A hidden illness with potentially devastating effects, Diabetes is on the rise. Diagnosed in her early 20s, Jessica Heywood talks about coming to terms with Type 1 Diabetes, and offers her advice on how to cope …
I found out I had type 1 diabetes when … I went to see my doctor to collect some more contraceptive pill. Whilst there, I complained of needing the toilet all the time and being thirsty. My doctor wanted me to keep a diary of what I was drinking and when I was going to the toilet. She said we could then do a blood test. As I was leaving the surgery, she came running out after me and asked if I wanted to do a blood test now. I agreed. I then received a phone call that night from a doctor in a lab, he said ‘I’m just analysing your blood, how long have you known you were diabetic?’, I replied ‘I didn’t.’ He then asked how I was feeling and told me to go to hospital. I went back to my doctor in the morning, she sent me to hospital where I spent two days having leaflets, needles, insulin, blood glucose monitoring, and diet explained to me.
My symptoms were … I was dying of thirst. All the time. My mouth felt so dry, I literally drank pints and pints of water, could not go without having a drink in my hand. Because of this, I was going to the toilet every hour. I would get up five times a night. I also had no energy, no strength. I was a waitress in those days and I could barely lift a plate. It’s funny looking back in a way because that was my body dying.
The impact on my daily life is … Six or more injections a day. I’m constantly thinking about food. Not in a good way. Where is my next meal coming from? How long has it been since I last ate? Do I have enough insulin? If I don’t have any food and can’t see myself being available to get some then I panic, on the inside, but still it is a worry.
The biggest obstacles are … Having to say no to the cream cakes being passed around at work! Also, unfortunately, doctors and nurses who think they know best. It is very hard to find a good supportive doctor or nurse with diabetes. I feel lucky with my current doctor and nurse but if I can’t see either of them, you are just a patient on their computer. They look over your history and judge you and the computer tells them you are uncontrolled and so they tell you the same. They like to patronise you with their knowledge (which is always less than your own, as they don’t have the condition), tell you you’re going to lose your legs and go blind and die of heart disease. I’m not even joking. The contrast when you have a nice doctor is that he understands the stress of my life and my job, he doesn’t expect me to stop living and make diabetes the be all and end all. He wants it to work around me, but he says he is pleased with my blood results and gives me gentle encouragement should they be a bit too high.
The best thing I have learned through having Type 1 Diabetes is … I’m stronger than I thought I was. I just accepted it. There was no fuss, I just got on with it. I feel like I can take on anything. I have to keep myself alive by injecting insulin, if I didn’t I would die. That is a strange feeling, but I feel at peace with myself.
Other people can help by … Knowing the difference between type 1 and type 2. Diabetes isn’t really spoken about very much, it isn’t taught in schools. I didn’t know anything about it until I was diagnosed. It is such a serious condition and people don’t realise this because you can’t physically see it. It is always a relief when I am with someone who knows about diabetes, as when I say I feel low, they drop everything to find me some sugar and don’t leave me until they know I feel right again.
The best advice anyone has given me is … Trial and error. Figure out what works for you. We are all individuals and no two diabetics are the same.
My advice to anyone who has just been diagnosed is … It sucks. Deal with it.
The thing that makes me feel on top of the world is … Meditation! That, and knowing that my diabetes doesn’t define me. It is not something I have to drop in to every conversation and feel sorry for myself about. It’s there but it’s not me.
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