Last Friday I flew to Vegas for The Diabetes UnConference. Despite my usual travel anxiety, the journey went smoothly and I was lucky enough to spend both flights sitting with Stacey. I was also lucky enough to have been randomly sent through TSA Pre-Check at both airports. (Yay!! And I spend about 30 minutes playing slots in Vegas and ended up $30 ahead!) With the travel out of the way it was time to get on with the conference.
I feel very fortunate to have attended many diabetes conferences in the past. I've been to pharma conferences where my travel was covered, and I've been to open conferences where anyone can attend if they can budget for it or obtain a scholarship. Both kinds of conferences are comprised mostly of sessions. And most of these sessions are led by experts - people with a ton of credentials and a long string of letters following their name. That's good, because I often learn a lot and think about things I've never though of before. Or think about things in a way I never had before. These sessions are very valuable to me.
But the UnConference? The UnConference was different in that all the sessions and discussion were led by us, the patients / attendees. The conference facilitators were patients / attendees. While other conferences I've been to usually have at least one similar session, where we can gather in a circle and really talk in a safe environment, I've never been to a conference where every single session was like this. And it was wonderful. I shared some of my deepest fears and said some of the hardest things I've ever had to admit out-loud. I cried tears that were both happy and sad. I laughed a lot and nodded in understanding. I found out that all of the weird things I feel maybe aren't so weird after all. Maybe I'm not a freak for feeling the way I feel. Maybe it's diabetes that is the freak and others with diabetes share my feelings too.
The truth of the matter is that every session of The Diabetes UnConference was filled with a room of experts. Every person living with diabetes is an expert. Even when you don't feel it, you are an expert. I'm willing to bet that diabetes has an impact on you, and nobody understands that personal impact better than you. You are the expert. I'm not an expert in the medical side of diabetes. I may not even be an expert in parts of my life with diabetes. But nobody knows better than I do what diabetes means to me, what diabetes does to my body and my emotions and where diabetes seeps into the cracks of my life.
I am my diabetes expert. You are your diabetes expert. And it took The Diabetes UnConference to show me how important that is and how much we need to come together and help each other.