So here I am, telling my story. I’m going to take you back 25 years, all the way to July 1997. The Labour party had just won the general election, Hanson was number one in the music charts, and I was a 19-year-old young man who enjoyed working hard, socialising, and playing football, albeit not very well!
Around this time, I began to feel changes were taking place in my body. I had no idea why. I was losing weight quickly and I had a thirst that was simply unquenchable. I’d run out of energy by 4pm, and I would simply just fall asleep.
Over a few weeks, these symptoms gradually got worse, and I wasn’t feeling well at all. Now remember, these were the dark days before Google, so I began to research in my Mum’s huge ‘Readers Digest Medical Journal.’ I looked up my symptoms, and they all pointed to diabetes. I made an appointment with the GP who listened to my concerns and promptly pulled out a blood glucose monitor. He pricked my finger, tested the glucose and the reading was 27.6%. I said, ‘what does that mean?’ He said my instinct had been correct, I was a diabetic and I needed to go immediately to hospital to start training on how to self-manage and inject myself with insulin. For someone without diabetes the normal blood glucose range is between 4.0% and 5.6%.
My life changed in an instant!
I do admit that I had a level of naivety with what I should expect. I had absolutely no idea about how this diagnosis would impact me, both physically and mentally, over the next 25 years.
I started with Enterprise on their Management Training Programme in October 2001 at the branch in Preston. I hid my illness from my colleagues. I thought that people would potentially think less of me and that my career opportunities may be hindered if I was honest and open with those around me.
I avoided testing my glucose levels at work, as I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. This ultimately meant that I was not managing my diabetes as well as I could have been during work hours.
Over the next few years, I started to feel more comfortable in sharing my illness with close colleagues; however, I was always reticent about sharing it with senior management. I still had the (incorrect) feeling that it could somehow hinder my career opportunities.
I worked hard, gained promotions and eventually moved to a role in the Remarketing department, the team that sell our rental cars, and a department I had always been interested in as my father ran a small business working within the motor trade. That move opened a lot of doors for me and took me across the country, to Scotland, South East England and now Egham in Surrey where our European Head Office is situated.
I must be consistently mindful about my diabetes though, and I am so grateful that awareness of the disease has grown so much over the last decade. I can’t say that diabetes hasn’t had an impact on my mental health. A life-long condition which needs to be consistently managed is always going to mean you have moments where you think ‘why me?’
Diabetes hasn’t held me back
Enterprise’s focus on well-being has now made me feel more confident in sharing my illness and it’s the reason I feel comfortable writing this article. I am now open with my colleagues, including senior management, because I realise having type 1 diabetes isn’t a hinderance. If anything, it has taught me skills such as resilience and empathy. Colleagues ask me how I am, without the judgement I once thought I’d face. Some have even been known to keep emergency chocolate bars in their desk drawers should my glucose level drop unexpectedly!
I attend regular appointments with the GP, diabetic team, and endocrinology consultant to monitor the impact diabetes is having on my body as it is an illness which can cause a multitude of problems, if left unchecked.
Eighteen months ago, I was prescribed the ‘freestyle libre’ and it has been life changing. It is a small, circular, plastic disc which sits on the back of my arm. It allows me to check my glucose levels via an app. Not having to prick my fingers every hour (they used to get so sore) and to have the convenience of being able to hold my phone up to my arm to check my glucose levels is a privilege I don’t take lightly. However, on the recent climb of Ben Nevis in aid of ‘Mind’ I hadn’t expected it to stop working due to the low temperature. Not ideal when you’re climbing Britain’s highest peak. (Lesson learnt)!
Knowledge is power
I admit I’m not a big reader, but I recently read a book called the Glucose Revolution by Jessie Inchauspe, and it has been an eye opener. I strongly recommend this to anyone with a desire to understand how glucose can affect our bodies regardless of being diagnosed with type 1 or 2 diabetes. I also found the following information interesting. A study conducted by Stanford University in 2014 found that type 1 diabetics must make an additional 180 healthcare related decisions per day compared to people without diabetes. This statistic may surprise some as it did to me when I read it. However, when I think about my day, it has just become ingrained into my life. Checking glucose levels (hourly, sometimes more), what to eat/not eat, counting carb content, calculating how many units of insulin to have, or wondering if my glucose will drop faster because it’s a hot day or I’m more active, for example. This list is endless.
When I think back to that 19-year-old who was a rabbit in the headlights when diagnosed, it doesn’t feel like I’m the same person. It was a journey I never expected, nor wanted to be on, and at times it hasn’t been easy physically or mentally. Sometimes it has been frustrating and anxiety inducing, but on those days, I try to remember that young man and how scared he was. It’s then that I feel a little bit of pride in how far I’ve come and will forever be indebted to my family and friends for their continued support.
I feel grateful and proud to work for a company like Enterprise Rent-A-Car for so many reasons. One of those is the desire to ensure we’re an open minded and honest organisation with employee’s best interests at heart. Our drive for people to be their authentic selves regardless of, in my case, a disability, is remarkable.