How I came to understand my Type 2 diabetes – by Robin Swindell

You might have recently seen a report by the Men’s Health Forum claiming that men are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than women.

If you’re worried, you can take our know your risk tool, or if you’ve recently been diagnosed, there are many ways to take control of your diabetes as Robin Swindell discovered.

Like many people with Type 2 diabetes, my diagnosis in May 2013 raised more questions than it answered. While I understood better why I had been feeling so unwell and why my GP was so keen for me to get a blood test, I left my doctor’s office with a prescription for metformin, some vague advice about losing weight, instructions to come back in three months’ time but no information about diabetes.

I was lucky that within a few days I spoke to the Diabetes UK’s Helpline; as well as answering some basic questions, the team put me on the road towards understanding my condition better and learning about self-management.

Like many long-term conditions, living with diabetes (of whichever type) requires us to take responsibility for managing our own condition; this covers everything we do from the choices we make about diet, exercise and medication each day, to big decisions about the direction of our treatment and our lifestyles.

When self-management works well the chances of developing complications reduces significantly. Along the way it can also help us live a healthier lifestyle, reduce the stress and depression that often comes with a long-term condition, and can leave us feeling more in control of our diabetes.

Once I had got use to the everyday basics of Type 2 diabetes I realised that I needed to know more about it and what it was going to mean for me in the long-term, and this meant learning more about diabetes.

Structured education is a good way of learning about Type 2 diabetes, and this will often be in the form of courses such as DESMOND or X-PERT, but unfortunately these are not available in every area, and there are many reasons why people may not be able to or wish to attend structured education.

If you haven’t attended a course, or you have and would like a refresher, then Type 2 Diabetes and Me is for you. It is an online education course offered for free by Diabetes UK, and breaks down many different aspects of the condition in to short easily digestible pieces. It can also be helpful for your family members or friends to know more about how you live with your condition, to better understand what you need to do to manage it and to understanding the stress this can put on you.

Fighting diabetes

I’ve been lucky enough to get a lot of help and support from others in managing my diabetes, but unfortunately this is far from universal. Access to good diabetes care in the UK is a very variable, with significant inequalities across income, racial and geographic lines. I often hear distressing stories about other people with diabetes who are not only failing to get the care and education they need, but are unaware of what they are entitled to or even that their care is important for avoiding complications.

The minimum level of healthcare everyone with diabetes should expect and demand from their health care providers is the 15 healthcare essentials, but even these minimum standards are not being achieved in many areas. It is not overdramatic to say that we need to fight to achieve change in diabetes care and the perception of diabetes today.

As well as making sure that everyone with diabetes is getting the right help and support to self-manage effectively, there are plenty of other challenges facing those of us whose lives are touched by diabetes. Challenges of funding for research, perceptions around the different types of diabetes and associated stigma, rights for people at work and children at school living with diabetes all need to be urgently addressed.

If like me you are interested in helping others get the support and education they need, in helping to end the social stigma of living with diabetes and addressing local and national inequalities in diabetes care, why not join the Diabetes Voices campaign with Diabetes UK and help make a difference for everyone living with diabetes.

It was through Diabetes Voices that I became involved in the Diabetes UK “The Food you Love” campaign which launched on 22 May.

Robin – before and after his weight loss

Five people, including myself, who are living with diabetes cook healthy versions of some of our favourite foods, and talk about our experiences. It was a lot of fun to make, and you may have seen us in the ads on TV, social media and your favourite websites.

I have struggled to eat well for most of my life. At the time of my diagnosis I weighed in at 135kg, and although I have now lost over 50kg of that weight, eating a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight is an ongoing challenge.

I feel passionately about supporting others in making health food choices as I have found it so hard to do myself. It has been great to help to deliver the message that eating healthily doesn’t mean you have to give up the food you love. Managing diabetes is about having a balanced diet; it’s not about dos and don’ts.

If you’re worried about Type 2 diabetes, our know your risk tool only takes a few minutes to take.

Find out more about Type 2 diabetes

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