The fifth Diabetes UnConference took place in Alexandria, VA, quite recently in early October. This was my third time attending this particular, “unscripted” gathering of adults with diabetes, where every participant is considered an expert and can ask or respond to questions and learn from peers in a safe setting where there’s absolutely no judgment or wrong answer.
There are so many diabetes occasions these days it’s tough to keep track, and they frequently blur together. But maybe not the UnConference, organized by the non-profit Diabetes Collective headed by powerhouse D-advocate, longtime kind 1 and decent buddy Christel Aprigliano. Rather than bringing a feeling of “been there, done that,” I find that this event functions as a way to join and expand the diabetes tribe and re-energize.
You may wonder what makes a conference “Un”? The notion is to forgo the conventional conference format in favor of a free-flowing atmosphere that “enables participants to create and mild the schedule, allowing for a huge variety of themes and perspectives which may never be covered in a conventional seminar… using various sharing approaches that concentrate on drawing out responses from all attendees so people from the room can learn from each other in a peer-to-peer environment.”
To put it differently, “no issues have been predetermined, no keynote speakers have been encouraged, no panels have been arranged. Rather, the event lives and dies by the participation of its attendees”
Note that the Diabetes UnConference is an intimate event, but some newsworthy things still consistently emerge — I will cover that shortly. One major piece of news is the announcement that this UnConference will bypass 2018; the organizers have decided it’s time to have a break to evaluate how the event should move. Bummer, given how helpful it has been around so many in just the few short years that this seminar series has existed.
Diabetes UnConf + Diabetes Sisters
For the first time, this Fall’s UnConference was held together with the annual Diabetes Sisters Weekend for Women event. Attendees could sign up for certain sessions for either event, or see joint general sessions for both groups, along with the receptions and parties were available to all.
Among the 50+ UnConference attendees were lots of first-timers, along with a handful of “PLUs” or individuals who love us (though my wife Suzi didn’t attend this around – see her thoughts after the Sept. 2016 UnConference). For the Diabetes Sisters event, we are told 92 women enrolled and that comprised a total of 17 PLUs/partners from the occasions; this also included the 25 women who came early to attend the D-Sisters’ third annual Leadership Institute that educates and trains the leaders of the neighborhood, in-house PODS support groups across the nation.
As always, what happens in the D-UnConf… remains there. People are invited to discuss all manner of personal challenges and adventures, from intimacy to workplace issues to household struggles and so forth. So attendees are requested not to tweet or post out of sessions, or to discuss others’ tales without getting their state permission — because it’s their story to share, not yours. Seriously, a complete social network blackout is called for; laptops are not allowed, and use of phones for texting or calls is discouraged — although exceptions are naturally made for using phone-based diabetes tech.
What I can share are some exciting items we learned about this are actually public news.
Dr. Oz and Diabetes: Diabetes Sisters manhood and PODS leader Anne Dalin out of New Jersey will be featured in an episode of the Doctor Oz Show scheduled to air Nov. 3! She’ll be discussing her experiences living with diabetes and cardiovascular disease. We’re told she’ll be mentioning the non-profit Sisters group especially, regarding the peer support and education it offers her which can help enhance her life. While we have certainly rolled our eyes over the Dr. Oz Show some times previously, but the sheer publicity of this is exciting. It is going to certainly showcase a serious problem together with a great group doing unbelievable work to help women with diabetes.
Peer Support in the IDF World Congress: It’s great to listen to news that peer service within the Diabetes Community, particularly in the context of what exists in those Diabetes Sisters and UnConference occasions — will probably be getting more attention in the forthcoming International Diabetes Federation World Congress place for early December in Abu Dhabi (the UAB in Middle East). These two organizations will be jointly presenting and moderating a poster on Dec. 6 at 11:30 am local time. The concentrate would be “Peer Support and Education to Better Thrive with Diabetes,” and it will incorporate survey results from previous conference attendees showing the advantages of face-to-face peer assistance instead of just online connections. The trio of all D-peeps presenting includes UnConference leader Christel Aprigliano, Diabetes Sisters leader Anna Norton, and facilitator Nicole Bereolos. While peer service is becoming more play at healthcare conferences of late, this is the first time anything like this has been presented at IDF’s World Congress. Way to go, D-Team!
My UnConference Expertise
Every moment, the UnConference appears to be exactly what I need when I need it satisfying my heart and mind with this much happiness and “You Can Do This” soul. As always, among the most interesting parts for me is visiting the newbies who raise their hands to say they have never been to anything like that before, but how much they truly needed to be there!
Since the schedule is shaped by people participating, it requires whatever direction it needs to in the moment, together with the facilitators guiding the talks. With smaller numbers this moment, I discovered it to be an even more personal and romantic conversation covering all kinds of psychological and D-management topics — from tips and suggestions as well as the tech and treatments we use, to how we speak to each other and loved ones, and concerns over selection and accessibility and growing older with diabetes on board.
I shared some details about my life struggles recently, and enjoyed innumerable conversations with fresh peeps and catching up with familiar friends on everything from D-life, to function, colonial America history and genealogy, craft beers along with current news issues.
Personally, it was great meeting others using Afrezza inhaled insulin and speaking hints and tricks that work for each of us. Another issue that got me was speaking about how choice can frequently be taken from us, whether an accessibility or affordability difficulty, or much more mentally tolling such as the constraints we occasionally face making choices for ourselves because of diabetes. As I close my 40th birthday and continue in my 34th year with T1D, the topic of growing older and becoming a burden — if complications are part of the film or not — also becomes ever closer to my heart, so to speak.
Total: So many hugs, laughs, laughs, seriousness, sarcasm, and humor.
None of this would occur without the help of corporate sponsors, a problem that brings up a good deal of varying views and emotions these days given all of the accessibility and affordability issues our D-Community is confronting across the plank. As for me, I appreciate the industry sponsors helping make this occur.
While I’ve looked around the chambers at each UnConference I’ve attended, and spoke to other people attendees, the appreciation is unmistakable: those parties give them a boost of needed energy, and of “me too” camaraderie that’s irreplaceable. Diabetes well-being has improved, mental health was salvaged and some have shared which lives have been spared from the friendships created during UnConferences.
My heart and mind needed this bolus of peer assistance recently also, as I’ve been suffering from recurring diabetes and also have been questioning whether it’s time to move on to some less visible way of wearing diabetes in my sleeve. The UnConference in Alexandria quashed some of my concerns and proved (once again) why this is so important. The folks in the room were thankful and energized. And yes, we missed many friends who could not make it much wanting to be there.
Here’s to looking forward the return of the Diabetes UnConference in 2019. And in the meantime… here is to ongoing that peer support in all ways humanly possible across our D-Community.
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