Diabetes and me: an epic saga – by Andy Broomhead
Diabetes Week is a great time of the year (and would be better still if I could convince my wife it should be marked by the giving of gifts – from her, to me I hasten to add). This year’s theme is ‘Diabetes and Me’ and it’s interesting and inspiring to hear people’s stories and interpretations of what that means to them.
Speaking from personal experience, ‘Diabetes and Me’ is a bit of an epic saga, with tears, laughter, hiding behind the sofa, celebrating unlikely triumphs, forging friendships and a bit of everything else in between.
Being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 21 is the starkest ‘hiding behind the sofa’ moment in my story so far. Whilst I won’t go into all the details here, I can vividly remember things about that day that I’ll probably have memories of forever. Sitting in a nurse’s office room at York District Hospital and being encouraged to stab myself in the stomach with a needle was my first “there’s no way I can do this, I’m just going to die” moment. A flurry of information about insulin doses, blood sugar meters, diet and everything else was to follow in the next hour or so and I remember feeling utterly exhausted.
Looking back at that moment knowing what I now know is very strange. There was little to nothing in terms of blogs or Diabetes Online Community (#doc) to turn to and even if I’d been told about a support group, I doubt I’d have attended. You still feel bulletproof in your early twenties, chronic illness or not.
My most significant “tears” moment came about four or five years after I’d been diagnosed. I’d got myself into a situation where controlling my blood glucose felt impossible and I’d stumble from hypo to hyper and back again without reason (at least none I knew about). Diabetes education wasn’t something people talked about, and beyond a single afternoon carb counting session and I had no real knowledge of how food and insulin were affecting me. As a result I basically stopped testing my blood and started coming up with more outlandish excuses as to why my HbA1c was high when I visited clinic. It took 18 months of complete denial before I told myself something had to change and I started to find out the answers to years of unanswered questions.
In terms of celebrating unlikely triumphs, the one that sticks in my mind the most is running my first marathon in 2012. After I was diagnosed, I felt like my lifelong ambition had been snatched away from me. Playing 5-a-side football twice a week at university left me feeling like I’d been through the wringer physically – I couldn’t possibly do a marathon. After I’d brought myself out of that stage of denial, I started applying until finally I got a place. Having moved to Sheffield I was on to my specialist team to help me with nutrition, managing post exercise hypos and any other information I can get. Staggering over that finishing line is probably still my proudest diabetes-related moment.
That’s just three examples of what diabetes has meant to me over the last 13 years, both good and bad, and I’ve now got a wealth of experience to help guide me on a daily basis. As my blog last month alluded to, my diabetes isn’t likely to go away any time soon, but I’ve got the support of friends, family and a host of people online to help me when it gets tough.
Looking to the future and there’s a lot to be optimistic about. Whilst diabetes presents me with innumerable challenges, it’s also good enough to give me some great opportunities too. Being involved with my local group in Sheffield is incredibly fulfilling, and I’m lucky to have the chance to meet so many people and (hopefully) help some of them out along the way. I’ve also recently become a member of Diabetes UK’s Council of People Living with Diabetes which is an incredible opportunity to work with hugely inspiring people to help guide the great work that Diabetes UK do.
Finally, there’s the opportunity to talk to other people with diabetes. Whilst it might not sound like much, it really is one of the most powerful things I’ve found to help me feel ‘normal’ when things are feeling a bit much. I recently read that talking to other people with diabetes is “…like a secret code that only certain people understand”. That’s such a wonderful analogy and so true. There’s nothing quite like being able to talk about your diabetes with other people who truly understand what it’s like to live with. It’s without doubt the best part of having diabetes and I hope I can continue to make friends like those I’ve found so far.
Coming out from behind the sofa and battling through the tears wasn’t easy, but the rewards, opportunities and friends I’ve made along the way, are making it all worthwhile.
Happy Diabetes Week!