Learning to thrive in the workplace with diabetes

minute read
December 25, 2023
A type 2 diabetic having fun in his workplace.
Note: Image for illustration only. It does not show the author of this story. Photo credit: RDNE Stock project

My name is Asim Sheikh. I’m 27 years old and work as a dedicated customer service representative.

But 6 months ago, my life took a pivotal twist, and a diabetes diagnosis became a defining chapter of my story.

I now share my journey with you, to unveil the challenges I faced and the resilient strategies I employed, helping me not just survive but thrive in the demanding landscape of my workplace.

My diabetes diagnosis

My journey began with a lack of awareness about diabetes symptoms, as the condition silently infiltrated my life. When symptoms emerged, such as increased thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, blurred vision and slow wound healing, I consulted my doctor.

My diabetes diagnosis, while not a shock thanks to my dietary habits and family history, set the stage for my transformative journey. Getting diagnosed with diabetes made me more conscious of my body and the importance of my health. It was a wake-up call that sparked a journey of self-discovery.

And it was the day my life took a profound shift, transcending the physical boundaries of my health and delving deep into my emotional well-being. As well as managing the physical symptoms, I found myself grappling with an emotional whirlwind – While the physical aspects of the condition are often talked about, the emotional toll is less explored but equally significant.

The weight of my diagnosis not only settled on my shoulders, but echoed through my mind, sparking introspection and a reconsideration of priorities.

Acknowledging the role of mental health in physical wellbeing

When dealing with a chronic illness, the pivotal role of mental health support cannot be emphasised enough. With diabetes, it’s not merely managing blood sugar level. It’s also about navigating the emotional labyrinth that comes with it.

The emotional toll can manifest in various ways:

  • Anxiety about the future.
  • Concern about the impact on daily life.
  • The sheer adjustment to a new normal.

Highlighting the need for mental health support, I advocate a holistic approach. Beyond the medications and dietary changes, you must cultivate resilience in the face of emotional upheaval. And beyond the medical consultations, you must seek support, understanding and empathy from friends, family and colleagues.

The stigma surrounding chronic illnesses often manifests emotionally, creating an additional challenge for those like me who must navigate a demanding workplace. Fear of judgement and misconceptions about diabetes can compound the emotional burden, so it’s essential to foster an environment that encourages open conversation and dispels myths.

Facing the challenges of managing diabetes in the workplace

For me, navigating a high-pressure customer service role while monitoring blood sugar level became a daily challenge. And dealing with diverse clients while enduring long hours in front of a screen added layers of complexity to my new reality.

Recognising the need for workplace accommodations, I took the initiative and approached my manager. Through open communication, we collaborated and created a plan tailored to my needs. This included a private space for me to check my blood sugar level and administer insulin, breaks to help me manage fluctuations, and modified work hours. I’m thankful my manager was supportive – They recognised that it wasn’t about just accommodating a medical condition, it was fostering an environment where I and my colleagues felt supported and ensured our well-being and productivity.

Even with this support, it was still tough. Managing my blood sugar level amid the constant stress of work, worrying about possible stigma and discrimination, navigating the impact of my symptoms on my job performance, and dealing with healthcare-related financial burdens were part of the complex picture of my workplace reality.

To reduce the burden, I took it upon myself to educate coworkers and managers about diabetes, breaking down barriers and fostering understanding – This helped me create a culture of support, securing necessary accommodations, encouraging healthy habits, and ensuring access to healthcare resources.

And as a gesture of appreciation, I made sure to express my gratitude to supportive colleagues and managers – Simple thank-yous, written notes, treats, regular updates, and offers of help in return all strengthened and fostered the supportive work environment that I built around me.

Adapting my mindset

In following the intricate dance that is managing type 2 diabetes, I made use of a variety of practical strategies. Beyond these though, I also adopted a shift in mindset.

For example, I commit to regular monitoring of my blood sugar level. However, for me this is not just a mechanical task, but rather a profound act of self-awareness. It’s a daily dialogue with my body – A conversation I have with myself that informs my choices and empowers me to make real-time adjustments (which help me maintain an optimal blood sugar level).

Again, this is not a burden. It’s a lifeline, offering insights into the intricate balance required to manage my diabetes effectively.

Likewise, mindful food choices have become a cornerstone of my diabetes management strategy. For me, food is not just sustenance; it’s a tool for self-care. I delve into the intricacies of balancing my diet, working towards meals that meet the nutritional needs of my body without compromising on flavour or satisfaction.

And the art of mindful meal choices extends beyond my home kitchen to my workplace, where navigating cafeteria options becomes a thoughtful process – One to be savoured rather than frustrated by.

Establishing an active environment

Working in a sedentary environment, I tackle the challenge of staying active head-on.

From incorporating short walks during breaks to embracing a standing desk, I bring movement seamlessly into my workday. Physical activity is not a chore but a celebration of vitality and a conscious choice to defy the typical constraints of a desk-bound job.

Managing stress

Managing stress is non-negotiable – The demands of a fast-paced job can increase stress levels, which will have an impact on blood sugar level and overall well-being.

But through techniques like deep breathing and including short breaks for mindfulness, I weave stress management into my daily routine. And seeking support from coworkers, friends and family has become a safety net for me, and a reminder that the journey of managing diabetes is not a solitary one.

Again, my approach to managing my type 2 diabetes is holistic – It’s not about just surviving, it’s about thriving.

Each choice is a small victory, and collectively they form a resilient tapestry that defies the limitations imposed by my chronic condition.

Graphic of a male profile picture.
Asim Sheikh

Asim Sheikh is a 27-year-old type 2 diabetic and dedicated customer service representative. And he believes that a chronic condition, like diabetes, can also be an opportunity to grow and transform.

Editor's note: The opinions and experiences reflected in stories from the diabetic community belong to the authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of InDiabetes.

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