From Uni Procrastination, to a Type 1 Diabetes Diagnosis

Monday, May 3 2010

It was the first week of May 2010. A warm May, from memory. My head was buried in uni assignments and a part time job, with my 18th birthday looming just a few weeks away. 

In an attempt to make some kind of headway with those assignments, I decided to skip uni for a few days. I was never the kind of person who could smash out a 2,000 word paper the night before it was due. There were at least three or four separate papers I had to write, each in need of ten credible journal references. This meant hours and hours of reading through painfully long and boring PDF documents. I needed all the time I could give myself, because I knew I would be working later in the week.

Being left to my own devices in an empty house was a recipe for procrastination. Over the course of three days there were many Facebook sessions, browsing breaks, and heading to the kitchen for a drink. In fact, the latter seemed to be happening more often than I was normally inclined. A glass of soft drink was over no sooner than I had poured the glass. Even plain water, which I found unpalatable, was tempting. 

Try as I might, I just couldn’t seem to find the energy to focus on those papers I had to write. I felt rather tired and lousy. Rightfully so, given I had just wasted away three whole days doing next to nothing.

Thursday, May 6 2010

I really didn’t want to get out of bed. My mouth was ever so dry, and I felt really lethargic. Feeling the shame of a very unproductive three days, I forced myself up out of bed. Thinking I had to snap out of my rut, I prepared a super healthy lunch to take to work. A salad sandwich, Ski yoghurt and carrot sticks.

The energy to remain standing on my own two feet at work that day was lacking. I might have lasted half an hour, at best, before I gave in and went home.

I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to drive myself home. Although tempted to call Mum and Dad, I knew they were out and didn’t want to interrupt their errand. It took every last ounce of my energy to drive myself back home. No sooner than I had walked through the door, I collapsed onto the couch and buried myself under the comfort of a blanket.

When my parents arrived home, I told them that I wanted to go see a doctor. Mum relayed to me that the earliest available appointment to see our family doctor was Saturday, and I knew I simply couldn’t wait until then. 

We visited a medical centre later that morning. After explaining my symptoms of exhaustion and excessive thirst, the doctor sent me home requesting bed rest and hot fluids for three days.

I spent the next three days in bed, which speaks volumes for me. Never in my life had I stayed in bed when I was unwell. Sick days were often spent eating Mum’s chicken noodle soup, reading a book or watching the midday movie surrounded by tissues. 

My mouth was now stripped of all of it’s saliva. I was struggling to find any food even remotely appealing, much to Mum’s distress (eat something!). I questioned my diet and lack of interest in physical activity, truly under the belief that these symptoms were of my own doing.

Sunday, May 9 2010

It was very early on a Sunday morning. Mothers Day, to be exact. I was restless, and had gravitated from my now uncomfortable bed to the living room couch. Ice cold, refreshing drinks were now a craving. These cravings were becoming insatiable, and more frequent. I was struggling to pass the mere minutes in between refreshing glasses of ice cold Orange Juice on the rocks.

In the kitchen, I was frantically trying to get ice cubes out of the tray and into the Snow Cone machine. I was onto my third or fourth orange juice granita when my rumblings in the kitchen got Mum out of bed.

“What are you doing? The doctor told you to have hot drinks!”

My heart rate was becoming more rapid by the minute, and I was going to the toilet at least once every hour. A bout of nausea finally made me feel slightly better, and got me settled that night.

When I woke up a few hours later, I was panting. My heart rate was extremely rapid and I felt breathless. I was still extremely thirsty and exhausted, and going to the toilet every hour. I told Mum and Dad how I felt, just waiting for them to suggest what I was thinking.

No sooner than Dad had started talking about going to a doctor, I shot it down. I knew that it would be pointless, and that I couldn’t hold out for that long. My mind was made up. I had to go to hospital.

The car ride was a blur. I was panting the whole time, eagerly staring out the window the way Scruffy does on the way to the park. I had no idea what was wrong with me, or if I would ever have my salivary glands restored. Honestly, then and there, I wasn’t even sure that I would survive this.

Soon enough, I would learn that my pancreas had stopped producing insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels, through no fault of my own. I would become dependent on insulin injections and frequent blood glucose monitoring with finger sticks for the rest of my life.

I was diagnosed with a condition called type 1 diabetes, the minute I walked through the emergency room door.

It’s National Diabetes Week here in Australia, and the reality is that many individuals and healthcare professionals aren’t aware of the symptoms of type 1 diabetes. Case in point. Had these symptoms been properly diagnosed when I first visited the doctor, my hospital admission may well have been avoided. I’m sharing this story today, with the hope that it might stop another person from going through the same ordeal as me.

Type 1, Turning 18 and Finding Peer Support

I was lucky enough to be featured on the very awesome Diabetes Mine over the weekend, if you haven’t already caught up. I’d like to think my article also serves as a timely awareness piece for Australian National Diabetes Week, which kicked off yesterday.

So, is it somewhat easier being diagnosed with diabetes as an adult? Or would you rather be diagnosed at a younger age, where you won’t know life any differently? It’s one of the age old debates within the diabetes community.

I don’t subscribe to the notion that there is an easier option. Every diagnosis, at every stage of life, is uniquely challenging. While I’m certainly grateful for my adolescent years that were free from diabetes, receiving a type 1 diagnosis as a young adult presented it’s own set of challenges. Herein lies my story.

“I’m one of the privileged few who joined the “diagnosed-a-few-weeks-before-turning-18 club,” in terms of living with type 1. That was in 2010, and I was in the midst of a big transitional change in my life: had newfound independence, was midway into my first semester at university, was enthusiastically working my first real job, and driving around in my first car. There was a lot going on at the time, and when that T1 diagnosis came along, I don’t remember actually processing the meaning of my new illness all that much right away.

Needless to say, being diagnosed with T1D as a young adult presented a unique set of challenges.

For starters, nobody knew that I had diabetes. I didn’t grow up with it, didn’t go through school with it, and it wasn’t simply there for the world to see. I didn’t know life any other way, and went from carelessy eating potato crisps after school to having to think about what they would do to my blood sugar.”

You can check out the full article over at Diabetes Mine here, to help tide you through your Monday-itis. 

I know I’m going to need an extra coffee today…

Seven.

Seven years.

I can feel the goosebumps on my neck as I type those two words out.

In some ways, it feels like only yesterday that I didn’t know a world without type 1 diabetes.

In other ways, it feels like a lifetime.

Type 1 diabetes is undoubtedly the biggest challenge life has thrown my way.

Trying to mimic a healthy, working pancreas is no easy feat. Trying to cover carbohydrates with insulin. Trying to keep my blood sugar levels between 4 and 8 mmol/L as often as possible. Trying to make choices that will help me to live a long and healthy life. All while trying to live some sort of a life at the same time.

There’s a lot of trying, if you hadn’t guessed that much already.

As much as I’d like to call myself a superhero and say that diabetes doesn’t get the better of me, it does. When you choose to give something a go, you open yourself up to the possibility of failure. When you choose to open a door, you run the risk of exposing all of your flaws.

Diabetes is demanding. It requires constant attention. It drains me, mentally and emotionally. Every single decision I make through the day has an impact on my diabetes. I feel waves of guilt and emotion course through my veins, from a decision as stupid as eating a piece of chocolate. Diabetes doesn’t stop demanding of me, even at the lowest of times where all I want to do is shut the door and throw in the towel. There are still times where I do feel different, limited or alone because of this stupid condition I was dealt with.

But when you give something a go, you also open yourself up to the possibility of flying.

Starting on insulin pump therapy last May was a huge leap, that ultimately helped me to refocus on my diabetes management and reduce the highs and lows. Having access to continuous glucose data through the FreeStyle Libre flash monitor overwhelmed me at first, but I’ve since learned how to best utilise the data from it. Starting a blog was a little nerve wracking at first, but it’s since made me more passionate and open about diabetes, and led me to some amazing advocacy opportunities.

As a wise person once said, it’s better to try and fail, than to not try at all.

As I celebrate my seventh diaversary today, those are the words I am choosing to live by.

Because there sure is life after a diabetes diagnosis.

Letter of Hope

If you’re reading this, then I can only assume that you’re dealing with a type 1 diabetes diagnosis in your family. I’m writing this to offer you and your family some hope as you face a new life with type 1 diabetes thrown into the mix.

This is your baby. The decisions you make around managing your diabetes are yours and yours alone. Don’t ever feel guilty for them. How much you decide to involve others in your diabetes and management decisions is up to you. That being said, don’t be afraid to lean on those around you. They will more than likely surprise you. You will feel so much less isolated, and more confident and loved.

This is about you, and you alone. People you speak with will want to jump in and give you their two cents worth. Ignore it. What your great aunt’s-brother’s-second cousin did to manage their diabetes certainly won’t hold any relevance to you. You’ll likely look at other people with diabetes and try to draw comparisons to what they’re doing or how they’re managing. It’s not worth it. Everyone with diabetes is different. You’re on your own unique journey, and the way in which you manage your diabetes is completely up to you.

Don’t be afraid of the internet. The internet is full of information and inspiration that you might not necessarily receive from your doctor. The internet is a great place for peer support. There are plenty of other people from all over the world online who are in, or have been in your shoes.

Speak up. Your diabetes team are likely busy people, and they will likely be pressed for time. Make it clear what you want from them. Use them to get what you need.

Everything and anything affects diabetes. Food. Activity levels. Stress. Hormones. Routine. Even sleep! It’s impossible to achieve perfection. You can have days where you feel you’ve done everything by the book, where you’ve done exactly the same thing you did yesterday, and still receive a completely wild result. Don’t beat yourself up over it. You can only do the best you can, while trying to live your life. Because diabetes is 100% something that you fit into your life, and not the other way around.

You will have bad days. You will slip up. You will get burned out. You will go through a rollercoaster of emotions. I’d be surprised if you didn’t! It’s part and parcel of living with the condition, day in and day out. But you will get over it. You will come out the other end stronger, and more resilient.

My biggest asset after six years of life with diabetes is time, and experience. With time and experience, you learn. You are always learning! With time and experience, the wiser and better equipped you are to deal with this condition.

I can honestly say there’s nothing that diabetes has stopped me from doing. With every passing day, I feel more confident in living with, and managing this condition. So will you.

Have a letter of hope you’d like to offer a newly diagnosed type 1 family? Get in touch with Maureen at Mum of Type 1

Missed Diagnoses

Dad had been laying on the couch for several days earlier this month. He had been unwell since a family function where he had eaten what we suspected to be an off piece of fish.

A trip to Bunnings at the beginning of the week took its toll on him, quickly wearing him out. As the week progressed, he spent more and more time on the couch. His voice was so croaky, and I could tell that even the simple act of talking used up a great deal of his energy. Towards the end of the week, he could barely remain at the table for the duration of dinner. He was still eating very little, despite my Mum constantly reminding him that “you have to eat or you won’t get your strength back.” He could barely even get up off the couch without puffing.

He went to see his doctor at the beginning of the week, who told him it was nothing more than a simple virus. When he returned again later in the week, his doctor told him that this “virus” was simply taking time to pass, and that he needed to drink fluids, eat soft foods and rest.

We approached the one week mark, and Dad wasn’t improving. Mum broached the idea of testing his blood sugar levels when I woke up on the Sunday morning, and it took me by complete surprise. Diabetes didn’t even occur to me once throughout that whole week. Maybe it was the initial symptoms of food poisoning that had thrown me off. In fact, it’s only now that I am writing this, that I am realising how much these symptoms did mirror that of type 1 diabetes.

When Dad mentioned that his mouth was extremely dry and that he might need to be given a saline drip, the reality that he might have diabetes hit me. I could feel the knots in my stomach tightening, and I knew that I needed to check his blood sugar level. I grabbed my meter, placed a fresh Lancet into my Lancing device, and tested. His blood sugar level was 8.5 mmol. Slightly elevated. He told me he had eaten a biscuit when he woke up, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

We took Dad to the emergency room that day, well aware that a week had passed and he wasn’t getting any better. He ended up staying in hospital for a week and received treatment for something much more serious than a passing virus. Two weeks on, and he’s back home and on the road to recovery.


So I guess the morale of my story is that missed diagnosises aren’t exclusive to the diabetes world. They are very much a reality in the non-diabetes world, as well.

Dad visited his doctor twice in that week prior to going to hospital. While I don’t expect a General Practitioner to be an expert in every illness or ailment out there, I do expect that he would take a patient’s concerns more seriously. Offer referrals, or suggest medications. And I fully expect that he is not the only GP in the world today who is missing diagnosises.

So, that’s where I’ve been these past couple of weeks. I haven’t really had the time or the energy to blog lately. I haven’t really been able to find the right words, and diabetes hasn’t really felt very significant compared to what’s been going on.

But it is good to be back behind the wheel of my blog once again. Stay tuned.