How to Support Your Teammates Who Struggle with Hidden Conditions
adidas South Africa’s Lauren Haakman reflects on her family story of diabetes and uses it to highlight other hidden conditions that affect our work and sports lives.
World Diabetes Day takes place around the globe on Sunday 14 November, raising awareness and providing education on diabetes one of the many hidden conditions people can suffer with. This year is significant as it marks 100 years since insulin was discovered – in July 1921, by Canadian surgeon Frederick Banting and medical student Charles Best.
Prior to this, children born with Type 1 Diabetes did not survive.
World Diabetes Day is close to my heart because two years ago, my oldest son Jack was diagnosed as Type 1 Diabetic. He was 5-years-old at the time.
Hidden conditions and hidden struggles
Diabetes is not an overtly visible condition. To an outsider, you wouldn’t know there is anything wrong with my son. He’s tall, does well in school, he’s athletic, loves animals and like many boys his age, is very cheeky!
What’s not noticeable, is the degree of behind-the-scenes manoeuvring that takes place to keep Jack safe at school, while he’s playing sport, when he visits friends, and even while he’s asleep at night.
What people wouldn’t see is that he needs up to six insulin injections each day to be able to eat foods that you and I generally wouldn’t think twice about eating.
Most of all, what may not be evident is the emotional toll that diabetes has on our family.
The only obvious indicator that something is up, is constant beeping that comes from Jack’s cell phone. He wears a continuous glucose monitor on his stomach that synchs to his phone. It needs to be within 6 meters of him at all times and it alerts my husband and I when his blood sugar falls outside of the acceptable range (either too high or too low).
When our phones beep, one of us needs to update his teacher/sports coach/ friend/ childminder/ family member on what action to take, to keep him safe. Failure to act quickly could result in him becoming unresponsive and slipping into a coma. So, as annoying as the noisy alerts are, they keep him alive.
Why it’s important to share the load
What I’ve come to realise is the importance of a strong support network. Doctors, teachers, sport coaches, family members, friends… and colleagues. Those who understand that when I need to get to Jack, I have to drop whatever I’m doing to make sure he’s safe; that when I look tired it’s most likely because of another sleep-deprived night; and when I suddenly pull out my phone while talking to you, it’s because I’ve had an alert from Jack’s phone.
As much as I would prefer to keep personal struggles from infiltrating my work life, diabetes is a disruptive condition with terrible timing. I feel enormous guilt over needing to attend to Jack, and find myself working longer hours to make sure I’m not letting the team down.
Draw strength from others
Being part of the ERGs has shown me that I’m certainly not alone. Many colleagues are going through their own mental struggles, exacerbated by Covid-19. What I’ve seen most is how people are struggling in silence over the loss of loved ones and loss of income; suffering from bouts of depression, operating on the verge of a mental breakdown and starting to experience panic attacks.
These topics are not usually openly discussed for fear of being perceived as weak, having an inability to cope or being considered as pessimistic. Most of all, the feedback I’ve had is that people don’t want their personal struggle to count against them in the workplace, so they keep quiet about it. And that’s where the support of teammates comes in. People need to feel they can be vulnerable without there being negative repercussions.
Take the initiative and reach out
In the diabetic community, there is a set of commonly used symbols: I>ΛV
It means, I am Greater than my Highs and Lows.
If Covid has taught us anything, it’s that we’re all greater than our highs and lows, especially when we don’t have to face them alone.
So, in recognition of World Diabetes Day, how about setting up a coffee chat with a colleague you haven’t connected with in a while, or someone who you suspect is struggling. Take the time to find out how they’re really doing, and by doing this, you’re giving them the opportunity to be seen and heard. It’s time we all played our part to help end the silence about conditions like diabetes, depression, epilepsy etc. in the workplace.