I've been living with Type One Diabetes since I was 11 years old, I was diagnosed at the end of Year 7. Not only did I have to adjust to a new school, but I had to adjust to a whole new way of life, honestly, I've had 7 and a half years to "adjust" and sometimes I think I'm still not quite there yet. I don't know if you can ever truly fully adjust to a life with Type One, it's unpredictable and no two days are the same, you could have perfect blood sugars after eating pizza one day, then you'll get completely different results another day, it never fails to surprise you or lure you into a false sense of security before being the reason you wake up at 3am sweating due to low blood sugar. What happens though, is that it becomes a routine, one that you have no choice but to go along with, day in, day out.
With the injections, the insulin pump site changes, the finger pricking, the carbohydrate counting, the hospital appointments, comes your mind, comes the thoughts you're left alone with in the middle of the night. It's remembering that you're dependent on insulin for the rest of your life, don't even get me started on the fear of not getting access to it, a reality for many many people, not just in poverty-stricken countries, but in medically and technologically advanced countries like the United States where the price of insulin has soared. It's the mental battle of not wanting to rely on anyone or be a burden when you're feeling too unwell from high blood sugars to fully function, but the realisation that not feeling completely 100% all the time is your reality. It's reminding yourself to go and get your flu jab when winter rolls around because the flu could put you in hospital with Diabetic ketoacidosis.
Living with Type One isn't as black and white as an injection here and there, a finger prick and everything is alright, it's everything else that stems off of it, it's all the thoughts and the feelings that come along with it. Other than helping people realise the day to day challenges of a life with Type One Diabetes, it is also a good chance to educate people about the fact that Type One doesn't have to stop you from doing anything. I think our Prime Minister is a great example, her election sparked an outcry among a lot of people who doubted her ability to run our country due to her diabetes. So far, she has been fine. People love to make assumptions, but as challenging as diabetes can be, it is controllable.
Diabetes Awareness Month is not just about Type One Diabetes, although it is the type that makes up only 10% of all diabetics, making it the one that doesn't get it's chance in the spotlight very often, I think it's only fair that we talk about Type Two Diabetes too. I'm going to lay down a few key differences between the two main types before I continue:
Type One - Autoimmune disease, pancreas does not produce any insulin, dependent on insulin injections or infusion of insulin via a pump to stay alive, nothing to do with diet or exercise
Type Two - Insulin resistance, pancreas produces insulin or little insulin but the body doesn't respond to it as it should, can take tablets to increase insulin sensitivity, sometimes need to go on insulin injections, has a strong link to diet, however there is a strong genetic component also
I say this because people are very quick to judge people with diabetes. Diabetes is an umbrella term for Type One and Type Two diabetes. However, you and me both know that when people hear the word diabetes their first thought is a fat person with one leg, they'll think about a picture of chocolate cake or something else sugary, they will be thinking about Type Two Diabetes. So wrong! People have been conditioned to associate Type Two Diabetes with these images and although it is linked to diet, that is not how every body develops Type Two Diabetes, it has a very strong genetic component, it is also linked to old age, and operations, people have been known to develop Type Two as a result of a big operation. To immediately think, diabetes, type two, fat person, is so one sided and such closed minded thinking. That is why not only do we need to raise awareness of Type One Diabetes as an autoimmune disease, but we also need to raise awareness of Type Two Diabetes as a disease that is not exclusive to obese people. We are doing ourselves a disservice in shaming people with Type Two, at every opportunity take the time to raise awareness of both types of diabetes, maybe then people will be more inclined to differentiate between what type of diabetes they're talking about, and we won't all be lumped together in the umbrella term, 'diabetes' because it's just unhelpful.
Diabetes is rough whichever type. At the end of the day we're all at risk of the same complications. That is one thing Type One and Type Two have in common, that we're all working to keep ourselves healthy.
This Diabetes Awareness Month, lets try and be mindful of both types, let's make sure the world knows that Type One Diabetes isn't a joke, or to do with diet or bad eating, make sure people know that Type One is not a barrier, be aware of some people's struggle to get access to life-saving and life-sustaining insulin, be aware that diabetes is not black and white, it is not as straight forward as a few injections and a finger prick.