Tuesday 1 May 2018

We Are(n't) Family

You know sometimes there are incidents whose significance doesn’t dawn on you until you reflect on them in a quiet place on your own some time later?

Well I had one of those this last Friday, April 27th 2018.

I had enjoyed a lovely evening of food and chatter with three friends at a restaurant near Victoria Station in London. There was me, Ellie, Steph and Izzy. We had spent the evening eating, drinking and chatting - nay gossiping - and laughing, and the time had come to pay the bill. Cue further laughter and chit-chat as we tried to work out who had eaten and drunk what. Our waitress for the evening had done a good job in striking the balance between efficient service and friendly banter, without being too intrusive, but when we were about to leave she couldn’t resist the temptation to ask: what was the connection between the four of us?

I guess most groups in a restaurant on a Friday evening are easy to read - intimate couples, celebrating families, boisterous work colleagues - but she clearly couldn’t work us out. “Have a guess”, I said, and her unconvincing guesses included father and three daughters, a boss and his employees: both basically saying “old guy with young women” But she had to give up, and was then visibly struck when we said that we were just friends from different parts of the country who share a medical condition.

All very obvious really, but the more I think about it the more it serves as yet another reminder of what a precious thing the diabetes peer support network known as the #GBDOC is. To a muggle like that waitress, it is clearly puzzling to see the likes of me socialising with the likes of Ellie, Steph and Izzy. Whereas to us, it’s just, well, what we do.

And of course that was just the start of it. The four of us were gathering for a weekend centred around the third TADtalk event, a day-long meet-up of people with diabetes organised by an endocrinologist from Portsmouth who happens to believe - passionately - in the power of connectivity among those who share a condition and those who help them to live well with it.

I, and many others have written and spoken about the power of peer support before, so in that sense this post is repetition of, or at least a variation on, a familiar theme. However, every time I meet with my fellow diabetics in groups large or small, every time I exchange easy banter with them on Twitter, I am reminded just how precious this phenomenon has become to me and to many others.

I will not describe the TADtalk event in detail, as others have already done it better than I can in tweets, or for example in this post by the organiser, but I will just remind myself and others that I have the good fortune to be part of something very special. As I adjust to retirement from a long career in a people centred job in which I was surrounded and kept young at heart by some wonderful young people, I now find myself surrounded - often virtually, but sometimes literally – by dozens of friends who have nothing else in common other than a pesky, 24/7, potentially life threatening medical condition. We are young and not-so-young, female and male, rich and poor, shy and extrovert, gay and straight, black and white, religious and secular. In short, we are people. The thing about Type One diabetes is it does not discriminate. So neither do we.

And the point is really this: with most of these people, I hardly ever talk about diabetes these days. Of course if the need and occasion arises, they are a wonderful, wise and well-informed source of information and support about every aspect of living with diabetes. But above all, we are just friends who chat, laugh and cry together like friends do. Or perhaps more accurately, like families do. Because for me, that is how the GBDOC feels, and I make no apologies if this sounds cheesy in the afterglow of such a fun weekend. We are indeed an extended family, and like any family we sometimes fall out, we sometimes bicker, but in the end we know that blood sugar is thicker than water.

As Sister Sledge put it: We Are Family, and I for one am grateful that I have "got all my sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins and whoever with me."

This post comes with my thanks and greetings to all these #FacesOfGBDoc both those who were present last weekend and those who were unable to join in. Here they are - an update to this picture will be posted on Twitter when I have added all later additions to this picture:

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