Diabetes. It’s been in my life for a long, very long time. My Dad, My Uncle, My Grandfather all have had diabetes in one form or another. It was all something THEY had, until I started a job in 1995 where I learned that it wasn’t. And that JOB became a cause that has become so very special to me. What I learned is that diabetes is unlike most chronic conditions, it’s not just a pill you take and you’re good – it’s a constant balancing act where anything, basically everything, can have an impact in your day. You don’t get a break, you don’t get to say, I’m not gonna diabetes today – well you can, but then you pay for it. It’s something that impacts the whole family, especially if the person with diabetes is a child or teen. And imagine, just for a minute, what that constant stress, responsibility and pressure can do to your mental health. And not just of the person living with diabetes, but to their parents, their siblings.
It’s no surprise that people get burned out. It’s no surprise that people who live with diabetes also have a relationship with mental health conditions. Just another nasty tag-a-long that comes with the diagnosis. And its also not surprising to learn that there are painfully few mental health professionals who understand the nuances of what living with diabetes can do to your mental health.
Back in the late 1990’s, when I was still a part of the diabetes industry, the company I worked for was asked to sponsor a family conference – the first one ever. We did, but had no idea what to expect. This gathering was like summer camp but for the whole family with the added twist of educational sessions the parents/adults could go to while their children where in age group sessions (having fun and learning about appropriate diabetes management too.). Two decades later, this meeting is now the largest Type ! diabetes conference in the world for families and adults. This is the Children with Diabetes’ Friends for Life Conference. Over the years, the conference has evolved in include more and more psycho-social sessions to bring awareness and focus on the mental health impact that comes with diabetes – and its amazing! The healthcare professionals are exceptional and are skilled with working with how diabetes impacts mental health as you age and develop (imagine a session specifically focused on being a teenager with T1D and the mental health impact, or dealing with burnout as an adult?)
At this conference, I spend the week volunteering and it is honestly a highlight of my year seeing all of these wonderful people coming together to learn and support each other. It’s a week where people with diabetes are given a green wristband and those of us who do not have diabetes wear an orange one. While normally this would be an annoyance (having something on you at all times) – during this week, its a band of honor. So many of these T1D warriors are the only one in their school or job or community that they know with diabetes – here its the norm. Here, everyone has a hug or a shoulder to offer. Here, walking around with diabetes tools attached to arms and legs and bellies is status-quo. I can only imagine what this experience means to those who live with the day-to-day stressors of diabetes. I read the posts on Facebook, the blogs and hear the comments, but I can’t truly appreciate it as those who live with T1D and their families do.
After more than 10 years of volunteering, this year was a little different for me. First, I’m in a much better mental space than I have been for a very long time and I honestly couldn’t wait to dive in and be among these wonderful people. But something else happened, I had a few people come up to me and thank me for writing here — it honestly blew me away.(and to those who did this – thank you x a million, you’ll never know what it means to me!!!) I write because its helpful for me, somewhat selfishly, to get thoughts out of my brain and onto “paper” and to share my struggles and small wins. But to know that it has helped people who have so much more to deal with than I do – I don’t have the words. I get so much out of that week, way more than I give and I feel so lucky to be able to lend my time to support this organization.
If there’s a lesson that I learned and one that is so alive at Friends for Life, is to be present and reach out – it sounds cliche but you never know the difference it can make to others.
If you’d like to learn more or to support Children with Diabetes and their wonderful Friends for Life conferences, please click here