there. Living with diabetes is an act of advocacy in itself, even if that advocacy is for ourselves alone and whether we use the word or not. Some people who take on advocacy issues and causes, leading efforts, participating in them, speaking about them. Whether involved in advocacy as a paid day job, consulting-type role, voluntarily, or a hybrid version (me), all of it adds to the emotional labour of diabetes.

Of course advocacy can be energising – striving for better healthcare, pushing for more understanding, and campaigning for supportive policies are endeavours close to our hearts and seeing efforts result in stunning outcomes bolster our energy levels. Working together with others with diabetes to change our communities is motivating. But it can also be exhausting. Each act of advocacy draws from our already limited reserves. The constant need to explain, to justify, to fight for our rights and needs can lead to burnout, leaving us feeling drained and disheartened in a fight that seems unending. 

That’s where I spent a lot of this week: drained, disheartened, devastated and frequently teary with the weight of advocacy casting a long, dark shadow.

I know that this is something people with diabetes speak about, and the mental health of diabetes is finally on agendas, but it still needs to be said that being adjacent to diabetes, or being a champion for mental healthcare doesn’t offer a true understanding of just what it feels like. The best allies I know are the ones who recognise this gap in understanding and do all they can to ensure they don’t add to it and try to learn by stepping back and not overshadowing our voices or efforts.   

One of the ways people with diabetes have attempted to deal with this labour and resulting burnout is to build peer communities and networks. Solace from the weight of diabetes can be found in others with shared experiences in sanctuaries where our struggles don’t need to be explained but they are deeply understood. These are safe spaces where we exchange stories, share tips, and buoy each other’s spirits. These communities become a wellspring of support and encouragement, where our emotional labour is shared, and our advocacy efforts are collectively bolstered. Safeguarding those spaces is essential if we’re to draw strength from them rather than find ourselves being overwhelmed by them. 

In recent years, I’ve found myself becoming more and more selective about where I find that support. Twitter was probably the first to be left behind as I no longer found it a safe space. I’m reminded of that any time I venture back an innocent tweet about my own diabetes choices is attacked from some low carb bro. I replaced the openness of social platforms with closed group chats of others with diabetes, knowing that the support was there without the risk of trolling. Those chats provide the light to guide my way through the shadows. 

This week, with the heaviness of all that is diabetes weighing me down, it has been difficult to find that light. The networks I have are always there, but even that is sometimes not enough when everything is overwhelming. Hosting this week’s #docday°, and hearing from advocates from around the world doing incredible things wasn’t enough to help me see clear. I thought of how to push through this, and I don’t have an answer. Except this: One of the things we do so well in our community is lift each other up because our community and other people with diabetes are everything. And so, even while I am feeling weighted down, I can focus on that. And hope that in amplifying and cheerleading my peers with diabetes and their efforts, I’ll rise too. 

Two community things you should know about…

Spare A Rose, Save a Life is continuing to accept donations here. Thanks to amazing advocate Tinotenda for driving this year’s campaign.

Sign and share this petition and read the consensus statement initiated by a group of #dedoc° voices which is calling for uninterrupted insulin access in humanitarian crises. Congrats to Lucia for coordinating this work.

Stunning design from Anita to support the Insulin Consensus Statement and petition launched this week.


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