Sunday, 13 April 2014

The Diabetes "Tree Of Life" Project

Back in 2011 my consultant recommended that I attend a 'Tree of life' day. I was struggling with diabetes a lot and had no one to talk to about it, so he told me about this project that had recently started up at the hospital (UCLH) called The Tree of Life. So In August 2011 I went along and it was brilliant.

It's run by the hospital psychologists and basically it's like a support group, in the fact that you spend time with other people that have type one diabetes who attend the same diabetes clinic as you. It is all centred around this idea of you being like a tree and standing strong and basically what makes up all of your branches, your trunk, your roots etc. Your "roots" are things like your parents, where your family come from, religion, stuff like that; your "trunk" is your skills and abilities, your "leaves" are significant people in your life, your "fruits" are the gifts that you give to other people, so for example- love and friendship, and finally your "flowers" are the gifts that other people have given you, for example your parents have given you the gift of life. The other parts like the ground and towards the top of the trunk are things like your dreams and hopes for the future, and daily activities that you do and hobbies.

The aim of the day is to show young people that diabetes is not all that they are, that there is more to them than type one diabetes and they will find that diabetes actually does not come up that often whilst drawing their trees. This project really helped me to realise this and I know that it still helps young people to realise this three years on; because in February they called me and a few others back to train as 'Peer trainers'.

Peer trainers serve as an "example" to the other young people who attend future Tree of life days. We join in with the group, but not as much. Basically we help people draw their trees and we prompt discussions and help the young people gain confidence and talk to one another. On Thursday me and my diabetic friend Diaz were able to put our training into action as a couple of weeks ago they asked if we would like to go along and be peer trainers for that particular group, of course we both said yes and so on Thursday we travelled up to the UCLH to be peer trainers for the day.

We arrived at 9:30am and had a brief run through of the day, then we went over to the wall and there were pieces of paper stuck up on there- one was titled 'sport', another 'music' another was 'interests' and another one was titled 'movies' basically this activity was about finding similarities and differences in each other. For example on the sports one it was a line and one end said "I hate sports" and another "I love sports" and you just had to write your name on whatever part of the line you felt was most suited to you- I put my name in the middle because I don't hate sports, but I also don't love it. When the young people came in mine and Diaz's job was to tell them to go over to the wall and fill their names in on the paper, then we sort of all just stood back to look at it once everyone had their names filled in.

There were four young people in total, not including me and Diaz. Also on this particular day they had one of the new hospital psychologists and one of the new diabetes nurses in attendance. One of the other activities we all did was to get into alphabetical order as quick as possible; that was quite funny and it got us all talking more. We all got to drawing our trees and Diaz volunteered to present hers to the group as an example for the other young people to be able to follow, they used my tree as an example of what to draw, and Diaz was an example of what to write. So we had a short break and Diaz presented hers, after that everyone else got to writing on their trees and we helped everyone figure out what they could write and I was helping out a young girl who was really quite shy and didn't say much but I'm happy that I managed to get her smiling and talking more.

All four of them presented their trees and after each one had finished presenting, the rest of the group gave them "fruits". Basically what the fruits were was as the person was talking, we wrote down positive things about them, for example from what they were saying about their family you could tell they were a very caring person, things like that. The fruits are a really good confidence builder because these "fruits" are how you come across to other people just from talking to them, so that's something really lovely for young people to be able to realise, just how much of a great person that they really are. And I think sometimes struggles with type one diabetes can make you forget that, you begin to dwell on your struggle to manage diabetes and see yourself through type one- you think "I must be an awful person, I can't even control diabetes" and actually the Tree of life project helps you see that actually that's not true; because diabetes isn't all that you are, there is so much more to a person than diabetes.

We discussed diabetes as a "storm" and we spoke about challenges that young people with diabetes face that young people without diabetes face and that none of the challenges are our fault and just how we can overcome those challenges, that diabetes isn't our fault. It was nice to see how others coped with diabetes when they struggled. We also spoke about in the "river" that life is, at times you are swimming along nicely but you can run into obstacles like rocks and perhaps big logs, that may be harder to get past, representing diabetes and the the aim is to be able to get grounded and stand strong against the current and the only time you can do this is to get out of the water and be able to reflect on life and the way you can achieve this is to be like a tree on the side of the river. Well, I may not have done the explanation the psychologists justice but it goes something like that.

During the breaks we all got on really well and had a lot of laughs together, at one point me and this young 12 year old boy had exactly the same blood sugar at the same time: 5.1 mmols. The Tree of life takes place on the 12th floor of the UCLH in the young people's school room, and the view from up there is amazing, so that prompted a lot of conversation too. At the end of the day the other young people were given certificates and they can choose a few of the "fruits" that were given to them after their presentations to put on the "my skills and abilities include..." section of the certificate, then the next part is "my hopes and dreams for the future are..." then the last part is "I would like to thank the following people for making a special contribution in my life..." (or something like that). The certificates were presented to them in a little "awards ceremony" at the end, parents and some of the doctors and nurses off of the young people's ward came in to watch. The psychologist read out their names and what it said on the certificate, then I handed them their certificate and Diaz shook their hands; it was really sweet.

Then lastly Diaz and I were presented with certificates for being peer trainers.

I would post a photo of my tree but that was almost three years ago and I can't exactly find it. If I find it I will just edit this post and replace this sentence with a photo of my tree! 

I really like the Tree of life days and even as a peer trainer and not really joining in as much as I did back in 2011 as a participant, I still learnt and benefited from the day just as much as I did back in 2011 when I first went. I hope I have another opportunity to be a peer trainer for future Tree of life days. If I remember correctly, I think right now the UCLH is the only hospital that actually runs the Tree of life project which is pretty special; so I feel even more honoured to have gone to one of the very first sessions and to have been able to go back on Thursday almost three years later to be a peer trainer.

I'm so glad that they actually remembered me and saw enough potential in me to call me back to be a peer trainer...they told me and Diaz that we made "brilliant role models" for the young people who attended the Tree of life day so that was really nice of them, Diaz went for the first time in 2011 I think, and the girls that were at the 'peer trainers' training day both attended in 2012 I think, I suppose they will be contacted to attend a different Tree of life day in the future as me and Diaz were peer trainers at the first one this year.

I had a really great day and I know that everybody else who attended did too. Diaz is a fab person and I'm glad I got to spend the day with her as my peer training partner, we really get along. And It was amazing to spend the day with other young people who all have type one diabetes. We all totally understand each other and I think diabetes just really gives us that instant connection, but it's the ability that we all had to take our conversations beyond diabetes that made it even more special.

-Ellie



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