When I discovered that UK Disability History Month ran from 18th November to 18th December, I felt impelled to write about the impact that a hidden disability can have on the structure of a work day.
I am type 1 diabetic and have been since I was 12 years old. It’s not something I acknowledged as a disability until recently, having often ticked the “no disability” box on forms despite HR telling me off. Truth be told, it does have an impact on my day to day life. I am different. The fear of admitting my disability really came from not wanting any special treatment or to be seen as different, but also not to be scowled at when I sneaked a Subway cookie into my lunch order.
Impact of diabetes
My mum is a nurse so was able to quickly associate my extreme dips in energy and inability to stay awake as a twelve year old as diabetes. At that age, the initial impact of the diagnosis largely surrounded what delicious sugary cereals and chocolate biscuits I suddenly couldn’t eat. But in reality it’s a lot more complicated than that.
For me, diabetes comes with both positive and complex issues, none of which I really acknowledge as negatives but as challenges I have to adapt to. The biggest positive from my diagnosis was that it pushed me into every sport possible. I wasn’t the most sport obsessed before being told I was diabetic, but the news I could have a Mars bar or Snickers before every match or training session soon changed this. Sport is now a huge part of my life, thanks to my hidden disability.
The more complex issues come in the form of balancing my blood sugar levels daily. The amount of exercise I do and even the weather have an effect on this. Most people that know me will see that I carry my blood monitor, an insulin injection, and a pack of jelly everywhere with me. These key pieces of equipment in my diabetic survival kit mean I can react to my blood sugar levels being too low (hypoglycaemia) or creeping too high (hyperglycaemia) without too much fuss. If I didn’t carry these with me, then in the instance of a low blood sugar, you’d have to deal with a slightly hallucinogenic, 115kg ex-power lifter with little to no idea what is happening. Jelly saves society from this.
Diabetes in the workplace
At work in the past, I’ve often felt the need to remove myself from the office to test my blood sugar or even just to eat jelly. In some circumstances I’ve even made a sugar-laden tea instead of eating jelly to mask my need for sugar. This was me keeping the disability hidden.
This hasn’t been the case at Immersive Labs. I feel comfortable eating my jelly at my desk, and although I often get questions about what I’m doing, this can be a good conversation starter. Even just having the packet on my desk causes intrigue!
I still remove myself from an area with lots of people to inject insulin into my shoulder. This is more out of respect for others around me, as you never know who might have a phobia of needles or injections.
The influence of Covid-19 and flexible working
The dreaded C word – having had an effect on most things in life – has changed how we work. After being informed I was in the “high risk” category by the NHS, I was quick to become a bit of a hermit. This helped me acknowledge my hidden disability and why it’s important for me to recognise it. I am not the same as the majority of people.
The flexible working approach we have at Immersive Labs allows me to manage my diabetes with great detail. For instance, I attended my yearly diabetic review in the middle of a work day without having to take time off or annual leave.
Remote working also allows me to eat when I need to, without the time pressure of a commute. Immersive has a great understanding of working during the hours you can be most productive. While I don’t tend to stray outside the traditional 9–5, I often have plenty of time to eat in the morning. This may sound basic, but it carries a big impact on my blood sugar levels for the rest of the day.
Thanks for reading! I hope my story of having a hidden disability helps others to come to grips with their own. In addition, for any fellow diabetics reading, some interesting news on a non-invasive, real-time blood glucose monitor was released recently. Something like this has long been rumoured to be built into the next Apple watch – here’s to hoping!