Tuesday 14 November was World Diabetes Day and frankly, I didn’t see enough coverage of it. As someone who has had Type 1 diabetes for seven years (I was diagnosed at 13 years old) I have seen improvements in technology and changes to the way that I and so many others are able to live a relatively normal life with diabetes. So why aren’t we talking about it?
I wish that when I was younger, I had had somebody of a similar age to help me through the early stages of living with diabetes. Someone who had said to me, “It’s going to be OK Will – you have got this”, guiding me through the journey just that little bit more.
Over the last 12 months, I have found my voice, and I am now open about living with this lifelong condition, so it feels right to share my diagnosis experience in this article, to let fellow young people who are struggling to cope or have just been diagnosed know that YOU CAN control diabetes.
My diabetes diagnosis
The 2 August 2016 is a day I will certainly never forget. At first, it was a regular summer holiday weekday for me, playing on my Xbox with my friends that morning, waiting for our favorite game at the time to update as some new things were being added.
The lead-up to this fateful day were some warning signs that something was wrong with me. On my birthday in July, I had a hypo (low blood glucose level) in my garden. My friends had to drag me out of our tent (we were having a sleepover in my garden) and screamed for my parents to come outside to help us. I had the classic warning signs of a hypo:
- Feeling tired
- Pale skin
- Blurred vision
Type 1 runs in my family on my dad’s side; we have a strong genetic risk. My dad and my grandma have it and some of my dad’s uncles also have/had it. So, my parents knew the warning signs and sensed a hypo. Lucozade is the diabetics saviour and it brought me around in 20 minutes or so – with help from some Jaffa Cakes too.
The second occasion on which this occurred was when I was at rugby training a couple of weeks later. Whilst warming up, doing a lap around the pitch, I had another hypo. I first thought I was just unfit but it was my body screaming at me to get some glucose in my system. This is what caused my parents to check what was going on and confirm their worst fears.
On my diagnosis day after playing on my Xbox until lunchtime, my dad made me check my blood. I used to hate any form of needles, so I started screaming “No I don’t want to do it!”. Obviously, my blood sugar levels needed checking and my dad managed to prick my finger. On his monitor my blood was too high to give a number!
I returned upstairs upset and holding my finger – wincing at the pain, but half an hour later I was called downstairs, and my dad drove me to our local GP. I was made to wee on a small stick that turns another colour if there is a high amount of glucose in the urine. And guess what? Mine changed colour.
Learning to live with it.
Then (skipping the scary drive to the Leeds General Infirmary where I was frightened to death the whole way) I was being taken into a room for a range of blood tests and to once again wee on a stick and into a sample bottle. This experience was frightening, and the doctors and nurses tried to make me feel as comfortable as possible, along with my family (my mum was now with me and my dad) but the whole ordeal of being diagnosed is scary for young people; it will scare children and teenagers into thinking it’s always going to be like this.
Being told by the doctor that I have Type 1 diabetes confused me. I literally broke down on my mum and I know that seeing her child like that will haunt her forever. However, there was no time to waste as my body needed insulin. According to the doctors my blood glucose levels were at 40. To put that into context, a person who does not have Type 1 diabetes will have blood glucose levels between four and eight, occasionally going up to levels of around ten if they have eaten large slice of cake as an example. This shows how high my blood glucose levels really were and it was very dangerous.
I was wheelchaired into a children’s ward where I stayed for six days. I’m not sure why I was wheelchaired, but I didn’t complain – pretty fun actually! In those six days I learnt how to carb count and how to work out the amounts of insulin I needed depending on my glucose levels. I learnt how to inject myself with insulin and the two types of insulin I need to take. I had to let my body adjust to which insulins I needed. I was given a recommended diet and advice on how to help myself when my glucose levels are high or low and how to check my blood myself.
When reading that, it makes you wonder how on earth is a young person meant to learn all of this vital information in a week, before being set free back into the wild.
Changes in how we respond to diabetes
Thankfully, if you have just been diagnosed or struggling to manage your diabetes, it’s now so much easier to get help and support from the hospital and beyond. If you live in Leeds, you can be confident that the clinic for children and teenagers is one of the best in the whole country! Every staff member inside that clinic will do everything they can to make sure you live your best life and be happy, despite having diabetes. Youth workers such as Darren and psychologists like Becky will be on hand to make sure life away from diabetes is also going well. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and I know young people struggle to open up because I was like that myself. But do get talking and open up; it will only benefit you.
In the last four to five years sensors have become the norm to checking your blood, making finger pricking obsolete which absolutely helps you live a normal life.
Pump therapy eliminates injections as they do all the hard work for you!
Facebook pages are slowly appearing for people living with diabetes at a young age to open up and talk about each other’s experiences too and that is what this article is aiming to do. Open up. If you DO have diabetes under the age of 18, trust me it really does get so much easier and as you become a young adult, life will throw more challenges at you and your diabetes, but you can and will control it. I believe in you!
You can do this.