Living with Diabetes is difficult enough without having to deal with peoples' (most often well-meant) ignorant remarks. The culprit is mainly the stigmatisation of Type Two Diabetes in the media. My heart breaks when I hear Mums say how they have been told they shouldn't have fed their Diabetic toddlers so much sugar or bad food to make them 'get' it. Or that they shouldn't worry, because they will grow out of it. Or that it surely isn't that big a deal because it only means they can't have any sugar any more.
I think I speak for a lot of Diabetics and their loved ones when I say that we would love it if people could be more educated about our condition. That's why I have put together this short list of the main things we want people to know about (Type One) Diabetes, to avoid frustration, embarrassment, and awkward conversations. It has become a much more heavy-hearted post than I had first intended, but I think it's very important that I get the point across.
1. It isn't my fault.
You heard it. Unlike Type Two, Type One Diabetes is actually an auto-immune disease so it has nothing to do with diet or lack of exercise. At some point in our lives (usually during our younger years but it can happen at any age!) our body decides that it doesn't like the insulin-producing Islet Cells in our pancreas anymore and sends out antibodies to destroy them. This means, sadly, no more insulin for us. The cause for this aggressive reaction is in most cases unknown - the only thing that is certain is that there is nothing anybody could have done to prevent it!
2. It won't go away.
Diabetes is a chronic illness. We won't grow out of it and it won't go away until someone finds a cure! Insulin is not a cure. It is something we are dependent on; something we need to take every day for the rest of our lives to stay alive (a scary thought).
3. I can eat anything I want...
... in moderation. Only too often we are told: "You can't eat that [insert random sweet dish], you're diabetic!" Yes, thank you, we don't live in the 1800s any more. Insulin has since been invented and many Type Ones are now 'carb counting': they take insulin according to the amount of carbohydrates there are in their food. This means that they can be very flexible when it comes to when and what they want to eat, and practically nothing is off-limits for us now. It's a bit patronising to tell us what we can and can't do, dear!
4. It is not easy.
Some people think we just give ourselves a daily jab and get on with the day. If only... We have been burdened with the full-time job of one of our organs. We have to make sure that there is insulin in our bodies every hour of the day; even more after a meal! This means for most Diabetics that they need as many as five our six injections a day! And that's not everything. Imagine every time you have something to eat or drink, anything at all, you have to stop and think: how many carbs are in here? You have to look on the pack or look it up in a dietary table that you carry with you. Then you have to do the calculation. You know you take 1 unit of insulin for every 8 grams of carbs you eat. Your meal has 36 grams of carbs - how many units do I take? 4.5 units. But most insulin pens can only give whole units; if you take 4 units you risk a high blood sugar, if you take 5 units you risk a low blood sugar. What to do?! And this is all before you have even touched the food!
Einstein once said that madness is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result. Well, according to Einstein Diabetes is madness! There are so many things that influence our glucose levels that we can't control: exercise, illness, hormones, stress, even excitement! There is always something that can throw you off, even when you normally have the best control possible.
5. No, it's not as bad as cancer...
Another thing people tend to hear is: "Well, you should be happy it's not something worse". Of course we're happy, but it's not nice to be given the feeling that our condition can't possibly be serious because we look healthy on the outside. Diabetes kills both in the short term and in the long term. Hypos (low blood sugars) can lead to fits, a coma, and even death. High blood sugars cause the production of Ketones (acids that are released into the bloodstream). When too many Ketones build up in the body, this leads to a condition called DKA (Diabetic KetoAcidosis) which can also cause a coma and death.
In the longer term, depending on how well controlled blood sugars are, Diabetes can lead to blindness, kidney problems, loss of sensation in feet and legs, amputations, and heart problems. Sadly, having good control all the time doesn't prevent any of these complications from happening - it merely reduces the chance of them. So, next time you want to point out how happy we should feel we 'only' have Diabetes, perhaps you would like to take this - and our feelings - into consideration.