Monday 31 October 2016

Sa Jeunesse

Sa Jeunesse. Your youth. A French song title for this diabetes-themed post. It's a song wrtten and performed by that incomparable Franco-Armenian nonegenarian chanteur Charles Aznavoura singer-songwriter sadly under-recognised in the English-speaking world. It's a eulogy of youth, and as such is a song tinged with melancholy about the passing of time: the title comes as the end of a refrain that exhorts young people to make the most of their youth while they can: Il faut boire jusqu'à l'ivresse sa jeunesse: drink up your youth until you're drunk on it

Not a bad piece of advice in my view, but I'm more inclined to say enjoy every part of your life, because in many ways, the best is yet to come as well as being in the past.

Aznavour is clearly troubled by the ageing process: some of his best known songs like Hier Encore and La Boheme express the nostalgic regrets of a middle aged man who wishes he was young again, and in so doing, he gives voice to feelings that we all experience to some extent. Where did our life go? It's a theme as old as time itself.

All this came to my mind recently when reading a blog by Amber, one of my gbdoc friends, called Diabetes is an invalid excuse, a cri de coeur from a young person suffering from diabetes burnout. In it, Amber makes reference to the fact that as a teenager she can't easily do what young people want to do - go out, party, stay out late, drink. This got me thinking about the differing burden of diabetes at different ages, an idea which has come into my mind a lot in recent years, as I have got to know so many fellow Type Ones who, unlike me, were diagnosed as children or teenagers. For them, it is very difficult to "drink of the fountain of youth".

I've said it before in blog posts: I feel lucky to have missed diabetes as a child, teenager or young adult, so I am no expert on life as a Type One at those ages. However, it seems to me self-evident that there are multiple extra issues with the condition for those who are diagnosed young. 

For very young children, of course, the issues are for the parents as much as the child. I shudder to think of the worry and heartache felt by parents having to deal with such a fickle condition, and in effect needing to act as the child's pancreas. I entirely understand why a prominent member of the GBDOC, parent of a T1D child, styles herself Understudy Pancreas, and I can well imagine the multiplied worry when a child starts school, or moves from primary to secondary. 

But let's not forget the child! How difficult it must be to be fussed over, to be told not to do this, or be careful when you do that. Childhood has become so risk-averse in modern times, but for the diabetic child there's a whole extra layer of risk, and it's a real risk as well.

Then there's teenagers. Imagine being landed with a condition that inhibits your freedom just at the time in your life when you want to start to express that freedom. Imagine the difficulty of taking over your own testing and insulin dosing after your parents had been doing it. Imagine the daft and often downright nasty things that get said at school to kids who inject themselves, prick their fingers and sometimes start acting strangely. Imagine the extra complications to sleepovers, sport, parties, trips and holidays. And all of this before we even mention the effect of growing up, puberty and hormones. All of it more fraught with complications for girls than boys.

Then for mid and later teens, the expected lifestyle is so fundamentally incompatible with diabetic life that I really feel for them. I wasn't exactly  wild in my Sixth Form and student days, but nevertheless enjoyed my fair share of late nights, missed meals and generally carefree spontaneity. If a young diabetic wants to enjoy drinking and clubbing, the hazards are self-evident. And goodness knows how awkward it must be explaining the injections, or worse still the pump and tubing, to someone on one of your first dates. "Don't touch me'll rip my tubing off!" "Take your hands off my...Libre!"

Even for younger adults, diabetes is no friend. Busy lives, building a career and setting up home all carry risks, and what about parenthood? I hear many a tale of sleepless nights with new babies made worse by diabetes. And let's not even mention the potential minefield of pregnancy. I so admire the women I know who have trodden that path with diabetes in tow...

I guess what I'm saying is that Type One diabetes is best suited to sedate middle age - which is the age I was when I got it. Through #GBDOC I have in recent years got to know many other Type Ones, nearly all younger than me and the majority of them female. Unsurprisingly, most of them seem to have a more difficult time with diabetes than I normally do, but then I'm a man in my fifties who leads a pretty sedate and largely predictable life. Type One, male and middle age are a good match  I think.

So I guess this post could be termed The Seven Ages of Diabetes. There are, I know, potential problems with every age, and I prefer not to think about my old age and diabetes (imagine becoming forgetful about injections....aaargh!). Perhaps I should just conclude by once again thanking all the Type Ones of every age whom I have got to know through #GBDOC, whose willingness to share their experiences of diabetes has taught me so much about the condition we all share. I salute each and every one of you, whatever your age.

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