When I was 13 I got diabetes. The needles were big. Teenage diabetes can be hard. When I was 16 I didn’t think I’d make 18 or 21 or 25 or 30. That first injection was sore and all the doctors wanted to do was educate me. Education involved giving me a shopping list of secondary conditions which are pretty frightening, especially to a teenager. I decided that if I was going to die young because of this I was going to live like I didn’t have the condition anyway.
When I was 15 I did my junior cert exams and I went out and got drunk to celebrate my results. A lot of kids drink after their junior certs in Ireland. There’s always a story about teen overindulgence at that time of the year. I made the local papers that year for being carted off in an ambulance after being picked up collapsed outside a city centre McDonalds. Of course booze got the blame.
I was always the type of teen who said diabetes won’t stop me doing whatever I want to do. Unfortunately what I wanted to do wasn’t sports. When I was 16 I discovered smoking. When I was 18 I discovered cannabis. I liked those things and did them a lot. I loved music and I wanted to be in a band. At my diabetes clinic I was doing well. My HbA1c wasn’t too high and so on. Unfortunately I was often injuring myself with hypos. The period of my life from 21 to 34 was a litany of failed relationships and arguments with friends, getting drunk and acting stupidly.
When I was 26 I met a girl and we had a child. For my daughters 1st birthday I had a back brace on and couldn’t hold her because I’d broken my back. Luckily I recovered but I still feel a twinge there when I sit for too long. During my 20’s and 30’s I fell frequently and injured myself often. I sustained broken arms, feet, sprains and the worst hangovers ever. When I realised I had a serious drink and drug problem at the age of 34 and went into recovery I’d already started to get burning feet. At the time I didn’t know this was the diabetes, I just wanted to give up drink and drugs because my life had become a dark tunnel of repetitive self-destructive behaviour. I didn’t know how any given night was going to end and staying at home involved getting into a state where I could barely find my way to the bedroom. By that stage I was drinking and smoking drugs every night of the week and had been for a number of years. I’d stopped caring about my diabetes and about my life in general.
I’ve been sober for 8 years now. I have a good job and a great wife and a beautiful 6 year old daughter, not to mention a very clever 14 year old. I haven’t had a hypo in 8 years and I haven’t sustained any injuries in that time.
I’m 42 now. My diet consists of quite a bit of chocolate. I don’t feel bad about that and my HbA1c’s aren’t that bad. My feet only burn when I’m in an extremely hot climate and they’re sweating. It’s unpleasant but I can live with it. What I learned after I sobered up was that a single pint of larger can send my sugars up into the high teens (16 – 18 mmol) and many pints will get me into the twenties and keep me that way right through most of the night. About an hour after I’d wake they’d plummet and I’d need to compensate with juices and food I often didn’t feel like eating. Usually I’d overcompensate and go high again. Other nights I’d find myself suddenly low in the middle of the pub.
In short, my diabetes was way out of control. The net result, foot burn and a touch of eye lasers.
But my diabetes was like that for at least 10 years and prior to that I lived in a world where chocolate was the thing used to right a hypo and general ignorance about food impact on blood sugars was high. So if you feel your health professional is focussing a little too much on the kidney damage, blindness and other side effects and not enough on giving you a pat on the back, don’t fret. It takes a lot of bad behaviour to get to those. It’s your diabetes and you know it. Trust yourself to be able to manage it to an acceptable level. Non-diabetics go blind too! The worst thing for your diabetes is large swings. Even if your bloods are continually a little high, say 8 – 12 you can fix that much easier than daily swings from 2 – 18. Learn about carbs in foods, learn about your own tolerance to insulin and learn how not to be frightened by your diabetes. As the fatalist once said, “We’re here to go. We’re all here to go.”
Diabetic control is about trying to be better not about being perfect. If you’re trying, you’re fine.
The take away from all this really for me though is that alcohol and tobacco are very bad influences on your diabetes so treat them with caution. Of course a few drinks are ok but respect it or your diabetes will feel it in the longer term. In my estimation the only food that can send your sugars as high as alcohol so quickly is Lucozade. Would you drink 6 pints of that in an evening? If you’re drinking a lot in an evening you should compensate however your doctor has told you to. If you’re drinking heavily more than once a week you should definitely be careful and if you’re drinking more often than that you should talk to your doctor about how to drink less. You’ll feel better for it.
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