When I asked folks in the DOC if they’d be willing to lend their voices and perspectives for a guest blog post, I was excited to hear from Susannah (aka @bessiebelle on Instagram and Twitter). Susannah grew up in South Australia and is now working as a lawyer in Cambridge, in the UK. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes during the course of her last year of high school (2000) and is currently using a Dexcom with her Animas Vibe insulin pump.
Today, she’s taking over SUM to talk about diabetes in the work place, and how to handle the moments when discretion is preferred but diabetes still needs attention, and she’s looking from tips from our community on handling diabetes in the workplace.
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A significant aspect of my life with diabetes which I often feel is ignored is how it fits into my career. Diabetes goes with me to work everyday and has seen the highs (completing deals) and lows (being at work at 2am) of work and as well as sugar!
When I started to write this post about working life with diabetes I was armed with a list of anecdotes but I didn’t expect life to serve up another example of when the two worlds collide. One of the frustrating things that any diabetic knows is it can always throw you something unexpected.
After a seemingly average Sunday afternoon gym session Monday morning last week saw me battling a hypo that just wouldn’t respond (to glucose tabs, reduced basal plus bread with strawberry jam for good measure). With heart still racing and a foggy brain at 9am I emailed my boss to let him know I was somewhat delayed but I’d be in soon. Moments like this make me glad that I’ve been open with my boss about being a type 1 diabetic but also make me anxious that I will be judged as less capable because of it.
Am I the only one who feels like that?
The emotional side of diabetes creeps in too easily. After an experience like that morning I’m left worried that I’ll be judged because of it. Being late on Monday morning is the least of it… We all know there are the doctors’ appointments (6 monthly checks, annual reviews, eye checks, and other specialists – always longer than expected and involving long times in waiting rooms), hypos setting you back (sometimes only a few minutes, other times for much longer), pump sites pulled out causing hassle and even spurting fingers resulting in blood stained shirts! Some of these take up more time than others but they all intrude on what might otherwise be a normal day in the office. Something that I’m acutely reminded of when I’m filling in my 7 hours of 6 minute units of time each day.
I fear hypos at work more than anywhere else. I don’t want to explain why I’m sweating at my desk like I’ve been for a run or to be faced by a deadline but struggling to gather my thoughts clearly. I don’t feel any more comfortable in this situation now than I did when I first started work as a law clerk 10 years ago. Luckily, for many years I had the luxury of my own office and the ability to shut the door gave a level of privacy when required. Recently, I moved to an open plan firm and I am having to reconsider many things I took for granted with a (glass) door… pump site changes at my desk are a thing of the past (cue a few panicked mornings hastily inserting a new site and refilling so that I won’t have to later). I’ve been lucky not to ever have a hypo in a meeting, but this is not without taking care. Meetings with clients or all parties to negotiate a document are a balancing act of starting the meeting high enough not to crash but not so high that I feel sluggish. (and that’s not considering the blood sugar spikes from stress).
Thankfully there are the comical moments – taking a draft document to my boss and having to explain the red smudges on the print out (after 15 years it’s fairly easy to squeeze blood from my favourite fingers… I tested as I typed this and got blood on cue!); being in a meeting with the same boss and having my pump alarm go off – after a quizzical expression from a colleague my boss calmly commented “Don’t worry, Susannah’s bra is ringing!” Needless to say my pump alarms are strictly on vibrate these days.
There are moments that call for advocacy whether I feel like it or not. In a previous job I was surprised when HR requested that I remove my spare insulin from the work fridge or alternatively hide it in a container so other people didn’t have to worry about ‘contamination’. Why?! To this day I haven’t quite figured out who raised the concern (or why?!) but I defiantly ignored that request (with colleagues’ support) and also politely explained to HR that it was not a risk to anyone’s sandwich.
I’m always interested to hear how others handle disclosure with their employers (as well as see photos of their diabetes supplies stashed in their desk), and am always surprised by people who manage not to disclose it. I’m yet to perfect my ‘I’m busy having a hypo so please don’t ask me a question face’ so disclosure is what feels best for me. It may not be for someone else (YDMV). In contemplating my days in the office I realise I have it pretty easy if the worst is getting blood on a contract! I’m in awe of the many people who manage their diabetes while being responsible for others (whether a mother, teacher, nurse or doctor, just to list a few).
How do you handle your diabetes at work? Any tips on how to stress less?