There’s nothing quite like a global pandemic to highlight what matters, or rather who matters most in your life. Amongst the reflections, the spotlight of unending gratitude inevitably falls on friendships.
Very recently I have been reminded of how I came across the diabetes community. It was a friendship completely unrelated to diabetes in any form. A friendship I think about and miss often and at the moment; daily. It’s strange watching a friend fight for their life when you’ve felt so static in yours for so long. It gives you perspective and purpose, not to mention a good kick up the backside to turn lemons into margaritas! Part of that for me, was the realisation that I had my own health that needed, and deserved more attention. So, being inspired by my pal’s fight against her brain tumour, I sought to fill spaces on Team Niki’s Diabetes.
As well as finding the right HCPs, technology and education, I began to realise the importance of peer support. I’d never been in a room with anyone who just understood my T1D without me having to say anything until I went on my first carb counting course. I bonded with one fellow PWD over our desire to be Mummas in the future and our mutual love of Cornwall. This interaction was a landmark moment for me. It is not only where my wish to meet more members of this pancreatically challenged club began, but it is also the beginning of my journey to meeting Matt, my husband.
I spoke to my diabetes clinic about peer support groups, but there wasn’t much that existed for people with diabetes in my area. That’s when I discovered twitter and the #DOC (Diabetes Online Community). I was quickly welcomed in and found myself giving and receiving support and understanding from people with all types of diabetes, all over the world. I spent such a lot of time chatting with people that it never felt like a cyber connection. The friendships I was experiencing felt very real and safe. I suddenly had greater confidence when needing to explain what I needed to people who didn’t understand T1D. I felt empowered to ensure I was receiving the most appropriate access to care and management options to help me live well with T1D, because I now knew that it was possible to live well with T1D!
Immediately upon finding the DOC I made some friends who felt like people I’d known for years. Kindred spirits who’d had the same or similar experiences with diabetes and could even put a name to them. I understood that I’d survived burnout a million times, I’d teetered on the edge of diabulimia more than once and succumbed more times than I’m ready to admit. And those erratic BGs at specific times of the month were because basically I was having ALL the hormones come to the party at once! So much suddenly made sense that hadn’t before and with it, I felt less like a diabetic and more like a Person with Diabetes. Thanks to these friendships.
None of that would’ve been possible without those friendships, so you can imagine how excited I was when we started arranging to meet in person. There was always a fear that the friendships we had online wouldn’t translate to real life and everything would change. Fortunately that has never happened. Every single person I’ve met up with has been exactly as they seem online, and they’ve said the same of me.
Some of my friendships have become so close and cherished to me that we’ve shared many of life’s milestones with each other, celebrating and comforting in equal measure. Some of my diabesties came to my wedding, have supported me through both of my pregnancies and are guardians to my children (officially and unofficially). And I can honestly say, without them all this year alone would have been far more challenging for a pregnant, isolated woman during a pandemic. I am grateful for them in a way I cannot always express. I hope they all know how exquisite they are to me.
It’s not unusual for us to focus on what diabetes takes from us, but it’s given me friendships I only dreamed I’d be lucky enough to have.
Thank you for my Diabuddies, diabetes.
Niki is mumma to two beautiful children, married to Matt and has been the director of her type 1 diabetes since 2001. When she’s not hanging out with her family or working she can be found writing about her life with T1D at whatnikididnext.wordpress.com Niki is also passionate about research and living well with diabetes.