I graduated with an Undergraduate degree in 2012 from Aberystwyth University, feeling fresh and excited for what lay ahead; but unappreciative of the journey I’d made with my Type 1 Diabetes on the way. For those who aren’t familiar, Type 1 Diabetes is an auto-immune condition where your body stops producing insulin, therefore you need to inject and maintain your blood glucose levels. As of October, I’ll be starting my Masters, at a new institution, and having now truly gotten to a place where I can appreciate and adjust to the things I didn’t know about my Diabetes before starting my undergraduate degree.
Here are some things I wish I’d known…
Not many people know there is a Type 1 Diabetes
We’re the 10% the media doesn’t talk about. When you hear the term ‘Diabetes Epidemic’ or when Diabetes is talked about as a serious health problem and a reason to stay in shape, this is referring to Type 2 Diabetes. This is where your body has a resistance to insulin, which can be addressed through things such as looking at a healthier diet, exercise, tablets or sometimes insulin, depending on the individual and what works for them. Type 2 Diabetes can be reversed. Type 1 cannot. It was rare for me to come across a person I didn’t have to explain my condition to.
The impact of commuting
Before moving to London, my longest commute had been via a 20-30 minute bus journey. In London, I’m often covering up to 90 minute journeys in the mornings or tackling a 50-minute tube journey. For me, this often sees a drop in my blood sugar levels, particularly if it’s quite busy or the commute takes a little longer than planned.
Stress can impact upon you physically
During my 3rd year, this was the toughest year to keep control of both blood sugars, but also of the effects of the worrying upon all aspects of my body. My dissertation saw me become almost nocturnal and eating an awful selection of food. The long hours and copious amounts of caffeine meant that my blood sugars were constantly high, and I found my digestive system was extremely unhappy, meaning I had to cut out different foods that became hard to eat. This combination of high bloods, bad food and lack of sleep made it extremely hard for me to work to my best ability.
I feel that this journey and experience has made me well equipped to tackle stress and its effects when I start my next degree in October.
My top tips are…
Exercise really is an amazing release. I’ve been slow to join this party, but even just doing a good walk for 30 minutes each day can clear the head and able you to focus. For me, a happier mind led to happier levels.
2) Limit your caffeine intake
For me, too much caffeine means that I have to take more insulin as it struggles to be absorbed. Since switching to a maximum of 3 cups of black coffee a day, and replacing some with hot water with lemon my mind has felt so much clearer, and my insulin absorption has been much improved.
3) Pace yourself
I realise I put far too much pressure over a concentrated time on myself. Rather than working through the night, a good night’s sleep and a fresh perspective in the morning would have been far more beneficial. There is definitely a strong benefit to prioritisation and having a good plan to stick to.
You are not alone
Since finishing University, and becoming more open about talking about my Type 1 Diabetes, I have discovered that quite a few of the people I’d met at University had Type 1 Diabetes themselves or had relatives with the condition. This means that whenever something is happening, there are people out there who really do ‘get it’ and being able to talk to someone who has experience of the condition can be a big help.
In my first few weeks in London, where I now reside, it took a while for my Diabetes to get settled and adjust to its new city life. Through talking on Twitter and starting conversations, I was then alerted to the fact that different groups have been set up for people with Type 1, but also groups associated with the major Diabetes charities.
Having this ‘invisible illness’ can be challenging, particularly when you’re struggling and people comment that “you look fine”. However, it definitely helps when you are able to share your experiences with others. You absolutely do not have to feel or be alone. While everyone’s journey with Diabetes is different, there are a lot of similarities and suggestions for managing the condition that can be talked through.
I’m looking forward to starting my course in October, feeling fresh and ready to tackle it and to talk openly about my condition. Moreover, I feel my experience of managing my condition at university has been good preparation for the world of work.