Today is World Diabetes Day. For the next 24 hours, the world will talk about diabetes.
I was diagnosed with Type 1 when I was 12 years old, and as I’m now the ripe old age of 27, that means I’ve lived with the condition for longer than I’ve lived without it.
After making it through my denial-fuelled ‘WHAT DIABETES?!’ teenage years relatively unscathed, I’ve become a bit of a self-professed diabetes CHAMPION, educating people where possible on what diabetes is, and what living with type 1 diabetes means for your average gin-loving millennial.
My diabetes is not genetic, nor was it caused by a poor diet or by being overweight. My diagnosis was triggered by a flu like virus, that attacked the cells in my pancreas – rendering it useless. Since then, my life has consisted of daily injections, finger pricks, countless visits to the doctor, the odd hospital admission…and begging bartenders to make sure the tonic they’re giving me with my gin IS SLIMLINE.
“But are you SURE though?”
All jokes aside, the one thing that has stood out to me most over the last 15 years, is the lack of knowledge about this pretty mega condition. It’s estimated that over 4 and a half MILLION people are living with some form of diabetes in the UK. What’s really scary, is that 1 in 2 people with diabetes remain undiagnosed.
I’d bet my pancreas that the majority of people wouldn’t be able to tell you what diabetes is. They probably wouldn’t be able to identify the differences between type 1 and type 2 or recognise the symptoms of either condition.
BUT FEAR NOT! This article will cover some of these points and I hope by the end, you’ll feel more educated on diabetes – I’ll even give you a (pretend) ‘I learnt about diabetes today’ badge and a virtual HIGH-FIVE.
Ok so, what is diabetes?
QUICK DISCLAIMER: Gonna keep it real high level here people, think Key Stage 2 biology. I am also not qualified medically BUT I am a PROFESSIONAL diabetic (self-proclaimed) so that’s good enough, right?
Other than being a total and often literal pain in the arse, diabetes is a condition whereby the body’s ability to produce insulin is either stopped completely (type one) or impaired in some way (type two and gestational).
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that controls the amount of glucose in your blood stream. When you’re diabetic, blood sugars are affected by pretty much everything. Not only the food and drink we consume, but also stress, physical activity, hormones and even THE TEMPERATURE!? Making it quite the tricky lil’ beast to tame.
Type one diabetes is an autoimmune condition. This is where the body completely lacks the cells required to produce insulin, be that through genetic abnormalities or in my case, destroyed by a virus. It can develop at any time, but is most often diagnosed in children or adolescents. This type of diabetes requires daily insulin therapy and continual glucose monitoring.
Type two diabetes is where the body becomes unable to produce enough insulin or what is produced, doesn’t work efficiently. This type of diabetes is treated with diet, exercise, and can also require tablets and blood glucose monitoring. In previous years, type 2 diabetes was viewed as something that only older people developed, but due to increasingly poor diet and lifestyle habits in the young, type 2 diabetes is on the rise.
Another type of diabetes you may have heard of is gestational. This type is diagnosed when a non-diabetic pregnant woman presents higher than normal range blood sugar levels during pregnancy. The treatment is usually a mixture of diet, strict exercise, regular glucose monitoring and can even require insulin injections. This type of diabetes usually (and thankfully!) disappears immediately after giving birth.
The symptoms differ slightly across all types of diabetes but often present themselves in similar ways. The main things to look out for are;
A constant, unquenchable thirst. In the week or so before I was diagnosed, I was necking 500ml Sprite bottles down like there was no tomorrow. Thinking back now, the damage this would’ve been doing to my levels is shocking!
Frequent toilet trips. Like, all the time. Especially during the night.
Weight loss. This is most prevalent in those with undiagnosed type 1.
A lack of energy, blurred vision and breath that smells like acetone indicating the presence of ketones, are all other symptoms of diabetes.
If you, your child or someone you know are experiencing any of the above symptoms, visit your GP. Leaving it to chance honestly isn’t worth the complications.
On a daily basis, diabetics are their own nurse, dietician, mathematician and psychologist.
Each day, we work at controlling something that at times is completely uncontrollable – for no reason other than it just doesn’t want to play ball. We carb-count every meal from the encyclopaedic knowledge we’ve built up in our heads about food, and inject ourselves up to 4 times a day with a hormone that in the wrong dose could be deadly.
We have to consider what any level of physical activity will do to our sugars levels, and plan accordingly. I never leave the house without some form of sugar in my bag, just in case (MASSIVE SHOUT to Percy Pigs, you da one).
Diabetes never sleeps, and sometimes neither do I, depending on what my sugars decide to do during the night. But – I’m cool with it.
It would be so easy to mope about having diabetes, but what good would that do? As is true for a lot of things, being miserable won’t change your situation. You’ve just got to accept the cards you’re dealt and get on with it. Having diabetes encourages me to be healthy(ish). It encourages me to get to know my body, listen to it when I’m not feeling great, and take time out when others probably wouldn’t.
I still get up every day ready to take on the world. Think a lil’ diabetes will hold me back? Think again!
This week, in the build up to World Diabetes Day, I asked a number of people to give me a question they’ve always wanted to ask a diabetic. Here’s five for ya…
Q: How does it feel when you have a hypo?
A: OK so firstly a ‘hypo’ is a hypoglycemic episode, when a diabetic’s blood sugars dip below advised levels, and they can potentially be very dangerous. I can honestly say, they’re one of the worst things about being diabetic! Best way to describe it is probably as an insatiable hunger which makes you feel a gross combination of weak, exhausted and a little bit sad. My heart races, I go dizzy and and can start to feel really nauseous – which isn’t great when you need to consume sugar!
Q: Is diabetes really shit to live with? Or do you just adapt?
A: I’d be lying if I said there weren’t some pretty awful days. There are so many factors that can affect diabetes as I’ve mentioned earlier, often outside of your control – but one thing I remind myself of on the reg is that there are a LOT of worse things that I could have. I wake up each day able to walk and talk and for that I am forever grateful. You definitely adapt, and your treatment becomes second nature.
Q: Do you ever get sick of injecting yourself?
A: 100%! The thought of being able to eat ANYTHING I WANT and not have to inject after it is an absolute dream. It can get tedious, especially on a day of poor control where you’re injecting upwards of 5 times a day, but it’s pretty important that I do it, so you get over that quickly 🤷🏼♀️
Q: Did you struggle to accept the diagnosis and if so, what helped you gain acceptance?
A: I was diagnosed aged 12, during the first year of high school, and one thing I vividly remember thinking was what the other kids at school would think. When I eventually went back to school, the rumour had gone round that I was dead so, it was easier to come back from that!
I wouldn’t say I struggled to accept it, I was just glad I knew what was wrong with me. I think it hit my parents pretty hard, as they were the ones that were given the diagnosis in a way – an extra thing to worry about when sending me off to school or out with my friends. But they were amazing, and did everything they could to ensure my condition was well managed – so for that I’ll be forever grateful!
Q: How do you maintain a normal, balanced life with a chronic condition?
A: Honestly? You just sorta get on with it. You accept that you can’t be as spontaneous as others, you plan for things accordingly and deal with each situation as it comes-up. I’m V lucky to be surrounded by people who understand my condition and are very accepting when I have my off days or I’m not feeling 100%…BIG LOVE TO YOU ALL.
Anyways, if you’ve made it to this point, thank you for reading – it’s been quite the journey but I hope you’ve found it informative.
Here is your ‘I LEARNT ABOUT DIABETES TODAY’ badge and virtual high five.
Stay pancreas wise, folks.