I have been managing diabetes for just under 15 years now since I was diagnosed at around three years old, when my blood sugars caused me to go into ketoacidosis.
There are a number of things people are anxious about, scared of and uncomfortable around when it comes to diabetes, but before I give some more specific examples, my core message when talking to newly diagnosed individuals is: this is not the end of your life.
There will be new challenges, strict requirements. There will be things you can no longer do without risks, there will be people who treat you differently. None of this has ever stopped me from loving life and nobody should feel as if their diabetes is going to stop them from being happy.
You can and will get used to the idea of needles. When I was younger, I had to have bloods taken to check for anaemia. It took three nurses and my mom to hold me down. It may seem like an awful addition to your routine but, after a few months it just becomes part of life. I do it in public at cafes and restaurants and never think twice because it’s just so normal to me.
If you are a parent, and your child is newly diagnosed, I used to have a little mental image when I was a kid that helped me get through testing. I would imagine I was high-fiving a small beetle or a bee and their little hand was what I felt when the needle pricked me. Just a simple little thing like that would help me distract myself from the situation.
Focusing on what I can control
Some people may be worried about what low/high blood sugars will do to them, what lasting effects there may be. To that I say, whilst it’s not always in your control, you can control your diabetes. If you are testing your levels twenty minutes before you eat or whenever you feel the need to, and taking corrective action, you should be able to keep them between 10 and 5 with the odd anomaly.
Things like exercises and alcohol will bring your levels down, high carb foods and sugar will send them up. Look out for fructose and other quick acting foods that will send your levels up immediately but be extra cautious about slow releasing foods like chocolate, which will gradually raise your levels over a few hours. This knowledge also comes with practice, and everyone becomes an expert in their own field.
Standing out from the crowd
I’ve felt anxious about standing out as the one person who needs to be handled with care, but that’s simply not true. Being diabetic doesn’t make you weak and you have to be able to tell people that, whilst you may need to check your levels or sit out an activity because of a hypo, you are just as capable as any other person.
As for sticking out as a young adult, in schools and jobs I've found it's easier to just get it out of the way. Introduce yourself to those who matter, those people you know you will be interacting with frequently in the future, and explain your devices, that you may need to sit and rest sometimes. If the have questions, that's what google is for, if you want to pre plan an answer or two, brilliant. Maybe create some cards that answer all the main questions and hand it to anyone who asks.
You don’t stand out nearly as much as you think you do. Nobody will notice you unless you’re testing right there or you have your devices on show, in which case refer to my previous paragraph.
I can feel a hypo coming a mile away. When the symptoms start, I put down what I'm doing and take myself out of any event or social situation I may be in. It's okay to leave class and take a break from work. If you subject yourself to conversation or manual labour during a hypo you’ll feel awful for the rest of the day.
I’ve had friends, teachers and coworkers tell me to just “power through it” or ask “is it really that bad?” And it's never worked on me because I know, if they suddenly had no energy, couldn’t feel their legs, had splitting headaches, etc… they wouldn’t continue working or otherwise. They would sit down and stay down and that’s what you should do.
I make myself comfortable, warm and away from people. If I’m at home I sit in bed with a blanket and hot drink. I don’t see a lot of mention of this, and I know people's symptoms can differ, but when I’m low I get terribly cold, especially my hands and feet. I’ll admit, as I’m writing this, I struggle to think of things that cause me trouble regarding my diabetes these days. This is just a testament to the fact that, no matter what it is, being testing, being different, using medical devises or just going to hospital appointments, if you do it enough and you do it right, it just becomes another part of life. Another function that comes as easily as breathing and blinking.