This entire week we’ve seen so much great stuff on social media with plenty of people using the hashtag #diabetesandme.
It’s been fantastic to see so many people sharing their views and journey’s with diabetes. Some are very positive, others show the darker side of the condition.
And as it’s coming to the end of the week I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to give you an insight of my journey with diabetes. It’s my #diabetesandme story.
My first real experience with diabetes was the day after my best friend had just turned 18 and my Mum was picking me up from a house party at his place. I jumped in the car and 1 mile down the road she pulled the car over and burst into tears explaining how my Dad had been admitted to hospital overnight and started explaining what diabetes is to me and what was going to change in his life. How he’d need to be on something called ‘insulin’ for the rest of his life and that he just wasn’t very well at all.
He’d only gone in for an eye check up.
It really effected me. I remember crying to a friend the next day once I got off the school bus (sorry Megan). My Dad was superman (like most child’s view their Father). He was never supposed to get sick and for many years I avoided talking about it because I just didn’t like it – even in my early 20’s. I understood that he needed insulin to lower blood sugars but I never liked watching him inject. It just spooked me.
And then one day in November 2011 my life changed forever.
I had recently been diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, it’s a stomach condition, a severe form of IBS which meant I had go on some pretty strong steroids to manage the condition. It’s a fairly nasty and unpleasant thing to have.
Being the son of a Type 1 diabetic there was always the very strong likelihood that I would become diabetic at some point in the future – and I was ok with this, I thought it would happen after I hit 40. So I had a good few years left only being in my early 20’s.
One day I was out with my girlfriend at the time. We were shopping at The Oracle in Reading and I was so dehydrated I couldn’t believe it. No matter how much Coke (whoops) and Fanta (double whoops) I drank, my mouth felt like it was full of cotton. It was just so dry. My vision was blurry too, I had lost a fair bit of weight over the past couple of weeks (it was actually around 3 stone – it was just dropping off me) and I felt, just, off. Weak. Not with it.
We went back to her parents house and I spoke about the symptoms I was having with her Dad who was a GP. I honestly thought it was a side effect from the steroids I was on and didn’t for one second give any thought to diabetes.
He was instantly concerned knowing my family history and after checking my blood sugar and my urine for ketone’s – he took me to Frimley Park Hopsital the next morning and I was admitted to hospital where I was told that the likelihood was that the steroids I was on to treat UC had placed my body under such a high amount of stress that diabetes came onto me a couple of decades earlier than planned. My body has decided to attack itself and shut down my pancreas.
I was told I was in DKA, hooked up to a load of fluids and monitored closely overnight. My blood glucose was unreadable it was so high. My ketones through the roof. My body couldn’t use any of the glucose in my blood stream as there was no insulin being provided so had been breaking down other body tissues instead as an alternative fuel source – obviously the last thing anyone wants to happen. The next morning a specialist came over to talk to me and explained just how ill I was and how I was days away from going into a diabetic coma. I was living alone at the time and miles away from friends and family and this was a scary thought.
I’m absolutely not ashamed that when I was sitting alone in that hospital that night I was completely terrified. I couldn’t sleep. I just lay there. Sometimes crying. Sometimes not. It was all incredibly overwhelming. This has all happened so fast. I hated being ill usually – even just getting a cold. I couldn’t wrap my head what had just happened.
Once I was discharged from hospital I saw a specialist at Stoke Mandeville hospital in Buckinghamshire and my knowledge of diabetes soured over the following few weeks. I just wanted to get better. My Mum was incredibly upset that this had happened. I remember her saying “I’d give anything for you to get better” through tears walking back from Morrisons a few days after I’d gotten out of hospital. It made me determined to look after myself. Not just for me, but for Mum.
My relationship with Dad grew much stronger as well. We’d always been close and I knew he felt dreadful that I was now a diabetic. I know he took it pretty hard – that he didn’t want his son to have this condition in his early twenties. Especially living away from home. But he, as well as Mum and the rest of my family, have been incredibly supportive and helped me a lot initially and throughout.
I started on insulin. Novorapid and Levemir and like a good diabetic kept a note of everything. But I kept having hypos and was told I was in a honeymoon period. I was also told that I was a “varient diabetic” or “Type 1.5” at that time as I was able to completely control my diabetes with diet and exercise and didn’t use insulin from February 2012.
And this is when I started taking real care of my body. I ate well, exercised plenty, learnt all about stress management and developed a real passion for health and being healthy. I’d always been fit and active, played plenty of football and ran around a lot but this was something else. I read plenty of textbooks, articles, listened to podcasts, watched YouTube videos – anything I could do to learn and help my own diabetes management and just become healthier, mentally and physically. I just wanted to absorb as much information as I could. To get better. I truly believed for a time I could become the first person ever to “cure” their own Type 1 Diabetes. Obviously a pipe dream, but a goal nonetheless.
And I did this for pretty much 3 years. There were some difficult parts in my life that didn’t make it any easier. Break ups, moving home, starting new jobs, making new friends and living in a whole new city away from anyone I really knew. My family were 300 miles away and I only knew a couple of people in London at the time. Stress and diabetes don’t work well together and with everything else going on – sometimes my management took a step back and my health suffered. But I learnt from it and continued to work on being the strongest version of myself.
Then around Christmas 2014/ January 2015 the honeymoon ended. I got sick. Really sick. I lost a lot of weight (again) and was very weak and eventually had to swallow my pride and call my specialist and get an urgent appointment. And this was tough. I had prided myself for so long on not being able to use insulin and controlling it with my lifestyle that I initially took it very hard. Had I done something wrong? Could I have done more? I’d gone without insulin for so long I saw it as a weakness to be on it.
Going back onto it wasn’t easy. It took some getting used to. Remembering to take the pens around with me for one. Tracking my blood glucose levels constantly took some getting used to. And I had one very nasty hypo where I thought I was going to pass out after crawling around my kitchen looking for something sugary and having to call out to my girlfriend for help as I was shaking, weak, sweating and could barely move. After that I knew I needed to get a handle on it.
These days for me, I genuinely have no problem being a diabetic. I embrace it. I’m almost proud to say it because of how far it’s brought me. I see it as a condition, rather than a disease. Yeah sometimes it sucks. Sometimes when I’m in the shower or walking to work or lying in bed and I start thinking that I did nothing to deserve this and I have to inject every day and this will stay with me for the rest of my life, along with all the complications of it – yeah, it’s difficult and I get frustrated. It can be embarrassing (there are plenty of male – and female – specific complications) and it can just be inconvenient.
But the vast majority of the time I know it’s made me stronger. It’s made me a harder worker, it’s made me healthier, it’s made me learn so much more about my own body and it’s actually made me far more confident funnily enough. I like that there’s something different about me and I now really enjoy writing this blog. I’ve found my passion. And I love it.
However, it’s not all fun and games.
Over the last 8 months I was becoming very overwhelmed. Going back on insulin, changing jobs, new relationships, low self esteem, continual changes, falling out with friends, owning my own home, the financial side of that…it was all getting a lot and I was becoming more and more sad. I felt very isolated and just – alone. I just couldn’t feel anything positive. What I could feel, when I really thought about it, made me panic and feel extremely anxious. I over-thought everything. I wasn’t excited about going on holiday or starting a new job. I wasn’t excited to see family or friends. I didn’t want to go out. I hated (initially) going back on insulin. I felt under immense pressure from every aspect of my life. I didn’t like myself at all. I was just becoming very sad. And I was acutely aware it was very much unlike me.
I understand the link between diabetes and depression. And my view on mental health is if I have the flu (or whatever) I go to a GP. Torn hamstring – physio. If I’m very sad or depressed you see a therapist. I don’t like that there’s a stigma in the British Media on mental health. It is a real issue and no-one should be ashamed of admitting something’s wrong. I’ve had people extremely close to me battle varying severities of depression. Some mild, some a lot more than that but I am I’m glad to say they are doing ok now after asked for help.
I was lucky that my specialist department in London has it’s own in house therapist and for the last few months I’ve been seeing her every week and it’s made my life infinitely better talking about a whole range of topics. From diabetes to incredibly low self esteem issues. For anyone who is thinking about therapy I seriously cannot recommend it enough. Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks – do it for you. No-one else will put you first and you owe it to yourself.
I’m in a much better position currently. My physical health is on track. I’m in the best shape of my life and I feel awesome. Mentally – I feel good. There are bad days – but they’re outnumbered significantly by good days. I have my family who have plenty of experience with diabetes to help me with any questions I have. Almost anything I’ve been through my Dad usually has an answer for. I have a wonderfully supportive girlfriend who has been my rock over the last few months and does everything she can to make my life easier – even when I’m struggling and not much fun to be around. I have a great group of friends who understand my condition and just ‘get it’. I have found that having a close support group around you makes the world of difference!
Nowadays I’m working on this blog and training to become a diabetic peer supporter. I want to help as many people on their journey as I can so they can manage their condition and be ok. I’m training to become a qualified performance nutritionist on one of the best courses available. I want to get more information into the NHS so newly diagnosed diabetics have good, solid information on what to do when they first start out. I want to raise awareness for this condition as much as possible. I want to show as many people as possible how to have a healthy life and how to manage their condition.
My life is so much better and healthier all round than it was 3 1/2 years ago.
I am a much stronger version of myself.
Diabetes. It’s tough. There are so many complications. But I feel that without it, I wouldn’t be anywhere near as healthy and as happy as I am today!