Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Diabetes and Resilience - a child's explanation

As part of the fundraising and awareness work I do for the Sheffield Group of Diabetes UK I asked my daughter's primary school whether they'd be interested in getting all the kids to wear blue and make a donation for World Diabetes Day last month.

Each term the school has a "mindset" which they use to promote positive behaviour to children through a variety of different ways.  This term's mindset is resilience.   So whilst they'd already got Children in Need plans on that Friday, they asked me if I'd like to come in to an assembly and talk about how resilience is important when you have diabetes.

Now over the years, I've become pretty handy at talking about diabetes within my peer group, and especially when talking to other people with diabetes.  But talking to 200 odd children is a different proposition.  Most of the time, I'm using words and phrases like 'bolus', 'carb counting', 'peer support', 'care outcomes', 'HbA1c' and many others.  These are things you say when you've become used to the diabetes lingo that is common place for many of us.  

So how do you talk about diabetes to a large group with no prior understanding, and an age range of 4 to 11...  The answer is probably "I don't know", but that makes for a short blog.  So here's (roughly) what I said - you'll note some scientific license has been applied to a few parts.  That's not ignorance on my part, but a necessary modification for my audience.

Hopefully they found it useful in some way...

I'm going to talk about three things this morning.  Firstly I'm going to tell you a bit about what diabetes is.  Then I'll tell you what I think of when I hear the word 'resilience' and lastly, I'll talk about why resilience is important to diabetes.

So what is diabetes?  Well it's a special kind of illness that you have all the time, but you can't see.  And once you've got it, you have it forever, because there isn't a cure for it.  But it's not something you can catch off another person, so there's no need to worry about that.

When you all have something to eat, your bodies produce something called insulin inside.  That helps all the energy from your food get out of your blood and into your muscles so you can play at lunch time, and do your school work.

If you have Type 1 diabetes like me, then your body doesn't produce any insulin at all and so you have to inject it yourself.  And that's what I have to do.  Normally, you'd give yourself an injection every time you eat something, plus an extra one in the morning, and an extra one before bed.  So you could have to give yourself 5 or 6 injections each day.

You also have to give yourself little blood tests each day.  You get a little drop of blood from your finger and test it with a special machine that tells you if you've had the right amount of insulin.

There's also a different kind of diabetes called Type 2 diabetes.  People with Type 2 diabetes don't have to inject themselves, but usually do have to take a different kind of medicine every day in some little tablets.

When you have diabetes, it's really important to eat healthily.  It's OK to have treats like cake or chocolate sometimes, but it's important to make sure you have lots of fruit and vegetables every day.

Now I'd like to tell you what I think of when I hear the word 'resilience'.  I often think it's about how you cope with change.  Being resilient means that you have to learn to do things differently, keep going and not give up.  It can also mean having to do things when you don't think you can.  And that's why when you have diabetes, being resilient is really important.

When you get diabetes, you have to learn to do things differently.  Before, you might have gone out and have something to eat with your friends.  But when you have diabetes you have to remember to take your insulin with you, and your special machine  you use for your blood tests.  You also have to think more carefully about what you eat and how much insulin you have to inject.

You have to keep going and not give up.  Even if you're finding it difficult to keep injecting yourself, you have to be resilient and keep going.  If you don't inject yourself, you could get very poorly very quickly, and so that mindset of resilience in important.

And you have to do things even when you think you can't.  Sometimes, you don't want to get a drop of blood from your finger because you know it's going to hurt.  But you do it anyway because it's important you do the test to know how much insulin to have.

It isn't always easy having diabetes, but being resilient helps a lot.