Hello! Who are you? And tell us a little bit more about your diabetes.
I was diagnosed just after my 21st birthday. I had been sick for years and doctors did not pick up on me having diabetes, until after my 21st I said; “enough is enough”. I went back for more checks and I finally was diagnosed. It felt like a long time coming. I had actually suspected I had it 2 years before I was diagnosed. I was studying pharmacy at the time and was doing an assignment on diabetes when I noticed the symptoms were very similar to what I was feeling. I brought it up to my family and doctor but they all dismissed it. Turns out I had another illness – thyroid disease – which was causing confounding symptoms making it difficult to diagnose. When I was finally diagnosed, I didn’t hide it at all. I felt almost like it validated all the sickness and struggle I had felt for the last few years, and now I had my reason. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy about the diagnosis, but I did finally get an answer. I don’t believe that diabetes should be hidden – there is no shame in having it. A lot of people don’t understand the illness, which I believe makes it all the more important to not hide it!
The hardest part for me personally was re-learning how to live my life again. Because I was diagnosed as an adult, I had already learnt how to live my life for the most part. But after the diagnosis, I had to re-learn how to sleep safely, how to exercise safely, how to plan my meals accordingly, how to eat again (not physically, but how to manage my levels in doing so). Everything changed – I can’t just spontaneously eat whatever I want and I have to plan and check my insulin dosing. I can’t just go for a run randomly and I have to make sure my levels are right to run, etc … All these little things were things that I had previously done without a thought, and now instead of focusing on more adult things such as work and study, it felt like going back to level 1.
On the contrary, as I was an adult, I already had a number of coping strategies that I had learnt throughout my life, which personally I believe allowed me to accept and deal with my diagnosis in a fairly short time.
I’m currently studying Human Nutrition at University as I am super passionate about health and fitness.
“As long as we try our best most of the time, that’s good enough”
How do you treat your diabetes, did a lot change over the past years and are you able to manage it well?
My GP, endocrinologist and diabetic nurse all work together in treating me
I’m on the Medtronic 670G insulin pump and Novorapid with a CGM system. Initially I was on injections without a CGM. But the CGM system has had the most significant improvement to my life. I feel safe and secure knowing I’m being monitored 24/7 and I can act before things happen.
Initially when I was on injections, I used both Novorapid fast acting insulin and Lantus Solostar long acting insulin.
I took some time off of Uni when I was diagnosed so I could properly learn to manage my diabetes. I’m a very dedicated and driven person so I was determined to learn it fairly quickly, so I could resume my life. I feel that now I have a really good grasp of it and my level management is great. My endocrinologist is really happy with my management especially with it only being just over a year. However, it does still get the best of me some days. I’ve learnt to accept that not every day can be perfect and as long as we try our best most of the time, that’s good enough. I still have a long road ahead of me with my diabetes, so I can only continue to learn and get better!
Can you recognize the symptoms of a low/high blood sugar? Do you test often and can you tell a bit more about your experiences with low blood sugar?
Sometimes, I can recognize them. I always feel when my blood sugar is high. I feel sick, irritable, thirsty, exhausted, have a headache, nausea and constantly needing to pee. I don’t always feel my lows. If my blood sugar has been steadily come down and I’ve been nearing low levels for a while, and staying low for a period of time then I definitely feel it. That’s when I feel weak, shaky, emotional and possibly faint. If my blood sugar drops rapidly down, it’s almost as if my body doesn’t have enough time to feel the symptoms yet, and that’s when I don’t feel my hypos until I cannot move.
Since I’m on the CGM, I don’t manually test my levels nearly as often as I used to. I now test about 3 times a day just to make sure the sensor is well calibrated. However, I check my CGM many many times a day. I feel like I am constantly checking it some days when my levels are less stable, and on days where they’re stable I don’t need to check for several hours (usually until I decide to eat again).
To treat my low sugar levels I use Straight Cordial. It’s super quick and it’s good because you don’t need a lot. Either that or jelly beans or juice.
I have never fully blacked out from a hypo, but I have been very very close. A few times it felt like I was dreaming, I was unable to move my body at all. I was completely paralysed and I was breathing super heavily. I was lying on my bed and had already ingested a lot of jelly beans, but whilst eating one my hand just dropped and I was unable to move. I closed my eyes and tried to stay awake. It was terrifying, my heart was racing and I was certain I would pass out. I was with my partner and luckily I stayed conscious and the jelly beans hit quickly and I recovered fast. I am lucky to have been with someone every time I’ve had a bad hypo, just in case they needed to use glucagon on me!
Food and diet
How does your diabetes affect your eating and do you find being on a diet restrictive?
I try to vary my diet as much as possible. I’m not a big breakfast person so I will usually have a smoothie for breakfast, something along the lines of a chicken wrap/tuna salad/eggs and avocado on toast/toasted sandwich for lunch, and my dinner can be anything from a lentil curry to fish and chips! I never skip any meals. My favorite food is probably chocolate! Haha but really I couldn’t choose. I’m a total foodie and lover of many foods!
I love my snacks and will often have fruit and yoghurt/protein bars/smoothies/nuts for snacks! Sometimes I will have coffee and biscuits or chips. I believe in a balanced diet where treats are allowed!
No matter what I eat, my sugar levels come first, so I was always adjust my dose to make sure my levels stay in a good range.
I drink plenty of water. I always carry a water bottle around with me and sip on it throughout the day. It depends on the day, but I drink about 2 to 4 liters of water a day. This may be a lot for some, but I live in Australia where it gets really hot and I exercise frequently.
I don’t find being on a diet restrictive. As I have always had a healthy diet. So for me there wasn’t much change in my general diet, however I do find the lack of spontaneity restrictive. For example, if I decide I want to have something like soft drink (rarely do, but this is just an example), I can’t just grab it and have it. I need to count how many carbs I’ll be having, calculate the insulin dose, take the dose and then wait 15 to 30 minutes. After all of this I don’t even feel like having it anymore! I guess it forces you to eat even more healthily. Or else reap the consequences of high blood sugars. But it does take the fun out of things sometimes, especially in social situations.
I feel annoyed when people ask about certain food I can or can’t eat, because technically I can eat anything I want, it just requires more thought and planning. But I try not to show this annoyance and instead kindly educate the person – then there is at least one less person in the world who thinks that I, as a type one diabetic, can’t eat certain foods.
Do you believe that a plant based diet can improve diabetes? Did you ever experiment with this?
Yes and no: with type 1, high protein foods like meat can actually help manage your sugar levels as they lower the GI of carby foods when eaten together. However, maintaining a healthy diet (low in saturated fats which are found in meats) can help to reduce insulin resistance. So whether you eat plant or animal based, I think it is important to always eat a lot of fresh fruit; vegetables, high fibre, adequate protein, low saturated fats, high in good fats (such as in nuts, avocado and fish) and low GI carbs. This can be achieved with and without animal foods. I personally don’t eat red meat due to ethical and health reasons. I try to eat plant based as much as possible, but I do eat lean chicken, fatty fish and low fat dairy. Studying nutrition has really helped in the management of my diabetes.
Do you have a hard time eating out in a restaurant? And what are you thoughts on making this easier?
I do find it a bit challenging as I don’t know the composition of the meals. It is obviously safer to go high than low, so I will under estimate my insulin dose. I can always top up on a bit more insulin if needed. I usually take a small initial dose. Unless I’m eating something quite carb heavy and high GI. Then just keep adding micro doses as I go along, checking how my levels are going throughout the meal.
I love Asian food, so Asian restaurants are always a good place to go. But I’m pretty much down for anything!
“If you can deal with diabetes, you can deal with ANYTHING”
Exercise and work
Does your diabetes restrict you from exercise or your daily job?
I play netball once a week, weight train 4 times a week and also run. In between netball seasons I run more often, whenever I have time! I love moving and it helps keep me sensitive to insulin which helps my levels. It is also so good for my mental health.
I am studying at University and I also work part-time in a pharmacy. My work hours in the pharmacy are really flexible as I work in the back, which is really useful with my diabetes. It also means if I run out of insulin or have an emergency, I’m in the best place to be to get help! As far as Uni goes, the stress of it can definitely affect my levels. That is another reason why exercise is so important to me, so that I can de-stress and stay well.
Do you have any positive or negative effects because of your diabetes?
Honestly looking after your mental health is so important, not only in general but also for diabetes management. If you have more mental energy to spare, you’ll be better able to take on the full time job that is diabetes, and over time it gets easier. Keeping stress levels down also really helps. I urge anyone who is struggling for any reason at all, diabetic or not, to get help, seek support and management, whatever that may be. To engage in positive activities, surround yourself with great people and look after yourself.
I think the hardest part is just not getting a break, and coming to terms with the fact that you probably won’t get one for a very long time. When everyone’s finished work, study, finished their workout, had their meals, and just lies down to have a rest, they can. Whereas us diabetics can, but not without the looming presence of diabetes always breathing down our necks. It is just always there and always a thought. We don’t get a weekend off from managing our levels, or even a day off. That is why seeking support is so important. We may not get a break from being a diabetic, but we can make it a lot easier to deal with.
The best part is all the amazing diabetics I’ve met along the way, and the strength and inclusivity we’ve all shown. I feel inspired by these people daily. I love connecting and sharing our stories through instagram, and together we share the burden. It is honestly amazing and I am so thankful to be a part of such an accepting, hard working and kind community!
What is the best advice that you can give to non-diabetics, new diagnosed diabetics and diabetics?
That there is a lot more to it than meets the eye. Not only is it potentially lethal and life-threatening, it is a nuisance at best. We deal with it 24/7/365 so forgive us if we are sometimes a little crabby, stressed, tired, hungry, etc… PLEASE don’t give us tips on how to ‘cure’ or ‘manage’ it, unless you’re qualified in diabetic management!
I would tell them that it does get better. It is not the end of your life as you know it. Yes, your life will be different, and at first it will be so so hard, but soon you’ll be able to enjoy everything as per normal. You’ll be amazed at how strong you become. I always say; “If you can deal with diabetes, you can deal with ANYTHING!”
Take all the time you need to get it right. Your health comes first and if you’re struggling, don’t feel like you’re a failure! This is no easy task. But do seek what you need to get it right, because there might be an easier way of doing things. And of course, well done for putting up with it thus far!
What would you ask the other diabetics?
How does diabetes impact your relationships?
Feel free to answer in the comments below.
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Hey! I’m Ely Fornoville, the founder of Diabetic & Me
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