This is my story...
I’m Joe, I’m 26 and a type 1 diabetic, and part of the Content Team here at Voucher Codes Pro. Not the smoothest opening line to your possible future wife is it? I was diagnosed at the ripe old age of 18, when I was just about to venture into the world of booze, university and relationships. Thanks to a pancreas that was more interested in taking a permanent holiday than producing the insulin my body so badly needed, I knew I had a battle on my hands.
I’d already had to deal with having heart surgery during my GCSE years and so I felt pretty bummed out when life dealt me another bad hand. However, with the support of my family, friends and the people who know what they’re talking about, I’ve stuck two fingers up to diabetes and carved myself a happy and successful life.
It’s been scary, confusing and lonely at times. There isn’t a magic cure or a way to sugar coat the situation but it can be managed. There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how rough your blood sugars have decided to make you feel.
What’s the icing on the cake for me though? With nearly 9 years of diabetic experience under my belt, I’m still learning. Not just from my lovely nurse that I see regularly (Hi Dawn, you’re now internet famous) but from my fellow pancreactically challenged members online. Before writing this article, I didn’t realise how much the diabetic community kicked pancreASS…
Follow along with my diabetic compendium and see how people out there are dealing with their diabetes. Why am I doing this? To hopefully show you that you are not alone (I am here with you) Jackson, M. (1995).
Boring Legal Bit - Remember, the following are my own (non-professional) words. Always arrange to see your Doctor or a healthcare professional for any diabetes or health related subjects.
New diabetics will soon realise that there’s lots to learn as you go along. In my experience, there’s a ton of misconceptions about diabetes, particularly when the uninitiated don’t know the difference between type 1 and type 2.
What's the difference?
Simply put, Type 1 diabetics have had to say their goodbyes to their body’s ability to produce insulin.
Insulin (the biologically accurate definition) - A hormone produced in the pancreas by the islets of Langerhans, which regulates the amount of glucose in the blood. The lack of insulin causes a form of diabetes.
Insulin (the type 1 diabetic’s definition) - A strange smelling liquid that you’ll continually curse at during your first year of diagnosis. But like any relationship where two people are destined to be together, you’ll soon come round to it and settle down happily ever after. Insulin can be taken via injection or pump.
What causes type 1?
No you didn’t eat too many Mars bars or Skittles, nor did you suffer a radioactive spider bite or exposure to gamma rays a la Spiderman & the Incredible Hulk. For some reason or another, your body’s pancreas has failed to produce the insulin needed to move the glucose out from your blood and into your cells to be used as energy.
Contrary to popular belief, type 1 diabetics can eat whatever they want. It’s all about carb counting (something else you will love to hate, woohoo). But once you’ve nailed down your insulin to carb ratios, thanks to some necessary trial and error, you can eat just like everybody else.
However, I can’t guarantee that everyone around you will be as clued up as you might be…
It’s tiresome but shrug it off. You can’t expect everyone to be a diabetic grandmaster like yourself.
As for type 2...
Type 1 diabetes is more than likely going to develop before a person reaches 40. More generally, type 1 is diagnosed during a person’s teenage years, or younger. People that might suffer with type 2 diabetes are more susceptible during their later years.
Type 2 is considerably more common than type 1 diabetes. According to the NHS, about 90% of all adults with diabetes in the UK have type 2… Another reason why I like to think of myself as being part of an elite band of X-Men; armed to the teeth with sharps boxes and finger prickers.
Just because they share the same name doesn’t mean they follow the same rules. This doesn’t belittle anyone having to manage type 2 diabetes, as they also face a battle of their own.
In more common cases, type 2 diabetes develops in older or overweight people. The UK have seen a distinct increase in the number of patients with type 2 diabetes due to increasing levels of obesity, a general lack of exercise, an increase in unhealthy (but tasty) diets and an ageing population. Yes, even managing to live longer is a bad thing now.
While type 1 diabetes just kind of happens, people with type 2 diabetes can sometimes, but not always, help themselves cut the risk of developing the illness by making a few important lifestyle changes. Preventative techniques range from simply eating a better diet, losing any excessive weight you’re carrying (not the child clutching your hand) and taking part in more physical activity.
If you are concerned about your weight, there are tons of weight loss groups out there to join. I’m sure everyone is familiar with Weightwatchers, one of the UK’s big hitters when it comes to fighting fat. Something like this is perfect for anyone having a tough time doing it on their own. With a group like Weight Watchers, you get advice and meals plans from real people who have lived through similar transitions.
They are the experts in their field thanks to their own experiences. Focusing on group support, you stick to a laid out plans and have the enthusiasm of a whole community behind you. Dieting doesn’t mean you have to starve yourself either! Their new plans include ‘Filling & Healthy’, ‘Lower Carb’, ‘Vegetarian’, ‘Higher Carb’, ‘Mediterranean’, ‘Gluten Free’ and ‘Intermediate’.
By mixing exercise with a healthy balanced diet, you’ll be doing yourself a huge favour. A healthy pancreas will find it a lot easier to shift your sugars from the blood and into your cells if you’re not overloading it with extra work to do.
If you’re diabetic, you will lose your sight, then your feet. Followed by suffering strokes, developing cardiovascular disease and a pinch of kidney failure. (Fun) FACT...
Or you control your condition and live as close to a normal, healthy lifestyle as anyone else.
Sure, diabetes can cause some really serious long-term health problems down the line but that fate is probably 95% down to the diabetic’s choice. It all sounds terribly scary, simply because it is. Everything you’re told could be a reality.
I’ll always remember when I was first taken into hospital before being diagnosed with my type 1 diabetes. I’d been experiencing all of the tell-tale symptoms in the weeks, maybe months, before my body couldn’t handle it anymore. It started with getting weird hand cramps when I was out bowling with friends. This became a running joke between us; now officially known as The Claw.
Then of course, I was peeing like a leaky bucket… and don’t even mention the unquenchable thirst and tiredness. I imagined that this is how a vampire must feel when they haven’t tasted blood during the daylight; I wanted to sleep all day and drink all night. I was naïve and did the normal angst-driven teen routine of ignoring all of this, preferring to carry on as normal, chasing girls and spending prolonged periods in the bathroom.
Once I’d been to my local GP, they took some bloods and sent me on way. Within a small window of time, I received a phone call from the Doctor. I was ordered to collect a prepared letter from the Doctor’s reception and then report to my nearest hospital. The contents of the letter informed the hospital that the pale looking chap in front of them was running blood sugars of 38.9, a number which meant very little to me at the time.
After the doctors ran some more in-depth bloods, checking for ketones, I was put onto a ward and attached to a drip containing insulin. I had type 1 diabetes. Just like that. The part which really stayed with me though wasn’t the reality of what I was diagnosed with, but how my attentions were drawn to the guy in the bed next to me.
He was an older man, probably in his 30s. After some small talk, he revealed that he was also a type 1 diabetic. He was friendly enough, acting as my own personal Yoda, teaching me the ways of the blood sugar. However, he wasn’t much help at all. He laughed while telling me how this was his 3rd visit to A&E in the last couple of months, due to his diabetes. On this occasion, he’d been binge drinking with the lads and not kept any tabs on his blood sugars. He ended up unconscious and was now sporting a giant bump on his head from when he passed out. Yoda would be turning in his grave.
10 years down the line, who knows what that guy is like now? I sometimes wondered whether he turned his diabetic control around or not. He was a stark example of how poorly controlled diabetes can affect you. I said to myself that day; I wouldn’t let myself get into the same state as he was. I left that hospital days later with my very first testing kit and set of insulin pens. And like a superhero being told
with great power, comes great responsibility, I haven’t looked back.
Know your 'hypo' from your 'hyper'
Hypo and hyper. Two new terms guaranteed to rear their ugly heads throughout your life as a diabetic. Allow me to use a visual aid to distinguish the differences in how you’ll feel during these two polar opposites:
- Note how the dog on the right is experiencing slightly more wrinkles on his forehead.
- Pay attention to the way the dog on the left’s tongue is falling at a slight angle.
- See how the dog on the right prefers to face plant.
- Whereas the dog on the left feels inclined to rest on his chin.
- The dog on the right is quite pale.
- The dog on the left is also pale.
- Both dogs show signs of exhaustion.
So, the question is, which dog matches symptoms of a hypo, leaving the other dog representing signs of hyper? The answer? They both suck and you will want to keep your blood sugars in control whenever possible.
On a serious note. When your blood sugars go above or below a normal threshold, you’ll need to take action to rectify the situation.
What’s a hypo?
A normal blood sugar can read anywhere between 4.4 -7.8 mmol/L with a general sweet spot around the 6 or 7 mark. Reading a blood sugar like that deserves a pat on the back. You’re a diabetic rock & roll star. However, if your blood sugar reads less than that holy number 4.4 then you’re most certainly suffering a hypo.
You don’t need me to explain how this feels but to put it into perspective for non-diabetic readers… it’s a sensation like no other. For me personally, I become paler than usual, sweaty and physically shaken. Your body is clever enough to communicate some warning signs that somethings not quite right.
A hypo is like a cruel, ironic joke. The only time a diabetic can feel happy and guilt free to bed their face in a pile of sugary goods is when your health and wellbeing is at its most vulnerable. Seriously, who made the rules here?
That’s right, a hypo requires sugar, not insulin. I lost count of the amount of time I’ve had to politely explain to my friends what to do if I can’t deal with the hypo on my own… For some reason, their first thought is to give me insulin; it has manslaughter written all over it!
To resolve the issue correctly, I have to act as quickly as possible, storming my pockets, bag or nearest shop for a source of fast-acting sugar. A sensible diabetic will be prepared for situations like this but like everything else, it’s another learning curve.
My preferred choice of weapon against a nasty hypo is 5 or 6 jelly baby sweets. On the other hand, I’ve been far more creative in the past. I once made a fresh cup of tea whilst dealing with a hypo, only so I could maximise the enjoyment of levelling up my sugars by dunking some ginger biscuits. No that’s not a euphemism.
What’s a hyper?
On the flip side of having a hypo, you can go completely the opposite way. Having to deal with high blood sugars is a whole different story. Whether you’ve eaten something carb heavy and not taken enough insulin, or you’re coming down with a sick bug that’s been lingering around the office; high sugars are a confusing beast.
There have been plenty of occasions where I’ve thought I had my diabetes sussed, only to do a blood sugar check and read back an ominous hyper warning followed by a couple of weighty numbers. The only times I want to see the digits’ 16 and above is when I read back the lottery results and realise that I’ve won the Euromillions… If only.
Diabetes will continually find ways to troll you throughout your life. You could be tootling along, accurately counting your carbs, keeping fit and then BAM.
You’re feeling like a zombie with a thirst so strong you'll down a bottle of water in two seconds and your meter is telling you that you’ve got more sugar in your blood than a giant gummy bear. I find my highs are far more random than my lows. For example, I can usually understand and figure out the reason for one of my hypo readings. Whereas a high blood sugar can completely take me by surprise.
My point being, no matter how much care and control that you put into your diabetes, you’re more than likely going to be thrown a few curve balls to keep you on your toes. As much as a wind up diabetes already is, you will soon learn that blood sugar is apparently affected by far more than just the food you do or don’t consume.
I’m literally still learning things today in my ongoing investigation into my random high blood sugars. I’m like a young Columbo, beige rain mac and all, piecing the clues together to spot a pattern and crack the case. Everything feels like a contradiction...
- "Your body secretes sugar into the blood stream when you’re taking part in high-intensity exercise."
- I want to get fit though?!
- "Your body secretes sugar into the blood stream when you’re under heavy stress."
- I’ve got a job interview in two minutes and I’m going to crush this guy’s hand during my handshake thanks to the return of The Claw.
- "Your body secretes sugar into the blood stream when you’re feeling unwell."
- I have no fluids left in me!
I’m sure you can see a running theme here. But like everything else diabetic related, you can control these as best as you can to prevent it from causing you any real trouble. To deal with a hyper, simply correct it with some extra insulin on top of some food and repeat your monitoring a few times to make sure you don’t go the other way.
Diabetes essentials – what you’ll find in a diabetic’s belongings
Once you’ve honed your diabetic skills and trained yourself to becoming one with the force, every diabetic Jedi will need to keep stock of their supplies. I’ve gotten through my fair share of man bags, ruck sacks and storage boxes over the years. Though nothing quite beats having a top girlfriend which will always offer to carry your test kit, insulin pens and jelly babies in her handbag (thanks Abbie).
You soon begin to build relationships with your GP surgery’s receptionists. While I’ve read some nightmare stories online, I’m now pretty pally with my surgery. I’ve been lucky enough to sneak in short-notice test strip prescription requests on a regular basis. Although I don’t recommend letting your supply of diabetic related items run so low that you need an emergency prescription!
What’s in my bag?
- Dextrose tablets
- Jelly Babies
- Insulin pens
- Test kit
- Spare test strips
- Ketone strips
- Carbs & Cals book
I’ve been seriously bowled over by the number of fantastic bloggers, twitter discussions and support websites focused on reaching out to people connected to diabetes. Whether you’re type 1, type 2 or a family member of someone with diabetes, there’s a wealth of amazing content online to dig into. Thanks to the internet, everybody can have a voice and express their thoughts and feelings through social media, blogs, forums and articles.
I recently discovered that I’ll be changing from my daily insulin injections to using a pump. I tweeted a random question about it as I’m going in blind. Then I simply sat back and watched as a whole twitter conversation unfolded in front of my very eyes.
These guys were providing links to blogs, tagging people who have had similar experiences, vlogs and support sites. I was overwhelmed by how helpful and friendly they were.
The point of me telling you this is simple. It took me nearly 10 years to find these people online so I’ve been dealing with my diabetes on my own. Yes, I have an excellent circle of family and friends who understand but no one can really "get it" like a fellow member of the Pancreases Anonymous Group.
Don’t be afraid to tweet about it, read some blogs and then contact the people behind the computer screen. From personal experience, there are no silly questions and absolutely no reasons to tackle this diabetic malarkey on your own.
I decided to further reach out to the online community, asking diabetic bloggers for their stories, tips and tales from their experiences to help others. The response I had was beyond belief. I’ve met type 1 and type 2 diabetics, speakers, doctors and even parents who are raising young kids with diabetes.
Every one of these people deserve respect for the brilliant job they’re doing. I wish I could include them all but here are just a few.
Must-read Blogs & Articles From Around The Web
If you can take anything away from this, please check out these amazing bloggers associated with the world of diabetes. Everybody has something worth reading, learning from and talking about. Whether you have diabetes or not, their terrific insights into coping with diabetes makes for brilliant reading.
Integrated Diabetes 'Thinking Like a Pancreas' is a great source for news, tips, polls, quizzes, product reviews and need to know info on all things diabetes. Contributors include the 2014 ‘Diabetes Educator of the Year’, Gary Scheiner.
'Diabetes Stories' is a brilliant blog by the super enlightening Riva Greenberg. You’ll lose hours reading through her continuous blog updates about living with diabetes, food tips and insight into the bigger issues concerning diabetes.
'29 Things Only a Person with Diabetes Would Understand' made me chuckle. The rest of the office didn’t quite get it but I’m sure any other pancreatically challenged people will.
'Top 16 Healthy Foods for Diabetics' is an easy to digest article highlighting some basic foods that are very diabetic friendly.
'Type 1 Diabetes Memes' has been a constant source of humour since beginning this project. Full credit goes to the contributors of that site for a lot of the images I’ve used here.
'Diabetes is no joke, Except when it’s funny' is exactly the kind of dry humour you need when you’re a diabetic. It can easily sound very doom & gloom so it’s necessary to take the pee out of yourself from time to time.
'A Sweet Life' is an online diabetic magazine. Run by diabetics themselves and including tons of guest posts, they bring the community together for everyone to learn and interact from. They run features on all things D related including; tips, recipes and blogs on a regular basis.
'Melanie Stephenson' is a blog by... Melanie Stephenson. However, Melanie isn’t just any kind of type 1 diabetic… She’s also an international athlete! If anyone ever needed proving wrong that diabetes holds you back in life, look no further than reading Melanie’s blog updates. She has fantastic advice on dealing with sugars through exercise in particular.
'Miss Jen Grieves' was a brilliant find when starting my journey into the diabetic online community. Jen’s name kept popping up! Mixing experience stories, fitness and food with videos and blogs makes for really good reading. She’s effortlessly witty and informative.
'Every Day Ups and Downs' is a fantastic blog. Mike has made me laugh and learn about my diabetes in equal measures. He’s another D blogger whose name tends to accompany shining recommendations from others, in the diabetic online community.
'Ninjabetic1' is more than just a clever name. The author behind the ninja mask is (harmless) Laura. Mixing her experiences with the latest diabetic equipment, YouTube videos and more makes this helpful type 1 worth looking up.
'Texting my Pancreas' first of all, is a brilliant name for a blog. Secondly, the blogger behind it all is excellent. If you’re new to the whole diabetic online community thing, check out her recommended reading list at the bottom of her ‘about me’ page. She’s covered all sorts in the past that really helps to bed you in.
'Diabetes.org' and their blog page brings together 14 of the brightest bloggers from DOC, regularly featuring informative and entertaining updates. You can follow them all individually from the list under the ‘our bloggers’ tab.
'Type One Trio' follows the day to day goings on of a very special family. The Hatchett siblings’ Caleb, Hannah and Daniel are all type 1 diabetics. Each has their own story, making great reading for any family wanting to understand what it’s like from a child’s perspective when being raised with type 1.
The perfect recipe for living with diabetes
So what have I learnt from all of this? I honestly feel like I’m a better person since living with my diabetes. I’m more positive, open minded and organised. Whether or not every diabetic will feel the same is clearly debatable but if I could put everything you need into a cake...
- Dollop of humour
- Dash of optimism
- Pinch of self-belief
- Stash of test strips
- Sprinkling of friends and family
- Ton of monitoring
- Smidge of organisation
- Lash of learning
- Fistful of determination
- Teaspoon of common sense
And to round this whole thing off, how about we end with some helpful links. There are tons of brilliant support websites online, whether they’re government funded or not. Embrace this lot and you’ll begin to know more about your condition than you realised.