I had a complicated teenage years. At 14 nearly 15 I found myself looking after a house and Dad after our Mam had left; Dad was clueless, he didn’t even know how to write a cheque let alone look after all the household affairs. Mam had done it all. I picked up where she left off.
The foundations of our lives are laid down in our early years. As a result of these circumstances independence has always been really important to me. I left school at 16, having been one of the top stream at school, and started work in a bank. I was, of course, advised to go to University – nearly all my contemporaries did exactly that – but wanting to be able to look after myself was a key objective for me and financial independence a key driver.
It was 6 weeks into my first proper job that I started to feel unwell. There was a small supermarket next door to the bank and I was buying can after can of pop to drink – I felt so thirsty. As a result of my drinking I was constantly up going to the loo at night. Classic, had I known it, symptoms of type 1 Diabetes.
I think it must have been the tiredness that did for me and after a little while I decided I really didn’t feel right and went to see my GP. In those days he took a blood sample himself to send off to the lab.
Two days later I was out with my boyfriend – on the motorbike where we spent all our spare time – when the GP came knocking on the door to ask me to go to the hospital. He was non-too pleased when Dad told him I wasn’t at home and of course we had no mobile phones back then so I was summoned to North Ormesby Hospital early the next day. It was there, at 16, on my own, I was told I had Diabetes.
The experience of being on an adult female medical ward at 16 was fundamental, I think, to my deciding to become a nurse. But this blog is more about what things I would tell myself, the things I have learnt about having Type 1 Diabetes in the 36 that have passed; things I couldn’t have known. They are not all things I have done wrong – some of them are a celebration of things I feel I have done right too.
You can do it yourself
For me taking control and being independent has been key to the way I have managed to live the last 36 years. There are only two times in the last 36 years that anyone else has given me my insulin injection – the first was the very first time when a nurse showed me how, the second was when I let my husband have one go to see if he could do it, ‘just in case’. Diabetes usually needs you to do exactly that – take control. I think I have done this well and I have refused to let Diabetes be the dominant part of my life.
I would say: ‘Don’t worry – you can do this yourself’
Finding Diabetes friends
I learnt this lesson much later in my Diabetes career but I wish I had known it sooner – knowing other people who have Type 1 has really been helpful in the last 5 years or so. I have found new friends on social media, people who inspire me, have helped me, make me laugh and I know I have helped some people too. I just wish someone had told me, encouraged me and helped me 36 years ago when I was 16. I really could have done with a mate!
I would say: ‘Go find people to connect with who have type 1 too, they will understand better than anyone else’.
Never stop learning
It took me a long time to realise that keeping up with what is happening in Diabetes care can be really powerful. For many years I took no interest. I let my (then) British Diabetic Association (BDA) membership lapse and just carried on in exactly the same way for many, many years. Diabetes is complicated and I wish I had carried on learning constantly throughout the last few decades. I think this is partly about ignoring my Diabetes; I don’t mean not looking after myself, but only caring about knowing enough to live.
I would say: ‘Never stop trying to learn more about Diabetes, it will help you to both improve the quality of your self-care but also make sure you know when treatments have improved as no one will necessarily seek you out to tell you’.
Almost everything is possible but some things are a bit harder than others
I have never let my Diabetes get in the way but it can be a bit of a challenge. I remember people doubting that having a baby would be OK but it was, I remember a school of nursing telling me that they didn’t take people with Type 1 Diabetes for nurse training but someone else did and I remember working night shifts and wondering if I would cope but I did. Sometimes things are a bit harder than others but I have never let my Diabetes stop me from doing things I really wanted to do.
I would say: ‘Almost everything is possible but you might have to plan a little bit more than other people, perhaps less spontaneous but doable nonetheless’.
Ignoring it won’t mean it goes away
Finally I would tell myself that trying to ignore Diabetes and pretend it isn’t there doesn’t mean it will go away. I learnt too late that testing blood glucose is a good thing to do and to do it for me not for the doctor. It’s better to know what’s happening and I care more about it than anyone else. But then it’s easier these days – 5 seconds was unimaginable back in the late 70’s, we were still testing urine in test tubes then. Technology has improved our ability to feel in control without it being the centre of our lives; for this I am grateful.
I would say: ‘Test more and learn about your body. Ignoring it and doing the minimum isn’t the answer but you can be in control of Diabetes without it being in control of your life.