Sitting outside a bar, drinking a refreshing glass of Öl at around midnight in the sultry warmth of a still-light Stockholm night, I tried briefly to step out of the moment and reflect on where I was, what I was doing and why I was there.
I was sitting there in the Summer Night City talking, laughing and drinking with a group of young women: a Canadian scientist who lives in Paris, an Italian electrical engineer who lives and works in London, a Welsh student dietician who is an accomplished and successful athlete, a medical secretary from Birmingham and a first year university student from Doncaster. Of the group, I had only ever met the latter two briefly before; the others were, until 24 hours previously, strangers. At other tables in the same bar were about twenty other people, all unknown to me previously, but now new friends: Germans, Dutch, French, Swedish, Irish and British.
As I paused for thought (not easy in a noisy and lively bar), I just had to smile. Why was I, by some years the oldest in the group, enjoying such a fun night out? The answer, dear reader, you will probably already know. It's because I, and all the others there, suffer from an incurable and life-threatening condition about which I have chosen, only in the past couple of years, to talk online.
Yes, I was at #DXStockholm, a weekend conference for diabetic bloggers organised and paid for by Abbott Healthcare, a global giant of a medical equipment company, makers of the FreeStyle Libre monitoring device of which I am so fond that I call it "Libs" (not original - copyright Amber Rose)
Such are the rewards for responding to the rubbish hand that fate has dealt us in a positive and constructive manner.
Two days earlier, as I boarded a Stockholm-bound plane on a sunny Manchester morning with my good friend and fellow sufferer Lydia, we reflected on the chain of events that had brought us to that in many ways surreal situation. Which twists of fate, which decisions made by each of us in our hitherto unconnected lives had brought us to those aircraft steps? You really couldn't make it up.
Much else over the weekend was gloriously surreal, and enormous fun, and merits some thanks. How about the logistics for a start: flying somewhere, and checking in to a top-of-the-range hotel, with the bookings and payments done by a company account just doesn't happen to schoolteachers like me: at best, we book our tickets and our budget hotel rooms and claim it back, and at worst, we just pay ourselves. Thank you, Abbott! Or how about bopping to Mamma Mia in an Abba-themed disco pod on a Sunday lunchtime with two of the big cheeses from Abbott and a friend with his 6 month old baby daughter in her baby sling? Tack, Benny, Bjorn, Anna-Frid and Agnethe! Or how about bantering on Twitter with a new German friend when she and I had badly failed to respond with an appropriate level of seriousness to the calming voice of a Mindfulness coach? Yes folks, I can exclusively reveal that Germans do indeed have a sense of humour every bit as subversive and cynical as ours! Vielen Dank, Steffi! Or how about hearing the story of the 1973 bank robbery which gave rise to the so-called Stockholm Syndrome, from a cool Australian tour guide and local resident called Ryan, standing outside the building where it all happened, now a high fashion store. Cheers mate! Oh, and while he was telling the story, an even cooler old gentleman dresssed in an immaculate bright blue suit came out of the store and calmly confirmed that the tale being told by our guide was 100% true, "because I was there". Tack, Mr Random Swede! Somehow, we believed him. We were in such a good mood already, so why would we doubt him?
So was this just a corporate "jolly"? Just a p***-up funded by the profiteering of a giant corporation? An easy accusation to make, but one which I, and all my diabetic friends, would strongly refute.
For a start, we actually deserve a bit of fun. Life with Type One Diabetes is a 24-7 battle, a 365-days-a-year balancing act from which there is not a moment's respite. We don't look ill, we don't look like we're just one small error of judgement from a hospital admission or worse, but that's the way it is. And people forget or don't realise, because we're so damn good at it. Occasionally, it goes wrong, and one of our number keeled over at breakfast on the last day. Needless to say, she was helped and nursed back to health by the rest of us. But it was a sharp reminder for us all of what can go wrong.
But Abbott wouldn't put this on just because they feel sorry for us. We were invited because, in a variety of ways, we have all helped to build the wonderful trans-national support network that has helped to transform the lives of people with (mainly Type One) diabetes since the advent of the internet and social media. We have helped to develop, share and promote new diabetes technology in a way that, of course, helps Abbott, but also helps each other.
To be told, as I was, by senior managers in Abbott that my FreeStyleLibre film is valued and used all around the world to help people understand the importance of the gadget was humbling. And to meet in the flesh a veritable Euro-Army of well-informed, canny diabetics was inspirational....and fun. The event was called #DXStockholm because it's an exchange. An exchange of ideas and expertise between the people from Abbott who develop the stuff we need to stay alive and healthy and the users of that stuff. And as far as I can see, it's a valuable and valued meeting of minds....and hearts. I've already waxed lyrical about the value I place on the #gbdoc and the friends I have made from that, but now that same feeling of camaraderie was replicated at a European level.
I'm going to leave it there, because there's another post to be done about what we did over the weekend. That needs photos and video, which I can't do on a plane or a train. But I'm not home yet, so I'll just post this straight away as a massive THANK YOU to all who helped organise the event, and those who came and made it what it was. I'll say that thank you in Swedish, because it's such a cool word:
Much love to all my diabetic friends - you are, collectively and individually, simply awesome - and lovely!
Watch out for my #DXStockholm diary when I get time. For now, I'm nearly back home to see the lovely and long-suffering Mrs L, @RosanaghL and Godiva the cat.
However sad I am about the end of the weekend, it's nice to be back home too...