Living with diabetes in the real world is something that doesn’t get a lot of media attention I’ve found. There are plenty of statistics and figures, lots of doom and gloom, plenty of “this might cure diabetes” talk but not a lot on what it’s actually like to live with day in day out. Especially when it comes our careers and trying to manage it at the same time.
Now I’ve never actually had any negative response when it comes to my diabetes in the workplace. I’ve always been very honest and open with my employer and my HR department right from the off. I’ve explained to them the condition, what I have to do and what needs to be done if there is an emergency and more often than not I have found people want to learn and help.
However, this isn’t the same for everyone.
When I published my Diabetes and Me post I began to speak to one of my Twitter followers Gem (@stonecld316babe). Gem and I discussed her journey and she had some very strong opinions on her experience diabetes and her work life. I found it all very interesting to learn about so I invited her to write something for The Healthy Diabetic as I thought her experience would resonate with a lot of people.
Enjoy! And thank you Gem.
Hi Gem! Thank you so much for helping me out on this article. So, for starters, could you introduce yourself and give everyone a quick summary of your diagnosis with diabetes please?
Hi, my name is Gem and I live in Colchester, Essex. I have many hobbies that keep me busy including working on my allotment, pole dancing, yoga and walking my dog (not all at once I might add). I am a huge WWE fan and love my Rock/ Country Music. I am a keen campaigner for #Stopsharkfinning – (I love sharks) and also help campaign to save Californian Sea Otters in the wild.
I first got diagnosed as a Type 1 Diabetic in October 2011.
I had just left my job at car parts delivery centre to start a career in care work and within a few months of working there I became very unwell. Due to my symptoms (thirsty, losing a lot of weight), being around other diabetic patients and also having my Granddad as a diabetic, I had an inkling that it could be diabetes.
Upon the test results via the doctors I got a phone call and was told I was most likely Type 1 and that I needed to go to hospital straight away or I could start developing serious complications.
I rang work and they expected me to continue my shift. I didn’t (Editor – Good!) and went straight to hospital where I was officially diagnosed and told I was lucky I wasn’t in DKA as my levels were so high.
From that day forward I would be Type 1 Diabetic.
How did you find being diabetic at first and what are the main things which you have learnt over your journey?
At first it was tough. It was a complete lifestyle change for me. I found exercising a big issue due to my glucose levels dropping so quickly – however thankfully that has calmed down a lot.
One thing I pride myself on is to never give up. I don’t let my diabetes hold me back. Yes I have my down days – we all do, but I try to pick myself up and just enjoy living life.
I control Diabetes. It doesn’t control me.
Ok, so let’s get stuck into this. You got in touch with me when I first produced my Diabetes and Me article and since then we’ve gone on to discuss diabetes in the work place.
Now my experience is actually quite a positive one – I have found every employer of mine to be very understanding and helpful when it comes to my condition. But your experience is completely different. What has happened?
As mentioned before, when I first diagnosed I was working for a care company and they asked me to continue working until my shift was over but I had been told by my doctor to go straight to hospital. Once I had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and had left the hospital they refused to change my shifts to help me settle with my life as a diabetic. They made my life impossible – deliberately changing my shifts at last minute. I decided to leave.
My current work place I have been for over 6 years now, originally part time. I found it hard to begin with the people around me due to lack of knowledge and the common wrong assumptions of diabetes and how we work. Lack of knowledge or poor knowledge is dangerous on its own.
It sounds silly but the very low number of people knowing what a hypo or hyper was or what to do if I was feeling ill – it really worried me.
A couple of examples I have experienced were – “are you sure you don’t want any lunch – you need to eat because of your diabetes surely?” or “well I don’t have to inject you with insulin if you have a hypo do I?”.
I felt like I needed a ‘how to’ leaflet of the basics of diabetes to hand out. I found it very difficult to respond to this.
I took it upon myself to teach the other staff members about diabetes and what to do in-case of hypo’s/ hypers and just increase their knowledge of diabetes and how we look after ourselves. I was shocked at how bad the perception of diabetes was.
Some didn’t even realise that stress can cause issues for diabetics – personally my levels sky rocket through the roof when stressed.
I explained to them how I felt after a hypo. How terrible you feel due to the sudden drop then trying to get back to normal levels. They assumed you just recovered instantly – for me it can take up to 24 hours before I start to feel ‘normal’ again.
Did all of this effect your diabetes management in any way?
Yes, I found many times I would skip taking my insulin because I felt pressured to get my job done. I would think I haven’t got time to do my insulin. Instead I have to get this Payroll processed. I have clients breathing down my neck or screaming down the phone at me so my diabetes has to take a back seat.
Has it improved at all over the months?
I have improved by taking the time to look after myself. It’s important to being able to get that healthy work/ diabetes balance, because in the end if I don’t I wouldn’t be able to work!
I found it quite easy to educate people about diabetes, and still do. Sometimes it is hard when people are busy, they have their own issues to deal with so why should they have to worry about mine?
But I am lucky that I have an understanding boss, co-workers and employees, I have helped them know the ins and outs of diabetes so my work life is a lot easier.
What would you recommend to anyone else who has had a similar experience to you? What have you learnt?
Don’t feel you can’t speak out – you have to look after yourself.
Don’t be afraid to be confident. You know your body and how it works, They probably have their knowledge of diabetes from a newspaper and believed the hype.
You can be the voice and change peoples views and or educate them on diabetes. Especially Type 1.
And what would you recommend to any employers who may be reading this and has a diabetic in their employment?
Don’t be afraid to employ someone with diabetes. It doesn’t effect their ability to work in any way.
Talk to them. Be honest and say I don’t have much experience with it but I am willing to listen and learn.
Over the last few years, I had had next to nothing in terms of days of sick that are a direct result of my condition. I have found a common misconception is that we are constantly ill or off sick, which isn’t the case at all.