When I was five years old, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I won’t bother explaining what diabetes is as it has almost become a household name. It makes the news headlines on what feels like a monthly basis and everyone, including you, knows of someone with it.
The vast majority of articles, programmes and broadcasts concerning diabetes cover the medical side: the latest treatments; the rising number of diagnoses; the effects of poor management. What we rarely hear, though, is the personal experiences of people with diabetes: what it’s like to live with a lifelong illness and how it makes you feel. We also don’t hear about the positive (yes, positive) side of managing diabetes.
As a child, I was different to my friends. I had to watch what I ate, I had to inject myself. I couldn’t eat cake or jelly at birthday parties. Occasionally, I would pass out at school, and everyone would talk about it.
As you can imagine, this was a whole lot of weight on the shoulders of a five-year-old kid. Even more of a weight on the shoulders of my terrified parents. As a parent myself, I can only imagine how much they would have worried about me.
But there was a positive side. I ate a balanced diet low in simple sugars and was pushed to exercise regularly. Due to this, I developed a healthy mindset towards the food/exercise balance.
Another big positive was the age at which I was diagnosed. I barely even remember it. This means that for my whole memorable life I have been diabetic. I don’t know any different. Therefore I haven’t consciously had to make any major changes to my diet or lifestyle. I grew up injecting myself; I didn’t have to learn it.
While my diabetic childhood was positive, well managed and fairly unremarkable, being a diabetic adult has been a whole different story. Leaving home led to appalling management and frequent hypos and hypers. This change in my late teens stuck with me for a while. I just didn’t look after myself as well as my mother did.
The effects of poor diabetic management are far more than just having a bit too much sugar in your blood. Having high sugars over an extended period can cause depression, impotence, blindness, gout, kidney failure and heart disease (to name a few). Having low sugar makes you pass out. This is a lot to look forward to for any diabetic person, and for me, the sudden appearance of one of them had a massive effect on me.
After over two decades of being diabetic, I was diagnosed with depression. I attended counseling sessions and when these didn’t help I was moved on to beta-blockers by my GP. These also didn’t help much, although they leveled me out and stopped the crippling lows I was feeling. Sounds pretty bad, right?
Actually, the whole depression episode was really positive for me. I had the chance to look back on my life, which I found pretty enlightening. The big change though was that I was finally forced to speak honestly and openly to my wife about my feelings. All the cards were on the table, and I couldn’t hide anything behind a wall anymore. This is probably what saved my life.
Master Your Life with Diabetes
Since then I’ve still struggled with depression, but only as much as anyone struggles with anything in their life. It doesn’t own me anymore. I’ve also started managing my diabetes better. A lot better. The fear of getting those other symptoms along with the depression was enough to shock me into looking after myself. Still not quite as good as my mum did though.
The point I’m trying to make is that diabetes, and indeed any other life-long illness, is not purely a physiological condition. The big struggle for me and millions of other diabetics around the world has been psychological and emotional. Fear, apathy, and depression have all been along for the ride. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. As with careers, relationships or learning new skills sometimes you have to go through a whole lot of pain and stress to finally master something. I made it, and so can you.
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