Thirteen year old advice – by Helen May

This year, 13th January was a Friday. That’s not the only significance of the number thirteen for me this month: on 20th January 2017, it will be thirteen years since I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Thirteen years since I discovered that spending over thirty years with no significant illness, I suddenly, inexplicably had a chronic disease. As many have written and said, it was a shock. Thankfully, my lovely diabetes nurse started our discussions by telling me diabetes should not stop me doing what I want. That was certainly the best advice I could have been given and, I believe, it has allowed me to live my life as full as I would have without the disease.

But looking back over the last thirteen years, I wondered if there is any other advice I would like to have known. As a result, I have come up with these three tips:

1. Continue to learn about diabetes

When I was first diagnosed with diabetes, I felt a combination of information overload and a lack of information. As no one I knew had diabetes, there was a mass of information describing what is diabetes, how to treat it and how to live with it. On the other hand no one could tell me how it would affect me: exercise may make my blood glucose (BG) go up or it could make it go down; working out how much insulin I needed was trial and error; I am probably in a honeymoon period with my body still producing some insulin but don’t know how long that will last.

Thirteen years later, I voraciously learn about diabetes: I read forums, I receive newsletters from numerous diabetes research organisations, I subscribe to three different diabetes magazines, Google emails me weekly, with news and articles about “diabetes” and “insulin”, I ask questions at every annual review, … This may tell me about the latest pump, Continuous Glucose Monitoring, type of insulin, theory on “good control” but it still doesn’t tell me how my body reacts. So, in addition to all the reading, I am constantly reviewing my BG levels in response to different foods, different travel, different exercise, different stress levels …

I certainly know a lot more about diabetes than I did thirteen years ago but I do not plan to stop learning. New research is being released, my body is changing and I am have new and different experiences.

2. Don’t be a afraid of a hypo

A hypo is not pleasant. A hypo is not good for you. A hypo can be scary for you and others around you when you are having one. However, the risk of having a hypo is not a reason to avoid doing something. Sure, you are at higher risk of a hypo is you exercise or have an alcoholic drink but if you start gently, take BG readings during and after, and eat some sugar when you see your readings fall, you can may be able to avoid a hypo. If not, the sooner you notice, the sooner you can recover.

I have techniques for avoiding hypos as much as possible such as reducing basal insulin after activities that reduce my BG and drinking weak squash when I run. This doesn’t stop me from ever having hypos but I still recognise when they are happening and always have a packet of dextrose close to hand. Unfortunately, they don’t happen at convenient times but, although it made me feel uncomfortable, I was not afraid to tell a colleague my “sweets” are medicinal and if he wants some, he’ll have to get his own.

3. Get a pump as soon as possible

A pump is ugly. It is cumbersome. It gets in the way. It falls off. It is a pain to change every two or three days. I make mistakes with it. I would rather not have it. But it controls my diabetes better than injecting.

Thirteen years ago, I complained injecting was a pain, I made mistakes, it was difficult to do discretely, it left bruises … I would rather not do it.

Thirteen years ago, I had no choice so I got on with the injecting.  If I had a pump from day one (if it was available), I would have been far more accepting and not have the option to consider going back to the old way. So, if I was diagnosed today, I would push to get the pump from day one and avoid the frustrations of change.

Every person with diabetes is different: we react differently physically and psychologically to the disease; we do different things in our lives; we are at different stages in our lives. Maybe, someone else’s advice (or mine in another thirteen years) would focus on avoiding complications and living longer. But, I have found my tips have helped me avoid complications so far and let me do what I want … regardless of the diabetes.

Need some advice? Speak to our Helpline

Find support from people living with diabetes

You might also like