Monday 14 November 2016

A letter of hope

A few weeks ago, I was asked by one of my many friends from the online community to write a "letter of hope" addressed to those new to Type One diabetes, either in their own right or as parents. 

The lady concerned, Maureen, lives in Australia and has a son with Type One. She finds that in Australia, with its smaller population and vast size, it is less easy for people with diabetes and their families to connect with each other, and so she is putting together a website of resources. 

You can read about her project on her blog here: 

So this is what I wrote, and I offer it here as my piece for World Diabetes Day:

Dear Dia-buddie,

You, or your child, have just been diagnosed with a condition. Not an illness, not a disease, but a condition.

It’s a shock when it happens. Right now, it must seem to you and your loved ones to be pretty bad news. I hope you haven’t just heard a load of “don’ts” and “can’ts”, but it’s those that stick in your mind. Diagnosis with diabetes can seem very negative, and to be fair, medical people have to make sure you keep yourself well and don’t do anything to make things worse.

The trouble is, most people know a bit about diabetes, and they tend to remember the bad stuff, or the wrong stuff. Everyone thinks you can’t do this, can’t eat that, must be careful about this, shouldn’t do that.

Everyone claims to know someone with diabetes – but then it turns out to be Type 2, because that’s far more common.
Some will even be callous enough to tell a tale of their auntie, uncle, grandad or someone who had diabetes and went blind/lost a leg/died.

So how about a dozen positives:

•It won’t kill you.

•It won’t even make you feel ill much of the time.

•It won’t stop you doing anything.

•You can eat whatever you want.

•You can refuse food you don’t want and blame diabetes – nobody will dare argue.

•You’ll get free prescriptions for life.

•You’ll get regular health checks for life.

•You get some really cool techie stuff: pumps, meters etc.

•You can eat sweets and claim it’s a medical necessity. (it sometimes is)

•You can get out of a boring meeting by claiming your blood sugar is low/high.

•If you’re at school, you can jump the lunch queue.

•You will meet the most awesome people, your fellow diabetics.

I’m not just trying to make you feel better. I have lived with diabetes for almost 19 years, having been diagnosed out of the blue at the age of 40. Prior to that, I had been a fit and remarkably healthy individual. I still am. Diabetes caused a few weeks of adjustment, with some anxiety – more on the part of my family and friends than me, if the truth be told. But very soon after diagnosis, I resumed the busy and active life that I had always led, and I’ve just carried on that way.

Managing my condition is just a small part of personal care, no different from washing, shaving, going to the toilet, getting dressed etc. It fits around what I do just like those other life’s essentials do.

Diabetes doesn’t make your life any worse than it was before. It just adds a complication, like so many other complications that life throws at you at various stages.

But it gets better than that. You might find this hard to believe, but I genuinely believe that diabetes has enriched my life, developed me as a person, given me some of the loveliest friends I could wish for and is a whole lot of fun.

Let me explain. It’s all thanks to the internet and social media, so only in the more recent years of my life with diabetes. Once we in the UK realised that there were other people with diabetes out there, it suddenly dawned on a lot of us that the very randomness of diabetes makes a delightfully random community of people, whose different lives, ages and circumstances are all over-ridden by one big thing that we have in common – diabetes. It’s called the GBDOC (Great Britain Online Diabetic Community) and there are variants in many other countries. It’s a guarantee of friendship and mutual support which is truly life-affirming, and is used by people with diabetes as well as parents of children with diabetes. The good thing is we don’t even talk about diabetes all the time, yet we know we have that in common. We’re just friends.

So I have one big piece of advice for anyone diagnosed with diabetes or whose child is diagnosed with diabetes: find someone else out there who knows what it’s all about and connect with them. A problem shared is a problem halved? Well, as far as I’m concerned, a “problem” shared stops being a problem and becomes a source of friendship, support, fun and much laughter.

Live long and bolus!

Born 1957
Diagnosed Type One Diabetes 1997
Still thriving 2016

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