Introducing: Helen May


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January 2004 – I remember it very well. Work hadn’t been great so I wasn’t surprised to be feeling a little run down. But the need to go for a pee every 5 minutes… well … it was enough to make me visit the doctor.

Until then, the most serious illness I had every suffered from was tonsillitis at the age of seven. So I was shocked to find out that at the age of 37, I had type 1 diabetes. Yeah, shocked was definitely the word for it. But once I’d calmed down and started to get on with my life, I realised that the best advice I’d received was from the diabetes nurse: “Diabetes should not stop you doing anything”. And that’s the philosophy I’ve followed ever since: holidays around the world: Nepal, Uganda, … long distance walks, skydiving, … more about that later.

It was after a few years of reading the Diabetes UK magazine, Balance, when I started to think there might be a gap in the diabetes literature: there’s some great articles about some incredible people who just happen to have diabetes like Steven Redgrave; there’s plenty of information about people who have not only diabetes but other complications to deal with. But what about normal people: people who, like me, seem to be able to manage their diabetes, have no amazing talent but want to live their life to the full … with diabetes?

So that’s me: I’m in my early 40s, had diabetes for nearly 7 years which I won’t let take over my life and want to share my experiences with other people with diabetes or people who know people with diabetes. I want to prove my diabetes nurse right: diabetes does not stop me doing anything and should not stop anyone else in the same situation.

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I was diagnosed with Type 2 at the age of 57. I have always been very fit, never been overweight, exercised and played various sports regualarly so the diagnosis was a complete shock. I got little advice from my GP and found all I now know about the disease from here on the Internet. For 3 years I managed to control my blood sugar levels by radically changing my diet, i.e. almost no carbs and no sugar, also I upped the swimming distances and made that a daily trip rather than twice a week. I found that I could keep my sugar levels in the safe range without meds until just recently, now having just turned 60.
A regular blood test showed that my numbers were now consistently at the upper end of the safe range so I opted for meds. I am now on twice daily 500mg of Metformin which seem to do the job.
I am now swimming 1.5 km a day and spend 40 mins every other day on the treadmill, burning 280-300 calories each time.
I still do all the things in my life exactly as before apart form the fact that when we go out of the house my wife now carries a packet of fruit Mentos in her handbag! I do resort to chocolate on 1 or 2 days a week to reverse the Hypos I sometimes suffer now that the meds are working so effectively.
Getting the balance right seems to me to be the hardest thing. I am now trying every other day with just 1 tablet as I don’t like to suffer the Hypos quite so often, although the chocolate almost makes it worth it!
As Helen says, Diabetes, of any type, needn’t put a stop to the things you did in the past, you just have to adapt.
Can somebody please invent a method of measuring our sugar levels using saliva?

I find these blogs really encouraging. I am 48 and was initially diagnosed as type 2 due to age, weight etc but actually turned out to be type 1 and so have found the past 2 months quite scary as my body settles down and recovers from the shock of it all.

Some of the blogs have talked about the problems on diagnosis and I have had a few of those, learning who you can trust is a major issue for me. As I said before I was diagnosed as type 2 as my doctor had not had somebody of my age diagnosed as type 1, because of this and because I was not given a blood test kit I ended up in hospital with DKA and put on an insulin drip for three days. The ace inhibitor I was put on I was allergic to, my hair started falling out through sheer stress, the initial twice daily insulin I was on did not work for me and I was hyper in the morning and hypo in the evening and overnight, then as I started to get myself sorted out on basal bolus, one of the dieticians told me I had to snack every two hours and this with blood sugars over 10!

My real inspiration is one of the pupils in the school I work in, he was diagnosed a year ago and just seeing how he copes with the highs one day and the hypos the next gives me confidence that one day I might be as relaxed as he is dealing with this condition. I must admit though Ben, that I am not envious of the t2ers, just the thought of having to control everything through diet and tablets sounds so much harder. One of my aunts is a T2 and she really misses her doughnuts, at least if I want one I can go ahead and munch away – have to admit the thought of all that sugar though puts me off and currently all sugar and sweets are referred to as poison! I admit to being a bit wary about joining support groups etc as I need to put the nightmare of the past couple of months behind me, develop my confidence and learn to enjoy my life again. I know I will do it!

My best wishes to you all.

Hi Helen,
Looking forward to reading thoughts from someone from a similar demographic (I’m 36 and had the same surprise visit from T1 just over a year ago). Have been wondering how many of us are out there. I did subscribe to Balance initially but found it all a bit terrifying and, in a lot of cases, quite hard to relate to. (Confession: it generated a bit of an irrational rage against T2ers for a while (sorry, T2ers), plus an absolute dread of ageing!) Decided to cancel the subscription and stick to donations to help DiabetesUK keep doing the important work. Been using the website since to stay in the loop. Think these blogs are a great initiative for helping connect different communities within the D world.
Best of luck with your posts.
Ben