Just a quick note, my blog is primarily based on personal views and experience, sometimes referring to research and some background information, with the aim of helping anyone who may be suffering, or know of anyone suffering from a mental health illness. I haven’t written in a while, so let’s see how this goes. I would welcome any advice and feedback on my blogs, or your personal thoughts on the topic.
So, this post is a little more personal than my previous posts. As you will have guessed from the title, it’s about diabetes. I’m a diabetic, type 1 to be precise. It means that my body cannot produce insulin, and thus, requires me to self-medicate with insulin. But, my aim here isn’t to provide a full medical account of what diabetes is (I have included a link to some websites that provide more in depth information below). Instead, my aim is to explain what it’s like to live with diabetes (specifically type 1 diabetes), in relation to mental health.
You may be thinking that diabetes is a physical illness, how can it relate to mental health? That’s the thing, physical and mental illnesses can often come as a ‘package’ – physical illness can lead to mental health problems, and vice versa. That’s not to say that this is the case for everyone (I’m not looking to generalise from my own account), but it is for many. In this post, I’ll discuss some of the issues that I’ve had, and still have with regards to my diabetes. These issues are also some of the major things that others that I know have also discussed with me about living with diabetes (others that I know with type 1 diabetes).
Just as a bit of a (very brief) background before I begin, type 1 diabetes is where the body stops producing insulin. Anyone with type 1 diabetes is required to self-inject insulin daily. Type 1 is more common in children and adolescents. Type 2 diabetes on the other hand is where the body does not produce enough insulin, or where the body’s cells don’t react to insulin. Anyone with type 2 diabetes is required to make some serious lifestyle changes including diet and exercise plans. They are required to take tablets to control their blood sugar levels, and in some cases, may even need insulin injections (if the tablets are not enough to work). “The estimated diabetes prevalence for adults between the ages of 20 and 70 worldwide for 2015 was 415 million and it is expected to affect one person in 10 by 2040 – 642 million” (quoted from www.diabetes.org.uk).
So, I’ve had diabetes for around 12 years now. It’s been quite some time now, and as you would expect, I’ve become fairly used to it. Although, it wasn’t always that way.
I remember when I was first diagnosed. I’ve always been a person that becomes easily unwell, but this was something different. I knew it. My parents knew it. I was rushed into hospital and treated for hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar levels). Once I was treated, my parents and I were informed that I have Type 1 diabetes, a concept we weren’t all too familiar with. My parent’s reaction was shock, they were distraught that their child had diabetes – although I don’t know exactly what they were thinking, I know they had questions – ‘how’, ‘why’, ‘what do I do now’? I, on the other hand, was even more confused. I woke up in a hospital, didn’t even recall what had happened, and was completely befuddled by the whole diabetes thing. I mean, I was a school kid, what is this thing? Why do I have medical professionals stabbing me with needles every few hours? I was so confused.
I must say though, the team that took care of me in the hospital were very caring, and extremely helpful. This was also true for the children’s diabetes outpatients team at the hospital where I was treated. The team were quick to come over and explain to my parents and I what diabetes was, how the illness developed, what care was needed, and how to get help should it be needed. They were able to provide me with all the information that my parents and I needed to return home.
A few weeks went by and it hit me. Omg, I have diabetes. This is a huge responsibility. I now have to take extra care of myself. I had many questions. I had many worries. I was concerned. I was stressed. I was anxious. I was sad. I didn’t understand what was going on, and I didn’t know how I was going to cope.
As I became more anxious, so did my family. They wandered how I would cope, how I would get on with things, how it would affect me, and they still wandered why it was their child who became ill.
The feelings that myself and my family felt were normal, but to us, it was far from normal at the time. We were confused, lost, and unable to understand.
These are ‘normal’ feelings for those who go through a diagnosis (usually for most diagnoses). The feelings of denial, confusion, anxiety, stress, and even depression.
These feelings don’t just disappear though. When going through school, I had the same anxieties. I was constantly worried about my sugar levels dropping if I didn’t eat regularly, or being too high if I ate too much sugar. I was constantly stressed about having to carry all of medication with me (I would always carry around a little side bag, and be self-conscious about people laughing at me). I was always embarrassed if I was going to go out with friends, cautious of my sugar levels being too high or too low. I was always self-conscious about taking my insulin injections if I was out – always having to run to the restroom to take my insulin or check my sugar levels.
12 years after diagnosis, some of these anxieties still exist, and some have disappeared. I’m no longer self-conscious about taking my insulin or carrying my medicine around with me – I’ve realised that this is the stuff that’s going to keep me alive. I now guard these with my life, they’re my necessities that I never leave the house with, and I now discuss my diabetes with everyone (as I’m doing here!) Side note – I think I get this from my father. He likes to tell everyone I have diabetes. I think this is more so to do with my parent’s anxieties about any complications with my diabetes. I think they’re constantly worried about whether I’m feeling ok or not. I think telling other people helps as they know that others are aware of what to do if something happens to me. I think this gives them some relief. It’s understandable, and I’m sure it’s the way that most parents react. But, as I was saying, the anxieties don’t all go away. I still worry about my sugar levels all the time; I still stress about having to take insulin and eat regularly. It’s still a hassle. It’s still something that I get confused by at times, and it’s still something that causes me to stress, at the best of times. Nevertheless, it’s something that I’ve grown to live with, and it’s something that becomes a part of your life.
Others may also feel stressed because of the need to constantly medicate. This can lead to people stopping their medication, or even over medicating. For example, insulin can cause weight gain. Those who are cautious about their weight may therefore be more likely to under medicate. This can thus cause further complications. There is also the stress of further health complications related to diabetes occurring. Diabetes is far from an ‘easy’ illness.
The thing is though that people don’t understand these feelings unless they’ve been through something similar. The reason I wrote this is just to explain what it’s like to live with an illness such as diabetes. I’m sure many others who live with diabetes (I know quite a few with type 1) would agree with what I’ve wrote.
Hope you’ve enjoyed reading. Check out some of my other posts whilst you’re here.
I’ve included some funny memes that my fellow diabetics would find funny!
Some information about diabetes and common mental health related problems:
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