Navigating Work and T1D

Contributor
Savi Chahal, CDN Alumna

“Can you turn your alarm off?”

That has probably been asked of me more times that I am willing to confess. Throughout elementary school, middle school and even at college, I heard those words. I am grateful for those who know I’m diabetic and show a little kindness. However, I knew once college ended and I got a job, different boundaries would have to be in place. When I worked as a tutor or a cashier at a pizza joint, everyone knew I was diabetic. Everyone knew what that looked like and sounded like. I had a privilege that I was not aware of working at smaller, closer-knit businesses. I understood very well that my alarms and alerts can become frustrating for those around me, especially those who do not know I am diabetic. I’ll also be transparent when I say I don’t like announcing it or sharing it. Simply because… it’s not a big deal. It’s just a part of my life but not my entire life. I have never been ashamed of my diabetes, but I did get embarrassed when I was in college and alarms would go off during exams or very intense lectures. Other than that, I just would quickly turn it off, say sorry, and that’s it. Most of the time no one really focuses or cares. It’s normal in college to have disruptions. Phones ring. People come in late. There was something safe about those smaller circles.    

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"I knew once college ended and I got a job, different boundaries would have to be in place."

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When I got my job at a law firm, I quickly realized that this was a quieter, and more intense environment. This was a place filled with attorneys who worked from the crack of dawn to midnight, some even later. The walls that I work in are quiet. No music, no talking. The break room is the only place where people talk outside of meetings. My first day on the job, it hit me very quickly that this was not a place for noisy alarms and alerts. I immediately turned to my manager and said I needed to talk to them about a personal matter.

I expressed my fears of my alarms being a disruption to, what I truly believe, is the quietest floor in a building on this planet. My manager listened and told me that this was my health. I was allowed to keep my alarms and alerts on. It was up to me on how to proceed with the situation. I work in-person, with other people six feet away on all sides. I told her I was worried I’d bother them with my CGM. I have a FreeStyle Libre 2 sensor that is connected to my phone. When my blood sugar is high or low, it blares out, letting every person around me hear that something is going on. She very patiently told me I would not get in trouble with management or HR for this since it was health-related.    

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"​​​​​​​When I got my job at a law firm, I quickly realized that this was a quieter, and more intense environment."

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I decided that I would have to tell my new coworkers very early on. I just introduced myself, explained that I was diabetic and have alarms on my phone that alert to low and high glucose levels, which can be loud and sudden. I apologized in advance, but everyone was actually very kind and empathetic. The best part was that I did not have to hear any “Oh my sister’s friend’s uncle’s girlfriend died from diabetes.” I always consider that a win when telling others about my diabetes.

From there, I wish I could say that it all went well and that I stayed strong and took care of my work and health, but the reality is far from it. Since I was always disabling my alerts, I found myself feeling very guilty for being on my phone. I was nervous when other co-workers were on calls, and I’d dive for my phone to quickly silence the notifications because I'd hide it in my bag to muffle it for most of the day. I was jealous of my coworkers not having the same distractions and stress that I was having with managing my diabetes, and I began to resent my diabetes.

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"I was jealous of my coworkers not having the same distractions and stress that I was having with managing my diabetes."

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Up until my job in this new environment, I enjoyed having my Libre 2 app on my phone. It was quick and easy. I always had it charged, and it’s always with me. Who doesn’t in this time and age? It’s what keeps me connected to everything around me. But my relationship with my Libre was becoming stressful and I started to ignore my phone. I was happy to have it far away from me. I would leave it behind wherever I was going. When I was far away from it, it lost connection and couldn’t bother anyone. Eventually, this led me to stop using my Libre completely. Very quickly, I realized that it wasn't a smart decision. I missed the alarms and the ability to easily check my blood sugar. 

I needed to find a balance with my work life. I’m there forty plus hours a week. I need my good health. I needed to make some sort of adjustment in my care, so I did what I should’ve done from the beginning: I got my reader (which allows me to monitor my blood sugars on a device that isn’t my cell phone)  back up and running with vibration alarms, and moved forward

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"I needed to find a balance with my work life."

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It’s been a few months since I made that choice, and I’ve never been better. That first month of daily alarms and fear of my coworkers hating me really overwhelmed me. I now have better, healthier systems set into place. I have a small bag in my backpack that has all of my diabetes supplies in it, including an extra charger for my FreeStyle Libre 2 reader. I keep thee reader in my pocket at all times. I made sure to talk to my coworkers again about my diabetes. They were all very kind and said the alarms did not bother them. They said I was always welcome to bring it back. After all that, I realize my fear was my own personal issue. But I took care of it and feel better about how I am managing it for this specific situation, which is the most important thing.         

Plus, this whole experience showed me how incredibly understanding my colleagues are of me. They keep low carb and low sugar snacks for me in the break room as well as juice stocked for any low blood sugars I may have. They were kind enough to ask me what type I preferred. I even get to put my insulin in the butter compartment of the fridge! I got very lucky with my work environment. I was the one who overthought the whole thing (and like, who doesn’t do that?), but it taught me the importance of communicating my health needs to my diabetes team in addition to my coworkers. If you’re like me and fear being an annoyance to those around you, I highly recommend finding and customizing the right device that works best for you and your workspace. People with diabetes should be unafraid to use their voice to advocate for their needs on the job.    

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Savi's headshot
Title
Savi Chahal
Description

Savi Chahal was the president of the UC Davis CDN Chapter. She currently works at a law firm that specializes in immigration. Outside of the working world, Savi enjoys spending free time with her pets and cooking.