What it’s Like to Live With Diabetes: The Actual Truth
Loyal blog followers… and I’m under no impression that there are readers of my blog who I have not personally met, because I’m not that good, but just in case you don’t know… I have Type 1 (aka Juvenile) Diabetes Mellitus.
Most people are surprised when I first tell them I have diabetes. Partially because many people assume that Type 2 Diabetes is the only kind of diabetes and as Type 2 typically (but not always) manifests in people who are overweight, no one assumes that I would be a diabetic.
But I’m here to tell you that Type 1 Diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes are completely different things. In Type 2, insulin, the hormone responsible for lowering blood glucose to an acceptable range, (usually between 4-7 mmol/L) is still produced by the body, but for whatever reason is not able to be used without strict diet management and exercise, and often an oral medication called Metformin. In Type 1, insulin producing cells in the pancreas (the beta cells in the islets of Langerhans, to be precise) are rejected by the body as invader cells and are therefore attacked and no longer functional. This means that Type 1 Diabetics are insulin dependent. Type 1 Diabetics NEED daily insulin injections, or insulin pumps in order to live. Insulin is considered life support and is therefore available without a prescription at any pharmacy (y’know, if you ever want to run in a grab some for the low, low cost of $250 (or £125) per box.)
But anyway, I’m not here to explain to you what diabetes is… but I do want to explain what it means to be a diabetic on a daily basis. Enjoy.
- Counting Carbohydrates – Every time I eat anything with carbs in it, I need to take an injection of insulin. My personal ratio is 1 unit of Novo-Rapid insulin per 6 grams of carbohydrate. Because of this I am always counting carbs. No one would ever guess this about me. Why? Well, I’ve been diabetic for over half of my life now. I am VERY good at estimating how many carbs are on my plate, simply by looking. Back when I was first diagnosed I would weigh and measure everything, but the truth is, I don’t need to do that anymore. On an unrelated note… when I say carbs I don’t just mean starchy foods. Almost everything has carbs in it. Even fruit.
- Taking injections – As mentioned above, I take an injection every single time I eat carbs. As you can probably imagine, I eat several times a day. And I’m sure you know how irritating it would be for me to get up and go to a private location to take an injection every single time I eat food. As such, I will usually take my injections at the table. If it makes you uncomfortable to see someone inject themselves, I would recommend not telling me that. You’ll just make me feel bad but you won’t change my mind. I promise I’m not a cruel person, and I usually do whatever I can to make people feel comfortable, but this is not one of those times. Until you have to take 4-6 injections a day, I probably won’t feel too sorry for you if you happen to catch me injecting myself… especially considering I am so quick that most people only notice after it’s done when they get a brief smell of the insulin (yes, it has a smell).
- Having “lows” (aka being hypoglycemic) – This will probably be my big rant, so prepare yourself. Having a low blood sugar is among the most uncomfortable feelings I have ever experienced, and I have the distinct pleasure of experiencing them about once a week, if not more. Lows occur when my blood sugar drops below 4.0mmol/L. While experiencing high blood sugar is the mark of a diabetic and is, in fact, very dangerous in the long term, low blood sugars can be extremely dangerous in the short term. Because of this it is super important that I get simple carbohydrates (things like gummies or soda) into my system as soon as possible. The really annoying bit about this is that when I’m low, I don’t think straight, and I often think I can go longer without getting sugar, in an attempt to continue with what I’m doing at that time. Case in point: Last Friday I was working as a TA in a school in south London. This school was specifically for students with severe disabilities and I was working with a beautiful girl who was non-verbal and needed my undivided attention most of the time. Naturally, the most opportune time to have a low blood sugar. Because I wasn’t a full time member of staff at this school, no one knew I am diabetic (save for if they saw my medic alert bracelet). My low got to the point where I realised I needed to eat something and so I said to another member of staff “I need to go get some sugar”. I’m certain the first thing people think when I say that to them is “this girl is crazy, why does she need sugar in the middle of a lesson?” But, of course, it takes much more time to explain WHY I need the sugar… time that I don’t have. And so instead I left the girl in the hands of another TA (who was already busy with another student), and I left to get some sweets and I’m relatively certain that every TA in that lesson thought I was unbelievably rude. So just in case some random people read this blog post and one day they are working with someone who suddenly needs to leave to go get “sugar” or food of any kind, here are some symptoms of hypoglycemia:
- Severe confusion – you might not notice it at first or it might look like I’m just looking into space and am not paying attention – people think I’m really weird or really rude when I have lows.
- Bad headaches – like really bad and if I don’t treat the low right away I will have the headache for a full day and be completely non functional.
- Being shaky – my hands are a 10 on the Richter Scale when I’m low.
- Being sweaty – even if it’s -30 outside.
- Extreme hunger – I’ll eat an actual cow if I can find one.
- Tiredness – After a bad low, I need to nap for at least an hour. Not really conducive to working a full time job. Fortunately for me, I USUALLY have lows in the middle of the night when I get them.
- Being emotional (specifically grumpy or on the verge of tears… sometimes both) – I’m sure you can see why it is extremely uncomfortable to be low around people I don’t know. If I ever snap at you, ask me to test my blood sugar. Sometimes I get emotional before I start to actually feel the low. (My sister is the best at knowing my lows are coming before I do).
- Loss of colour – If I look white as a ghost, I’m either low or I’m dead.
- Testing my blood glucose level – I’m really bad at this, but I am meant to test my blood sugar every time I am about to eat something, to know if I need to take extra insulin to correct. I use a tiny machine called a Blood Glucose Meter to test my levels. It involves me sticky a tiny strip into a machine, and then pricking my finger and placing a drop of blood on the strip. Five seconds later, the machine tells me what my blood sugar is. My target is between 4-7 mmol/L. Most non diabetics are typically between 5-6, or up to 8 an hour after eating.
- “Getting ice cream” – For those of you who don’t know, I have a bit of a sweet tooth. And I’m not one to pass up a piece of chocolate (or some ice cream, or a mountain of glorious sugar) which has been offered to me just because I have diabetes. It becomes important to gauge how much of something I can eat without needing to take an injection. Given that my ratio is 1:6, I typically allow 6-10 grams of carbs before I need to take an injection. This means that if someone offers me a square of chocolate from their chocolate bar, I don’t need to take an injection (just FYI… haha).
- Smelly feet – This has become a bit of joke with my former colleagues about how smelly my feet are, but the truth is that it’s really because of my diabetes. Diabetics often have problems with their feet because of poor circulation. And it makes me really self conscious.
- The dreaded handbag – Do you have any idea how much I would LOVE to leave my flat with just my keys and a bank card? It is my dream to be able to leave the house without having to carry a bag with me. But no, I can’t do that because I need to carry an army of diabetes supplies with me everywhere I go.
- Eating out – I love eating out. It is something I grew up doing once a week with my family and when I was diagnosed it was really hard because I thought I wouldn’t be able to go to restaurants anymore. Fortunately, lots of places keep nutritional information on hand for people with allergies or diabetes. The Boston Pizza that my sister works at is my favourite place to go eat because whenever I’m there she automatically bring me the nutritional info, and that takes the guesswork out of knowing how much insulin to take. In the event that I eat somewhere that does not supply this information, I have to guess at carb counting (like I mentioned I do, quite often). If I’m eating something I’ve never eaten before and don’t know very well, I often end up with either a high or a low blood sugar a few hours after eating.
- Medic Alert Bracelet – I have one. I try to only wear it when I am not with anyone who knows I’m diabetic, because I hate wearing things on my wrist.
- Peeing – I saved the funniest, and also possibly most awkward, one for last. Ladies and gentlemen, I pee a lot. Sometimes I pee several times an hour. I often wake up two or three times a night to pee. It’s just one of those things that I’ve gotten used to telling people. I’ve attached a video in which Hank Green of the VlogBrothers (my favourite YouTube channel) discusses his Ulcerative Colitis and how he often needs to poop at inopportune times of the day, and how he’s gotten to a point where it doesn’t embarrass him to tell people anymore, because it’s not his fault, it’s just a thing he has to deal with. Watch it here.
Well, I hope this wasn’t too long and boring for you to read. Diabetes is something that I am really passionate about and I love teaching people about it so if you have any questions at all, even if you think it might be too personal, I encourage you to email, Facebook message, ring, or smoke signal me to ask! There is so much more to learn about diabetes, this has just been the stuff I deal with on a day-to-day basis!
More exciting stuff coming up as I’ll be heading to Leeds with Robert to see the Canada vs. Italy World Cup Rugby Game! Be jealous!
-Moose ❤ ❤