Friends For Life: First Time Jitters

As you’ve seen from the blog posts, the tweets, the podcasts, the Instagram’d photos, the…everything – last week was all about Friends For Life. Children With Diabetes sets up the shenanigans and we all show up and have a blast (while trying not to melt in the Orlando sun). I’ll say this up front, going to Friends For Life was fantastic. By no means was it perfect, but at the end of the day I have no regrets about booking this trip some 6 months in advance. Everyone needs to do this once.

I mentioned that Friends For Life wasn’t perfect but this hyperbolic statement shouldn’t detract you from registering next year. There are just a few things that I couldn’t shake during the event. Most notably, this thing isn’t for me (or “us”). This may not come as a surprise considering Friends For Life is organized by Children With Diabetes but this fact became overwhelmingly clear during the opening keynote. There was nothing wrong with the speech, but the content delivered in no way related to me or my diabetes. Naturally I wouldn’t have this observation if I were a parent of a child with diabetes, or just a parent, but since my only “kids” are the vegetables growing on our patio, the whole thing just felt like an attempt to summon tears in the audience.

By the way, Josh Grobin is a good choice if that’s what you’re going for.

I know this may come off as bitter but I want to reiterate that I didn’t necessarily see a problem with the keynote, or the overall tone of Friends For Life. I’m not the primary audience and I’m okay with that. After all, I was just at Scientific Sessions – a conference by professionals, for professionals. So I’m used to being a fish out of water – or something like that.

By now I’m sure you’re probably yelling at your monitor (or cell phone) saying “Chris, what about the Adults with Type 1 track? It was successful last year, isn’t that the answer?”

I can’t speak to last year, but from what I can tell those sessions were certainly well received. I imagine there’s still a bit of growing pains when it comes to framing and organizing this content considering it is such a small portion of the overall conference but I’m certainly glad CWD is on board with the little known fact that children with diabetes eventually grow into adults with diabetes. Even if we don’t always behave like adults.

Among the sessions I attended were one about complications beyond that of straight-up diabetes (a bit of a bummer to start the day), and one that could have been renamed “So You Want to Start Using a CGM” from Gary Scheiner (entry level stuff, but when it’s presented from a nice guy like Gary, it’s most certainly welcome). Also on my checklist was one about Twitter from this dude named Scott and a woman named Kerri, you might know who they are – the conversation really took shape once we started talking about #dsma. Finally there was one that turned into group therapy session discussing diabetes burnout. Much like a little video project you may be familiar with, it was comforting to be around so much “real talk” and raw emotion about our diabetes and what it does to us. The rest of my time was spent at the You Can Do This Project booth, but I’ll get to that on Friday.

So where does this leave me? As a “diabetes conference”, I wouldn’t say that I got my money’s worth, but as an overall experience I can look back and say that what I invested was returned ten-fold. And that’s thanks to the people.

The piece I left out of each of the proceeding paragraphs is that all of these sessions and keynotes and…well everything was spent with friends. Flying to Florida with my girlfriend to hang out with a bunch of people with diabetes may sound like crazy talk to the uninitiated but if you’re reading this then you know that the diabetes community is one big family of strangers. When I look at Twitter and see that there’s a table of people with diabetes crying at the opening keynote, I can look across the table and physically hand them a tissue. When I walk into a session about diabetes burnout and see nothing but familiar faces in the seats I know I’m in the right place and that I’m among family. When I look around and see eighteen people sitting in a movie theater, I know this vacation was a great idea. When I get the chance to share the You Can Do This Project with a parent of a child recently diagnosed with diabetes, all seems right in the world.

It’s these people (and one in particular) that made Friends for Life the memorable experience that it was. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

(We’ll continue this Thursday.)

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