When I was invited to write this article, I was asked to write about all the amazing experiences I have been lucky enough to take part in, despite being a diabetic. I thought writing this would be a fairly easy task and writing about my diabetes and positive events would come naturally. So, I sat down, got my laptop out and started typing. About 200 words in I reread what I had written and realised it was very negative- no one would want to read that. I deleted what I had and started again, trying to be more positive. Again, I read what I had written and realised that it was over happy; it was unrealistic and almost trivialised diabetes. So, I tried again, trying to sound light and positive whilst not making diabetes sound like a walk in the park, because it isn’t. That is where I was going wrong.
Diabetes is a struggle at times, it has negatives and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But life does not have to be ruled by this chronic illness and, with care and planning, diabetes doesn’t have to hold you back or invade your life. Whilst growing up I had moments where I thought diabetes was the worst thing in the world. I would watch my friends eat sweets without caring, would have to consider everything I did with diabetes in mind (you can’t just leave the house- do I have dextrose, my meter etc) and I would be subjected to stereotypes by both my peers and the public. I had always been, and continue to be, a severe needle phobic, so finger pricks, injections and later pump changes have always been a real struggle for me. Once, when changing my pump, I sat with the needle hovering above my tummy for an hour because I just couldn’t do it. We all get those comments “I just couldn’t inject myself, ha ha” and we all reply “well when you don’t have a choice you just do it!”. Which is true. But it doesn’t make it any easier. I wouldn’t do anything diabetes related in public for years because I was worried I would be judged, having heard horror stories about people’s reactions to seeing injections.
However, one day, and I can’t pinpoint when, I started to realise, I shouldn’t be ashamed of being diabetic, I shouldn’t let it be the be all and end all in my life. So what if people stared or asked questions when I injected? Everyone (who does not have it) thinks they know what diabetes is, but, in my experience, no one has the ‘full picture’, leading to these harmful stereotypes. These views and opinions can’t be changed without education, and by hiding that side of me from the world, I was stopping people from becoming curious, from questioning and researching and in turn learning.
Now, I take the opportunity to answer questions when they are asked and now, my friends and colleagues understand my condition and know how to help me in challenging situations. Now, with more information out there, less people ask me “are you diabetic because your mum gave you too much sugar when you were younger?”. This has also benefited my diabetes management, as I am properly checking my blood sugars and administering insulin as I am not rushing to hide it away. This control in turn has enabled me to (within reason) do what I want and given me the ability and confidence to push myself out of my comfort zone. I used to not want to do anything, new experiences were scary, and downright frightening once you factored in the diabetes.
Instead of spending my whole life worrying, I decided to seize opportunities, sign up for experiences and make the diabetes fit around me and what I wanted to do, not making myself fit around the diabetes. I have been lucky enough to go on Spanish exchange trips, holidays with friends and trips with family. I attended university, choosing a university far away from home, and whilst I had to make adjustments (especially around clubbing), I not only survived, but thrived and had the best three years of my life. This was because I was in a place where my diabetes could safely be placed on the ‘back burner’ due to my sensible and controlled management.
During my time at university I took part in a year abroad which involved moving to Canada for just under a year and a two week tour of America. This involved obtaining enough insulin and pumps to last me a year, which was actually the hardest part of the whole process! Luckily, with lots of persuasion, the company gave me enough pumps and I greatly overestimated how much insulin I would need. There were times where I struggled, I found adjusting my bolus and basal rates a massive puzzle due to the time differences and carb counting for the supersized American meals was a challenge! Keeping my insulin cool in a bus during 39-degree heat was also an interesting, quite worrying experience. Despite this, the year was the best experience of my life, and greatly increased my confidence. I have gone on to complete university and a teacher training course, with diabetes not stopping me from doing a thing. If anything, it has helped me to be more understanding of other’s problems, empathetic, brave, strong and confident. Diabetes does not have to stop you from doing anything. Yes, it will always have to be an important consideration in our lives, but it does not have to restrict us from doing the things we love or experiencing new things and pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones. It is ok to feel upset or mad about having diabetes, but we should not let this consume everything. There is so much in life and in the world to discover and explore that we should not let this illness stand in the way.