Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Talking About Diabetes 2017

Saturday 22nd April brought over 150 people together at Birkbeck University in London. Thanks to Partha Kar, Catherine Peters and Professor Peter Hindmarsh and an idea that was hatched in the back of a taxi, 'TAD talks' was born. TAD, stands for Talking About Diabetes, and the days are literally a day for talking about diabetes. Last year saw various inspirational speakers take the stage and talk about their experiences with diabetes and this year was the same. Six people stood in front of the audience and we had the privilege of hearing all about their lives with diabetes.

The speakers were Jen Grieves, Adrian Long, Roddy Riddle, Gavin Griffiths & Melanie Stephenson. Each and every one of them did a fabulous job and they are all prime examples of living well with diabetes and not letting it hold you back. I'll quote Jen here in saying that "We cannot control the diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes but we can control how we live our lives from that point on" and every speaker has this mentality I'm sure. Everyone's speech was totally individual, they all took a different view point and not only was it inspiring, but we were learning from these incredible people, be it how to handle sport with Type 1 or how to deal with Type 1 emotionally. Adrian spoke about being diagnosed with Type 1 at the age of 40 and the power of friendship in the Online Diabetes Community, Melanie spoke about being an athlete with T1, Jen spoke about learning to love yourself, Gavin spoke about running with Type 1 and Roddy spoke about running the 6633 Arctic Ultra and the challenges he endured.

All of them are the epitome of determination and courage and living a good life despite diabetes and I'll quote Melanie this time, "I wouldn't have found my strength without my diabetes" and this sits well with me, I resonate with this, as unfortunate as living with Type 1 Diabetes is it has made me a better person and I truly believe this. Of course we can't downplay diabetes and turn it into a big ball of positivity and light because we all know too well that this isn't the way it is, but there is absolutely nothing with trying to find positives amongst the negativity and this is something that I realised even more when Adrian was presenting his '12 good things about diabetes' slide.

We were also joined on the day by Stephen Dixon, a Sky TV Presenter, Sir Bruce Keogh- medical director for NHS England and Professional lead for doctors and Jane Cummings- the Chief Nursing Officer for NHS England. Jane actually has Type 1 Diabetes herself and this is something that came as a surprise to all of us as I don't think many of us knew this! Sir Bruce Keogh reassured us in "Don't think for one moment that we don't understand Type One Diabetes", it feels good to know that we have support from people at the very top of the NHS, we have Jane herself who is a Type 1 Diabetic and Sir Bruce Keogh who demonstrated a wonderful understanding of Type 1 and was so willing to listen to us and understand.

I think it's so important to talk, as humans we are communicators and humans need contact with others to survive, it's just how it is, and while there are many people who don't like to talk, I think it's good to talk, it is so good to be able to tell people how you're feeling and what you're thinking. Keeping things in has never been good for anyone! That's why the Online Diabetes Community is such an important part of my life with Type 1 and it seems to be an important life for a lot of other people with diabetes that I know, there is always someone to talk to, pretty much 24/7, if no one in the UK is awake when you're dealing with a low blood sugar at 3am, then someone in America will be.

I also believe that is what makes these TAD events even more powerful, because it is the chance for so many people who spend many days and nights talking on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram to talk face to face, and to be inspired and learn from one another. As Gavin said, "with the responsibility of looking after your Type 1 comes great power", yes having diabetes isn't ideal, but it is true that we do have power in it, we have the chance to choose how we deal with this and how we live our lives, you can be against your diabetes or you can embrace it and for the athletes in the room like Roddy, Gavin and Mel, diabetes is a power in a literal sense too, in that I'm sure knowing what their blood sugar is doing greatly helps them in sports.

It was a great pleasure attending the TAD talks, to be inspired, to see people that I talk to so often on Social Media and to be reminded to as Jane Cummings said, "not let Type 1 define you". All in all it was a great day as always, and again a big thank you to the organisers for giving us all this platform to express ourselves and come together as a big community all in one room!

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Diabetic Retinopathy Screening: What To Expect

Diabetic Retinopathy is a complication that can develop due to having diabetes, the retina is a light-sensitive layer of cells at the back of the eye that sends signals to your brain, your brain then turns these signals into images and this is how you see! The Retina is supplied blood via tiny blood vessels, Diabetic Retinopathy is damage to these blood vessels and if left undetected and untreated it can cause permanent blindness. Retinopathy Screening is something that is offered to everyone with diabetes over the age of 12. In it's early stages Diabetic Retinopathy has no symptoms so it's strongly recommended that you attend your annual eye screening appointments.

I had my annual appointment yesterday. It's a really straight forward, non-invasive test, I'm going to tell you what happens at my appointments so if you haven't had a screening before or you're about to go for your first screening then you will know a little bit about what to expect. When I go in to the Diabetes Center I put my appointment letter in a box and wait to be called in, I'm usually not waiting for very long because the appointments are quite fast. When I get called in, I take a seat and the healthcare professional who is doing the eye screening asks me to read out the letters from a board, just like at a regular opticians appointment.

The next step is the eye drops. When I was younger I managed to avoid getting the eye drops because my pupils were always dilated enough, apparently young people have naturally dilated pupils. Don't quote me on that though! Ha! The past couple of years however, I have had to get the eye drops. I'm not going to lie, they are not a pleasant experience. It's one drop in each eye, you will most likely get given a tissue to wipe your eyes afterwards, I always get given tissues! The drops sting your eyes, they don't sting for very long though, maybe about 30 seconds, no longer than a minute. Once the drops have been applied, I go and sit out in the waiting room for 15 minutes while the drops do their thing and dilate my pupils. It makes your eyes go blurry, you will find things like looking at your phone very difficult because your eyes won't be able to focus, the drops also make your eyes sensitive to light so it's always a good idea to bring sunglasses along to your appointment. These side effects aren't permanent though, don't fret! They last between two and six hours, then your eyes will be back to normal.

After 15 minutes I get called back in, then the photographs get taken! You have to rest your chin on a little chin rest and look into the lens of a special camera, then you will see a green light and you'll get told to look at the light. There will be two bright flashes in each eye, this is the camera taking photos of the back of your eye, the pupil dilation is so the camera flash can get to the back of your eye to reach the retina, nothing touches your eyes though, you just have to look at a green light.

Sometimes the healthcare professional who took the photos will look at them on the screen briefly before you leave, I always like to have a look at the photos, I'm clearly very fascinated by my retina! The official results come in within six weeks. Then, provided your eyes are all clear, that's it for another year!

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

100,000

I still remember the moment I hit 400 page views. I was so utterly surprised and in shock that I actually took a photo of my laptop screen, certain I probably wouldn't see a much bigger number than that for my little blog. Around 3 months into blogging, I had hit 10,000 page views. I couldn't believe that people were reading my blog, that someone, somewhere was reading what I was writing. So I kept going, I kept writing and now here we are. 100,000 page views later. This blog has spanned over the last 4 years of my life, I've documented my proudest moments with Type 1 and I've documented my lowest moments.

I've written all about achieving a HbA1c of 7.3% for the first time in years and I've written about the time I was admitted to hospital for almost three weeks to get my diabetes back under control. I've documented my eye screenings, my clinic appointments, I've talked about going to Parliament and the time a teacher at school really annoyed me in regards to Type 1. It's like my journal except, everyone else can read it. I like being able to write out my thoughts and to vent all while raising awareness of what it's like to live with Type 1. My 8 year 'diaversary' is coming up in June, so that means half of my life with Type 1 I've blogged.

The last 4 years with Type 1 have been eventful to say the least. I started this blog in Secondary School...when I was 15, it was 2013, I was in young people's clinic, I hadn't even completed my GCSE's yet. 100,000 page views later and I'm 19, about to turn 20, I left school over a year ago, I've been in adult clinic for over a year and my life is different, obviously. I have neglected my blog a little bit over the last couple of years and I find it insane that I don't blog as often as I used to, I blogged so often when I was sitting my GCSE's and now I am looking for a job and don't do that much with my time and I don't blog hardly ever. I guess it's all about the motivation. I am trying hard to get back into it though, I have to!

This blog was inspired by other people with Type 1 on Social Media, I saw so many other people with blogs and I knew I wanted to write one myself. My only purpose for this blog was to raise awareness for Type 1 Diabetes and that was everyone else's, too. I have had so many wonderful opportunities because of this blog, like going to Parliament with JDRF and Diabetes UK and going to the Diabetes Professional Conference as a Blogger and as a person I appreciate that but I've never had a personal agenda with this blog, I'm just happy people read it and I'm happy that I can share my life with Type 1 with so many people, everything else is a bonus and I love it all, I love being an advocate and I love being able to be a bit of a voice for others with Type 1.

This blog helped me get a name for myself as an advocate and ambassador for everyone else living with Type 1. My down moments with Type 1 have left me questioning myself and this blog and I often wondered how I thought I had the right to talk to other people about living with Type 1 when I can just about do it right myself, however it helped me realise that even my struggles with diabetes will help people and I realised that I didn't have to sugar coat everything or downplay it, because this is my blog and my thoughts and everything is relative. Makes the good diabetes days stand out more too. Because as we all know, diabetes is not easy.

Feeling proud that so many people have read my diabetic ramblings.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Bye for now, Insulin Pump

I have made the decision to take off my insulin pump aka Robot Child and go back to injections. This isn't the first time that I have decided to take a break from my pump, or take a "pump holiday". They were short stints of one, two weeks with out it before I gave in and put it back on, I often found and still find that I get very complacent with my insulin pump sometimes, I tend to let the basal do most of the work and in turn I fall out of routine very quickly. I find that I am far more productive on insulin pens, they keep me in routine because I know I have to do the basal injection as a separate thing, I have to make sure I do all the meal time injections properly because I won't have the pump basal as back up, if that makes sense? I get lazy, I find myself just putting the basal up to cover for laziness to keep my blood sugar in range, but I need to do something about it, and that something is coming off of my pump.

Things at adult clinic are a little different, in young people's clinic talk of having your pump taken away from you was almost non-existent, my consultant never uttered those words to me. The clinic I'm at now, do have the rule that, if it's deemed that you're not safe or using your pump properly then it may well be that you lose it. Thankfully, I am not at that point or near it but in order to prevent this, I have taken it upon myself to keep myself on track properly. Involuntarily not having my pump is not something I particularly want, I want to stay in control of this situation and with help from the lovely nurse at clinic I am transitioning back over to MDI.

I know I will have a choice at the end of this MDI stint, however long it may be, the choice will be to go back onto my pump or not to go back on to it.

I have had an insulin pump for almost six years now, it will be six years in June. I was so thankful to get my insulin pump and I got it fast, I didn't have to struggle for it or fight for it- I expressed my opinion, said that I wanted one and my fabulous team at young people's clinic were able to make it happen. I was done with injections, I was on 5+ injections a day, I was tired, I was running out of places to inject insulin and I found myself barely enjoying food because it meant yet another injection. Two weeks of pump training later and I was live on insulin, ready to take on the rest of my life with an incredibly intelligent plastic cigarette-box sized machine delivering tiny, complex doses of insulin into my body to help me get super tight control.

But it is not that simple. Along with the body comes a mind and I had a mind that just didn't want to comply, I had a mind that could only muster tiny spouts of taking advantage of this amazing piece of technology that so many diabetics don't have access to. So over the years I've had a real love hate relationship with it, I appreciate having it some days, then in the same breath it will annoy me to no end.

Upon pondering all of that over the past few weeks, it has made me question if the insulin pump is really, truly right for me. If I am a much better diabetic on insulin pens then why do I not just stick with them? Because in truth, both forms of insulin therapy come with their challenges, laziness on the pump, being slightly overwhelmed on MDI, but in the end I need to choose the one that I will comply with the most, the one that will benefit my health. I see challenges in using my insulin pump but I also see challenges in using insulin pens but you choose your own battles sometimes and for now, I'm ready to take on the challenge of switching back to MDI. I'm feeling optimistic about it, I'm feeling good about my decision to take off the pump.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Thoughts

I find myself pondering life most days, my mind is a whirlwind of thoughts and questions, full of hows and what ifs. I suppose me and my thoughts, although not in constant agreement, have one goal, to make sense of this life and all that it is. I saw a quote earlier, from Scott Fitzgerald and it reads;

"I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life"

I like it.

Something that brings variety into life is my diabetes, spice up your life and all that, spicy Tuesdays eh Lydia?

Type One Diabetes is both a blessing and a curse, it is the reason that I have been a part of and experienced some really cool things, but it's also the reason that sometimes I lie awake at night wondering what impact it is having and will have on my life in the future. I try not to dwell on it though, I try not to get too concerned because otherwise it will consume my thoughts and all I'll do is have an internal panic about it all.

I can't panic or dwell on the fact that every time my blood sugar is not in the normal range it increases my risk of losing my sight, of losing a limb, kidney function, life. But no, I can't go there! But at the same time, I kind of have to go there? I have to remind myself of this every day so that I can give myself that extra kick to get and keep my blood sugar under control.

The difference is that I'm on autopilot when I'm doing that, my mind is programmed to think for the 100th time that day just what could happen to me, my subconscious mind, shall we say. Then the part of my mind that likes to overthink it will stroll up, that's where I have to reel it in.

I remember way back in Year 8, in a Religious Education class at school, our teacher asked us about responsibility and things that we have to be responsible for. I was only twelve, but I put my hand up and I said "I'm responsible for keeping myself alive because I have Type One Diabetes".

This disease brings so much variety to this life that sometimes you become very much aware of the thin white string that's keeping you here, probably otherwise known as insulin and a beating heart.
That realisation though, that deeper understanding of how precious this life is, is a blessing. I have Type One Diabetes but also thanks to insulin I have as much of a chance to live my life as everyone around me. It may be a struggle, but it's also a reason to be thankful!

I don't know where exactly I wanted this post to go, it's just thoughts though, a glimpse into the whirlwind that is my mind, a glimpse into my opinion on this equally enchanting and repelling inexhaustible variety that is life.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Insulin For All

World Diabetes Day falls on the birthday of Sir Frederick Banting, the man who co-founded insulin, I sometimes think that while World Diabetes Day is a day to raise awareness for both types of diabetes, it often gets clouded by everyone just talking about Type 2 Diabetes and how we can "eat more fruit and veg and be healthy!" However, World Diabetes Day exists as a day to celebrate the birthday of a man who is the reason that people with Type One Diabetes are able to live their lives, so really, not to be cheeky, but, Type One should get a bit more attention than it does. Seeing as we do rely on insulin to live!

Speaking of relying on insulin to live, I saw a photo today with a quote from Banting and it said; "Insulin does not belong to me, it belongs to the world". And it made me think, Frederick Banting and Charles Best made insulin cheap, it was such a necessity that when it was discovered they sold the patent to the University of Toronto for $1 and hoped that insulin would be affordable. Unfortunately a lot of people needed insulin and still do, so the University signed contracts with large pharmaceutical companies in order to get large amounts of insulin made. In countries like America, insulin is highly commercialised and the insulin market is expected to top $48 billion.

This means the cost of insulin is constantly rising and for people with Type One Diabetes in America, who don't have health insurance or who don't have a very good health insurance plan, access to insulin is becoming increasingly harder. This shouldn't be the way. Type One Diabetics need insulin to live, it is a necessity and people shouldn't have to pay out hundreds and thousands of dollars to live. Insulin shouldn't be a privilege, insulin is a necessity, it is a must, it is life, without it, people with Type One Diabetes can't survive, our bodies cannot sustain life on their own.

Honestly it's just so disappointing that this is the way. I'm grateful for the NHS anyway, but knowing that people with Type One Diabetes in such a huge, modern, first world country like the US are struggling to get access to insulin due to it being so expensive, makes me even more grateful for our NHS, for our free healthcare.

If insulin access is such a problem in America, think about the state of it in developing countries...

The life expectancy of a child diagnosed with Type One Diabetes diagnosed in one of these countries can be as short as one year. We are all so grateful for the fact that Type One Diabetes is no longer a death sentence, and sometimes we find ourselves taking it for granted, discarding that last bit of insulin you can't be bothered to use up because there is a fresh vial in the fridge...it's no longer a death sentence for us, for those of us lucky enough to have access to it, but for people in developing countries insulin is a privilege.

Even if they do manage to get hold of insulin, it's cost is enormous.

So, as well as being a day to raise awareness of a life with Type One Diabetes, to raise awareness of Type Two Diabetes and try and steer it away from the stigma, to let the world know that our diabetes is not the result of a bag of sweets or a doughnut...it is also a day to remember the fact that there were two men who changed the lives of thousands and thousands of people and still continue to do so thanks to the discovery of insulin. What a precious hormone it is!

It's just a sad fact that Banting and Best would be turning in their graves knowing their $1 patent that they sold to the University of Toronto in the hopes that it would be made available to everyone, is not.

Monday, 14 November 2016

World Diabetes Day- on behalf of NHS England

World Diabetes Day; the birthday of Frederick Banting. Banting was the man who co-discovered insulin and is the reason that everyone with Type 1 diabetes is alive today.  He and Charles Best discovered insulin in 1922, completely turning around the prognosis for someone diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.  It went from being a slow and painful death to being a disease that can be controlled and one people can live with.

I live with Type 1.  I have done since I was 11 years old.  I decided from the moment I was diagnosed that I would do something with my diagnosis and be a voice for other people who live with Type 1. A lot of people have the misconception that diabetes is a disease for the elderly, a disease for people who are overweight or live an unhealthy lifestyle, when in fact diabetes is just an umbrella term for two main types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease; it occurs when the immune system attacks the insulin-producing beta cells and renders our bodies unable to produce insulin. Without insulin, people die. That is a fact and is the reason that people with Type 1 depend on insulin injections.  Type 1 has nothing to do with diet or lifestyle and normally presents in childhood and adolescence but also affects adults.  

Type 2 is far more prevalent in those over age 40. Predominantly it’s linked to lifestyle and diet. It is insulin resistance; their pancreas still produces insulin but the body doesn’t utilise it as it should. Type2 can also occur naturally because of old age. 

I just thought it would be help to provide a little bit of background information to kick off this series of blogs because it is essential people differentiate between the two.  

I think the keyword in the sentence living with Type1 diabetes, is living.  Thanks to Frederick Banting and Charles Best this disease is not a death sentence anymore.  We have the chance to live.  A diagnosis of Type 1 means that we must become our own pancreases, we are essentially doing its job: producing insulin. People with Type 1 must mimic its behaviour.  It’s relentless, 24/7 and sometimes things don’t always go to plan, blood sugar that is too high or too low is a daily occurrence.

But we have to get on with it. I could complain for ages about how hard work it is, how much of a nuisance it is and how I wish I could get a break from it; but that won’t change the fact that I have to look after my diabetes or the affect it will have on my health will be detrimental.  Living with Type 1 isn’t just a physical battle but a mental one too.  You can dwell on how difficult it is and at some stage in your life, as Type 1 diabetes will experience diabetes burnout, at some point, especially when it becomes overwhelming.  The fact that you have to keep yourself alive because your body can’t do it on its own is a hard pill to swallow.

Letting it get on top of you isn’t an option.  Type 1 is 24/7 for a reason and we have no choice in the matter.  If you let any aspect of your routine slip, you can become very unwell, there’s no way around it. That’s why I’ve chosen to adopt the attitude of not letting it get the better of me and it won't. 
I am the master of my diabetes.  While it will challenge me, I will always overcome these challenges because I want to and because I have to. Letting diabetes get the better of us is not an option.  It’s important to have that mindset, that it will not stop us from living our life. We, thanks to the discovery of insulin, have as much of a chance at a healthy life as everyone around us.  There are so many people with diabetes, defying misconceptions and living prosperous and fulfilled lives with this disease.


That is why it is so important that NHS England is on board with raising awareness for Type 1 on this World Diabetes Day.  While we can all stand up and be a voice for those who have Type 1, NHS England is a big voice out there, with others to get the message out there loud and clear that Type 1 is serious, it is a challenge, it’s a relentless battle, but at the end of the day something that can be managed and lived with. That’s one of the important messages to get across this World Diabetes Day.  Be aware of Type 1 and just what it takes to live with it.