Over the years I’ve experienced a lot of different work environments, and having a good work ethic is something that I’ve always found important. (I don’t let diabetes stop me from being the best that I can in any aspect of life.) I’m not a health care professional giving you advice, just a twenty-something person with Type 1 diabetes and all that extra life experience you get when growing up with a chronic disease. The following are some tips that I’ve found that help prevent diabetes from interfering with my work.
1. Telling your coworkers you have diabetes doesn’t have to be weird or awkward
I currently work in advocacy and lobbying. In the past I’ve been an assistant tennis pro, a waitress, and even a bank teller. So, there have been a lot of times I’ve had to “reveal.” I’ve always gone by the “when the time is right” idea when it comes to telling people about my diabetes. No, it doesn’t have to be the first thing you tell your coworkers, but you should get it out there as soon as possible so they will know how to help you in case of an emergency situation. I remember in my internship on Capitol Hill, I just pulled out my insulin pen and gave myself a shot. A coworker asked me about it and I casually explained that I have Type 1 diabetes and that I’m great at handling it. No one is likely to make a big deal out of it, so tell them when you’re comfortable. But do tell them.
2. High/low blood sugar shouldn’t be an excuse to miss work
Let’s be real here, people: unless it is an emergency situation, you don’t want to waste your sick days on diabetes related things. I’ve woken up both very high and very low and been able to treat myself and get to work on time (or just a few minutes late). The only good thing about highs and lows is that they tend to have a quick recovery time. Yes, it will be harder to get out of bed and motivate yourself to get ready when your blood sugar isn’t perfect, but do it, and save those sick days for when you’re actually sick and contagious. I’ve had a few mornings on the Metro when I felt like death, only to get to work and be fine. I’m always glad I dragged myself out.
3. Pay extra attention to your diabetes care on important work days
I admit that I am not necessarily on my A game when my blood sugars are in a funk. I know in times of stress that diabetes can take the backseat, but your work will be better when your blood sugars are in range. Also, you won’t feel tired or crappy. Checking blood sugar a few extra times during important days, and making sure you go to bed in a good range the day before a big meeting can make a huge difference. I treat big work days like a big match day from my competitive tennis years. Extra thought, extra checks, and planning meals that I know how I react to (most of the time!) is my big work day game plan, too.
4. Try to not let the food comments people make bother you
Like in the real world, at some point people in your work world are probably going to make uneducated comments to you about diabetes. Since you’re going to be around these people for 40+ hours per week, use this as an opportunity to educate them, in a nice way of course. You’ll make friends at work and they’ll be curious to know more about you and your diabetes, too. Once you explain that you know how to manage what you choose to eat and your diabetes, they are never going to question you (or anyone else with diabetes) about food again.
5. Be Prepared: Keep Extra Insulin/Supplies at work
I’m the first person to admit that before my morning cup of coffee, I can be quite forgetful. There have been a few times I’ve forgotten to take my long acting insulin to work or forgotten to bring my rapid acting insulin with me. Since the last thing you want to have to do on a work day is dash home because of supply needs, I decided to keep an extra of each pen in the refrigerator at work. That way, when I do forget, it’s not a bad situation. I also keep an extra meter and other supplies in my desk. With the amount of time you are going to spend in your work place, it only makes sense to backups there. When I am pumping, I store extra pump supplies at work as well, but still keep an extra pen there in case of issues with the pump. You want to be able to correct quickly if a site goes bad. The continuous glucose monitor (CGM) is one thing I don’t keep back up supplies for at work. That, I can hold off on until home without it being a big deal.
6. Plan endo appointments in advance
It can be really annoying to have to use vacation time for endo appointments. But if you plan ahead, you can often work with your office or boss to use as little time as possible for this. For instance, I know the day before Thanksgiving is a slow work day, so I grabbed a time slot with my endo way ahead of time to avoid missing a crucial work day. You can plan up to a year ahead and by doing so, you might be able to still hold onto some of those vacation beach days.
7. Use what you know to your advantage
People with diabetes have to be incredibly organized, determined, motivated and smart. Think about the skills you use in diabetes and apply them to your career. No matter what you do, the skills you’ve developed managing diabetes will make you a great employee just about anywhere. Remember that, and embrace it.