Living With Diabetes, It Could Be Worse.

I have been a diabetic for most of my life, first diagnosed at the age of 5.  It was thanks to watchdog that the diagnosis was quick.  My mother had noticed that as a young 5 year old I was often very thirsty, and would spend half the night getting up to go to the toilet after having drunk so much fluid before going to bed.  It wasn’t until she saw a report on watchdog that my mother became increasingly concerned.  She took me to the local GP who immediately said to take me down to A&E.  I was later diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes (insulin dependent).

As a man coming into my early thirties I do not think anything of my daily routine of injecting at least twice a day and numerous blood tests however, even my close friends do not fully understand the things I go through living with diabetes.  So this is what this blog post is about, to give people a bit more of an insight in to what my day consists of and how diabetes affects my day to day life.

Now let me first say, this is not a woe is me blog.  I feel living with diabetes is not a big thing, I have had it for 25 years now and it just seems the norm to me but it isn’t normal so I wanted to explain the things I deal with throughout my life.

As a young boy I can’t really remember much about being scared of having my injections but I have been told stories of how I used to hide in the play room at the hospital when my parents were learning how to administer my medication.

The first thing I really remember as an issue with my diabetes was my poor mother trying to make diabetic recipes to give me the chance to have say a mouse for dessert without my sugar levels going through the roof.  One such time my mother had tried recipe after recipe to find something nice for me to eat.  I think my mother was at her wits end and as a young child I refused to eat the dessert, my mother, obviously under much pressure made me eat the dessert.  Many tears later my mother tried the dessert and the realisation that her son was not just a whiny kid but the fact the dessert was awful came over her.

We laugh about it now but this seemed to affect my Mum, it must be hard to see a young loved one not able to have everything normal kids have but my Mum always tried her best with me.

The next life affecting issue with diabetes was that as a young child I was very reluctant to learn how to do my injections myself.  This first became an issue in junior school when the year was to go on a trip away for a week.  Unfortunately as I still had not learnt to do my injection I had to stay at school with the kids who couldn’t afford the trip.  Still to this day it never really bothered me that I missed out on this trip but it was a missed opportunity caused by my illness.

As a young child I used to hate doing my injections in public, it was in an era where drug abuse and aids were at the forefront of the media and I felt that people would judge me, thinking I was taking drugs.  Looking back I can see that this was a silly thing to think and now have no issue doing my injections in public, even if people do think I am taking drugs, that is their problem and my friends know I would never do that so they are the ones that really matter.

As I grew up, managing my daily blood sugar levels became part of my daily life.  It was when I hit the age of 18 that the next hurdle came in my diabetes management.  This was the age I started drinking (yes a late starter I know) and alcohol is one of the few things that lower your blood sugar levels.  Any kind of carbohydrate will increase ones blood sugar levels whereas only exercise, insulin or alcohol will lower them.

So where my friends would go out and get hammered without a care in the world I would need to take extra precautions.  Initially doctors used to say you should not drink at all as apart from lowering your sugar levels, the behavior of a diabetic having a hypo is often similar to the behavior of someone who is just drunk, hence causing confusion when a diabetic is drunk.

Anyway in these modern times doctors advise diabetics they can drink but must not drink excessively.  Whilst not strictly following this rule I do take precautions by drinking sugary drinks between my alcoholic ones to keep my sugar levels up.  It was one Christmas holiday day as a new drinker that for some mad reason I threw all the precautionary rules out the window and just drank without any sugary drinks.

The last I remember of this night was leaving the bar, the next thing I was aware of was waking up in the hospital with my Mum and Dad in front of me in tears.  Being the Christmas holidays I felt ashamed, that I had not looked after myself and had brought my Mum and Dad away from their own Christmas party to find their son in an absolute state.  To top this off I was informed of the events that had preceded me waking up in the hospital.  This included being carried by four friends to a mates house where I redecorated his parents lounge in vomit!

Once the doctors were happy that my sugar levels had stabilised they allowed me to return home, unfortunately they had not advised my parents that the injection they had given me would make me feel more sick than just being hung-over.  I spent the next day throwing up, this being an issue for a diabetic who needs to keep his sugar levels up to stop themselves falling back into another hypo.  My mother tried to give me the usual recommended lucozade but I just could not keep it down, after a few hours of this she grew increasingly concerned and called a helpline who advised to water the lucozade down which resolved this issue of me keeping it down.

As they say you should learn by your mistakes and I have never had an event quite as bad as this, caused by alcohol.  I must admit I have had low sugar levels caused by alcohol but never to this scale.

There was a period during my teenage years where my hypos had become more frequent, I had recently had a medication change where I had been put onto a synthetic version of human insulin whereas I had previously been taking a porcine and bovine mix.  During this period I completely lost my low blood sugar level warning signals therefore I was unable to stop myself having hypos before they happened.  It was thanks to my mother who whilst reading her diabetic magazine came across an article describing other diabetics who have experienced the same loss of warning now that they were on the synthetic human insulin.  We immediately went to see my diabetic specialist and demanded to be taken off this human insulin (which we believe was more the drugs company trying to cut costs by moving all diabetics onto the same insulin).  I was immediately placed back onto a porcine/bovine mix and my sugar level control was restored.

The actual hypos I find very hard to describe when asked by people, the physical actions I make when having one vary from hypo to hypo and I will highlight some of the more funny episodes later in this blog but the actual feeling of a hypo is usually very much the same.  When I get a warning about my sugar levels dropping the documented description of a diabetic hypo suggests the feeling of butterflies in the stomach.  I think this is quite accurate but not quite a full description, I feel that I also get the feeling of great hunger but even this does not fully describe the feeling but it is as close to it as I can get.

The majority of the time I will get a feeling that my sugar levels are dropping and therefore will eat something, on rare occasions I will not get a warning and this is when I have episodes such as the one described above or later on in this blog.  In more recent times I have had a hypo first thing in the morning, I have woken up and sometimes my wife has had to give me sugar or biscuits to bring my sugar levels up.  I can often have no idea of what has happened or even the fact I have had a hypo.  Sometimes there is an issue of me refusing to have the sugar or food but my wife persists in getting me to take it.

A recent hypo involved me waking up and in a semi-concious state I had a shave but not a shower and made myself some breakfast, it wasn’t until the breakfast had got into my system that I realised what had happened but I was still unsure if I had, had a shower or not.

As an adult I have no issue telling people I have diabetes but I do find it uncomfortable to tell a group of strangers on the off chance I have a hypo in front of them.  The reason for this reluctance to tell is not because of shame or anything but the fact that I do not feel it is a major issue and would rather people just didn’t know. I fell foul of this in the early days of dating my now wife.  To be honest I still could not give anyone any advice on when is an appropriate time to tell a new girlfriend/boyfriend of your diabetes as even if you just mention it, to go into details of how they should deal with you if you have a hypo is not going to be the most attractive feature to them and I can see would scare some people off.

I was lucky and when I had a hypo in the early days of dating my wife I had fortunately informed her of my diabetes but had not explained how to deal with a hypo.  It was for this reason that she called an ambulance.  Once they had brought me round I did feel very embarrassed but it was the best thing my now wife could have done as she would not have known how to treat me.

Over the 25 or so years I have had diabetes I have had various hypos which after the event are very funny and in my opinion why dwell on them when they are funny.  Some of these episode include one as young child where I had watched the Rocky film with Mr. T. in and for some reason thought that if my parents let my feet touch the floor then Mr. T would get me, yes hilarious after the event but at the time I remember being in fear for my life.  

Another hypo at university I was in front of my bedroom sink and kept trying to lean on the sink but every time missing and whacking my head.  This happened number of times before a friend realised what was happening and gave me some sugary drink.

Perhaps my funniest episode was whilst working at the Co-op supermarket, I had just finished my shift and was downstairs getting changed, for some reason I was laying on the floor, after I went up on to the shop floor to leave, according to a friend I had gone around blowing raspberries at customers!

The thing that I find amazing is that when I am alone I always eventually find myself obtaining a sugary drink or some food, it is like my body has a natural survival mode where it knows that I need to raise my sugar levels.  I have learnt by mistakes and I do try to look after myself now and as I have stated at the start of this, I have had diabetes for so long now that it just feels like normal to me.  Whilst I do need to watch what I eat more than others and I also need to know where I will end up at the end of the night so I can have access to my injection stuff and I also need to renew my driving license every 3 years it does not have an impact on my life in a dehabilitating way.

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