If I can sum up my Children with Diabetes Friends for Life conference this year with two words, I’d say it was emotional and educational. What makes this conference like none other is that the focus is on the people touched with diabetes on a more personal level. It’s about improving lives with a holistic approach. It covers everything from learning about the latest technology to talking openly without judgment about the problems one faces with diabetes and their own personal life.
I’m not a very emotional person in general. But talking personally about my diabetes is a very emotional topic for me. Most people don’t know how hard it is for me at times to keep my emotions in check while presenting about my diabetes experiences. Before getting on stage I have to tell myself, “Okay Bill, present this as if you aren’t the person you are talking about.” I try to remove myself from the situation so I can make it through the presentation without shedding tears in front of a group of strangers.
The powerful thing about Friends for Life is that every person who attends is a friend you haven’t met yet. Being open and honest is encouraged and applauded here. There are several educational sessions that tackle the emotional impact of diabetes in a safe environment where everyone “gets it.”
I went to one of these sessions for the first time and it was an uplifting and supportive experience. It was an emotional release for me, as person who doesn’t show emotion often, the openness of feelings expressed in our group of ten other type 1s was something I will never forget.
I will share with you my experience, but there was a rule in the session. It was that what is discussed in the room doesn’t leave the room. I don’t intend ever to break that rule, but share with you how this group of people with T1D left me a better person.
The group started small. There were only about five of us at the start and the way the session worked was we went in a circle introducing ourselves and telling the group one problem we had. After a person shared their problem others in the group could comment, offer support, hugs, tissues, and understanding.
I wasn’t prepared for how personally deep the discussions would become. To kick off this group session a member of the group stated how the Friends for Life conference is the only time they get emotional and cry. They look forward to this group every year because of the powerful healing benefit of crying just for the sake of crying is. Not crying because you are sad, angry, or upset, but crying as a release to let the healing process begin. I was willing to experience this release as our closed group (people with type 1 only) settled into our seats with a box of tissues in the middle of the circle of chairs.
The group started off with just five of us in the beginning, but as the one-hour session went along, others entered the room and were offered a seat in the green circle. For the people that came after the start, they knew they were in a room where serious conversations were taking place. Everyone had already been crying and each one of us had tissues in our hands. It took courage for them to enter and engage. As scary as it might have been for them I think they knew once the door opened it might have been what they were looking for all along.
Topics discussed ranged from parenting issues, lifestyle choices, feelings of being alone, conflict with spouses, issues with pregnancy, but the overall theme was that people want to be loved and understood about how hard daily life can be, and how diabetes can make it even more difficult. There was a lot of guilt we all felt about how our diabetes adds to others’ problems. Making it worse at times and how unfair it was to our loved ones. This room of ten type 1s understood each other at a higher level and the bonds made here in this group will last for years to come.
Everything in my life isn’t perfect. I assume yours isn’t too. I have challenges I face, conflict in some areas, and times where I feel like I could be doing better and loving people more. I was able to talk openly about the problems I was facing in this group with everyone listening. Listening to someone talk about what is important to them is a powerful tool we all have. We all should use it more. I should use it more. It’s a way we show each other that we care. I felt that in a powerful way that day. With my emotions out on the table I’m not ashamed to say I cried. I did. I feel better because of it and knew this was the place to share these emotions we had.
One other thing I noted from being in that session was that I was one of the few males in the group. I observed for the most part women discussing their lives, issues, and values. Women seem to be more comfortable expressing themselves in a way I am just not good at. I was nervous about openly sharing and even a little intimidated. Before I explained my problems to the group I mentioned to everyone how amazed I was with how easy it seemed for others to talk so freely and articulately about their problems. I truly envy those that can do this with ease or at least what seems to be. I know for one, I intend to be more open with others and more transparent with problems in my life. The more I practice, the better I will become, and my life will be better as a result.
Thank you to the special friends I made for life that day. I can’t wait until next year to continue our group discussion.
So what is Friends for Life all about? The title says it all. I just made it a reality instead of just a conference title this year.