Does anyone remember the Leaving Certificate? It seems so insignificant now, doesn’t it? The stress, trials and tribulations to get the points just fade into the present day struggle to get that assignment in on time.
For me, the Leaving Certificate rouses up quite different memories. A week before the dreaded exams began, I was sitting in the Mater hospital’s A&E, being told I was Type 1 Diabetic. Cue the world crashing down around me.
I had never really been sick at all. After messing around as a child, my original nose was replaced by a lovely new broken one and two black eyes but other than that, I had never been to the hospital. However, in June 2010, something just wasn’t right. I could feel a change in myself.
The first indication was the thirst. The need for a glass of water is just unimaginable. The best way I can describe the sensation is drinking a large glass of water and the minute the glass leaves your lips, your mouth instantly goes dry. This, for me, rang alarm bells. Other symptoms experienced by undiagnosed diabetics are weight loss, frequent urination, mood swings and lethargy. Two very quick blood tests confirmed my fears and in a most dramatic turn of events, I was whisked off to A&E and told my sugar levels were dangerously high. In the days that followed, my thoughts and tears consumed me, thinking of all the things I would be unable to do now.
Diabetes occurs when your pancreas stops working. When a person eats food, this travels through the body to the pancreas, which converts the sugars in the food to energy, fuelling your body. For a diabetic, the pancreas does not function and so instead, the sugar from the food is free to simply roam around your blood stream, causing real damage.
Usually, Type 1 diabetes rears its sugar-coated head around childhood, so my case was a bit of an oddity. Diabetes is not simply going without sugar; it’s so much more complicated than that. Each patient is different, but in my case, here is how I survive each day.
Over the last two years, my diabetes has gotten progressively worse. Although I enjoyed my time in the ‘honeymoon’ period at the beginning, these days my medication has significantly increased. Before each meal, I am required to first test my blood sugars with a pin prick to my finger. Then, I inject insulin using a needle, to either my stomach or thigh. At night, another needle along with a cholesterol tablet. If I take too much insulin or go a long time without food, I experience a low blood sugar level, meaning I feel faint, disorientated, drowsy and in worse case scenarios this could lead to a diabetic coma.
Thankfully, although I experience these symptoms weekly, it’s nothing a half-glass of Lucozade can’t remedy along with a chance to nibble on some chocolate…heaven. In contrast, if I don’t take enough insulin with a meal, my blood sugars rise, resulting in mood swings. How my family live with me, I just don’t know, lethargy and, quite oddly, the want to cry all the time.
The foods you eat must be monitored. Carbohydrates must be tightly controlled, along with greasy food and for a treat once a week, you’re allowed a fun-sized bar, when really we all know there’s nothing fun about those minuscule chocolates. As for alcohol, that must also be monitored, as high consumption could result in a huge drop in blood sugar levels so a snack after a session is advised…late-night kebab anyone?
The cholesterol tablet was something that I resisted taking for a long time. After all, I’m 20 years of age. Doctors have repeatedly warned me, more and more young diabetics are being treated for strokes and heart attacks, as diabetes doubles your chances of experiencing one of these. Also, if sugar levels remain high for a long period of time, this is when the real damage begins. Diabetes can affect the eyes, heart, blood pressure, hearing, feet, nerves and kidneys. Diabetic patients quite regularly get limbs removed due to poor diabetic control.
As for mental health, I decided to seek therapy. I found that I was on a self-destructive path, choosing to ignore the fact that I had the disease, eating and acting the way I wished. It was torture for both myself and my family.
However, these days, I am doing much better. Sometimes, I still can’t get my head around the fact that, one day, something related to diabetes will probably be my death penalty. I’m taking care of myself better than I ever have and, although I’ve learned to cope with the daily lethargy, I have found that exercise is the key to good control.
Diabetes does not define me, nor does it determine my future or who I am as a person. After all, I’m sweet enough as I am.