‘So how much sugar did you have when you were younger?’
‘You really shouldn’t be eating that’
‘Do you have to do that right in front of me?’
These are just some of the questions that are constantly asked of someone with diabetes. I have only been diagnosed with diabetes for just less than a year and I can already say that I encounter these questions on a regular basis.
Each person with diabetes has their own unique difficulties and story to tell but for me, and others who are also diabetics that I have spoken to, tackling these assumptions is one of the most difficult ones.
The first thing to highlight is the difference between type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes occurs from the immune system basically attacking parts of the body by mistake, it is an autoimmune disease and in this case, the immune system is mistakenly attacking beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. This process can occur over time until the pancreas is incapable of producing insulin and this means that people with type 1 diabetes like myself need to inject themselves with insulin in order to compensate this.
Contrastingly, type 2 diabetes is when the body loses the ability to respond to insulin – insulin resistance. This often occurs when the body is thus compensating for the ineffectiveness of the insulin production and over time, this increased strain on the beta cells slowly diminishes insulin production.
There are various different stereotypes around both types of diabetes as well as confusion between the two. For instance, 20% of people with type 2 diabetes are of healthy weight, despite its association with being overweight. Likewise, this assumption carries over to type 1 diabetes when in fact most people with type 1 diabetes are underweight – indeed, this is how a red flag emerged for my own personal diagnosis.
In the latter half of my second year at university I lost weight at a dramatic rate. Clothes became increasingly baggy and it is only with hindsight that I realise quite how scary this dramatic weight loss was. Without the concerned comments of family and friends, I wouldn’t have accepted this weight loss which would have meant a deterioration in my health without diagnosis.
Type one diabetes is also typically assumed to be diagnosed from a very early age. However, I myself was diagnosed with this just before my 20th birthday and I was told at the time that this is actually something that is becoming more and more common. The adjustment was daunting but with only a short summer before returning to university, it was a transition that had to happen quickly in order to adjust to a new lifestyle and just generally, a new routine with all of the other complications that come with it.
As aforementioned, everyone with diabetes faces different challenges and this also applies to how people face these. I remember when I was in hospital immediately after diagnosis, I had some friends who sent considerate, kind and reassuring messages whilst others were sending jokes and mocking me and honestly, both helped tremendously when I was stuck in this uncertainty of what was happening.
Following on from this original shock, one of my friends informed me that Diabetes UK were doing a charity walk in London not long into our first term back at University. Suddenly there was a group of 5 of us who all agreed to wake up at a ridiculously early time on the weekend, a difficult fete for university students, to trek across London. It was a fantastic event, one that perhaps we took too seriously to get a fast time but it all added to the fun and in doing so we raised over £1,100 for Diabetes UK. It seemed bizarre to me. I had only just recently been diagnosed with something that I had such a small amount of information about and, in comparison to charity events that other people do, a walk across Central London really didn’t appear all that difficult. It was incredible and to this day I still remain rather amazed at the overwhelming support that everyone gave to this but there is possibly something even more important here.
The prominence of the JustGiving page link on social media on my own page and my friends’ meant that the story was reaching more and more people. We had people of whom we hadn’t heard of in years, or even never heard of but simply shared mutual friends, donate and message. Some messages were of amazement that we were doing something so soon after diagnosis; others saying how they now have the courage to go and do something about it and others simply saying that they are glad they now knew about Diabetes and what it really is.
There are challenges that I have faced since diagnosis that I have overcome with flying colours; others that I still struggle to tackle and others that I am sure I have yet to face. Diabetes is something that within public perception people have yet to quite fully grasp but with a greater education on all things Diabetes, this is something that can change and evolve for the better.
Written by Jack O’Neill