I don’t want to be old – by Helen May


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As I am now in my tenth year of diabetes, I have been thinking back about changes that have happened to me in that time. I previously wrote about changes in my lifestyle such as needing to carry a handbag all the time. This time, I have been thinking about changes to my body.

For example, I have more grey hair and more wrinkles than I had before diabetes. Since being diagnosed, I have never experienced the request to prove my age when buying alcohol: only before diabetes was I able to explain to bar staff in USA that I needed a drink more than I needed a compliment after pointing out that I was over 30.

OK, so not only have I had diabetes for nearly ten years, I am also ten years older so perhaps some of the changes are down to my age. And maybe all the changes I have noticed are down to age only. But have you noticed how some of the symptoms of getting old are the same as the complication of diabetes?

For example, I recently starting dressmaking again after many years absence (I have not designed my diabetes friendly dress with hidden injection pocket yet). Dressmaking is a little more “delicate” than my other hobbies such as climbing or baking.

When sewing, I have to accurately cut out the fabric; I have to carefully measure seams before stitching; and I have to thread needles with what appear to be tiny eyes. I remember my mother (who does not have diabetes) struggle to thread a needle until she put her glasses on when I was younger. I wouldn’t say I struggle (unless my blood sugars are too high or too low – who’d have thought sewing was a good blood sugar test?) but, finally, I have realised that I need to have my eyes tested.

The build up to the eye test has been gradual. To be honest, I have not wanted to go. Not just because I spent years of my life being smug about having perfect vision but because wearing glasses will be a sign that my body is starting to degrade. The degradation is bad enough but the true cause is the reason. There could be one of two causes (or even both): it could be due to getting old or it could be due to complications with my diabetes. And I don’t want either.

Whilst there are some amazing mature role models: Helen Mirren in acting, Ranulph Fiennes for adventure and some of our statesmen and women for intellect: there are far more images of youth. Diabetes UK for example, has pictures of children in their videos. I guess the younger you are the more you have ahead of you. I know getting older is not a reason to give up on life: there are advantages to maturity over youth.

As for diabetes complications, I would feel that I have failed with my diabetes management. We all know that it is a difficult balancing act to live our lives to the full with diabetes whilst never forgetting to take insulin when we eat, measure blood sugar regularly when exercising and keep the kit with us at all times. I believe I have kept my scales level most of the time but if I start experiencing complications, it means they have tipped too much towards the fullness of my life. My last HbA1C result suggests I have been steering a reasonably straight line through the obstacle course of a diabetic life.

I haven’t had the optician’s appointment yet so the glasses are not inevitable but, if I do need them, they could hide some of the wrinkles around my eyes and make me look younger as well as more intelligent. So they are not necessarily a bad thing.

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Please go to the optician. You get free sight tests being diabetic. You must go annually, for a good overall eye check up and you should be getting annual retinal photographs taken somewhere (hospital, health centre).

I got glasses recently. They were only for lectures but now I think I’m starting to need them more often. I’m only 20 but was the same about being proud of my perfect vision. Would love to know if it was because of numerous high HbA1cs or if Iwould have ended up with glasses anyway. Probably the latter as I’m a student constantly reading off computer screens and my eye screening results have always been fine. But still, it’s a thought!