At last count (2008) there were 219,963 people with a diagnosis of diabetes in Scotland. I am one of these people. I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in January 2006. Four years on, and the struggle to live with diabetes seems to be getting harder, not easier as I had hoped. My blood sugar levels are erratic. Too high, too low, rarely just right. Which means I am constantly tired, constantly feeling ill, and increasingly frustrated.
Now for the science bit… “Diabetes is a common life-long condition where the amount of glucose in the blood is too high as the body cannot use it properly” (as explained by Diabetes UK). In my case, my pancreas went on strike and stopped producing insulin, which is needed by the body to convert glucose into energy. I have to give myself four injections of insulin every day to keep up the work that my pancreas should be doing, were it so inclined.
Tough work. First, there’s remembering to do the injections. Missing one is not an option. The insulin I inject breaks down the glucose in the food I eat. Without it, my blood sugars would sky rocket and I’d be headed for a hospital bed. Second, there’s working out how much insulin to take. This is something I have yet to master. Too little insulin and I have the same problem as before, too much and I suffer the dreaded “hypo”. A “hypo” is a short term complication associated with diabetes, but one which sends me into a panic. Basically, it means your blood sugar level is too low, making you feel shaky and faint, sweaty, disorientated and generally like you are about to pass out. I’ve had many of these and every time I get the same feeling of terror.
At the moment, I feel like my diabetes is controlling me. Dictating when and what I eat, interrupting my uni, work and social life, making me uneasy, ill and irritable. I dread checking my blood sugars, never expecting to see a healthy level, but still annoyed when my pessimism is realised. It can be draining. You try so hard, monitoring what you eat and drink to make sure it isn’t loaded with sugar; monitoring your insulin levels to make sure it isn’t too much or too little; monitoring your activity because too much exercise can cause a hypo… It becomes tedious and monotonous and when you don’t get the desired result you feel like giving up and ordering your body weight in desserts and sweets. A tad counter productive, but staying motivated was never my forte.
But I plough on with my mission to be in control of my diabetes, and not the other way around. My new trick is keeping a food diary. How depressing! Nothing can take the joy out of good food quite like having to write it down in measurements straight afterwards. Still, if the ends justify the means…
For more information on diabetes, visit www.diabetes.org.uk.
Words and photography by Jamye Drohan