“Jenny? Are you ok?”
I hastily got up from the giant beanbag my Year 4 teacher had caught me resting on and snapped out of my daydream. It was lunchtime, and ordinarily I would have been relishing every second outdoors that the break afforded me. But I was so tired. I didn’t want to play.
“You’re not being bullied, are you?” my dear teacher asked me, clearly concerned.
“No, no Miss,” I replied, feeling sheepish that she had caught me behind the screen in her big store cupboard. I didn’t have an explanation as to why I needed to lie down in there. I just didn’t feel very good.
A few weeks later I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (click to read my full diagnosis story) – a word I’d never heard before – and subsequently plunged into an entirely alien world, at the age of eight. I was pretty confused, fairly overwhelmed, and very shocked. Injections? Insulin? NO MORE SWEETS?!
But I kind of took it in my stride for the most part; my parents were busy doing the panicking for me while I was just told what to do and when to do it. But the leaflets, the DSN visits, the overwhelming amount of medicine that had suddenly appeared in my life; it was utter chaos for all of us. Big fat yellow sharps bins and so much patronizing kit that I was just a little bit too old for – the certificate I got for doing my first injection; the ‘snazzy’ (not snazzy) cases for my insulin which my mum diligently stitched my name into. If it didn’t have a picture of the Spice Girls on it, I wasn’t interested.
That’s not to say that some of it wasn’t exciting – I had time off school, people were paying me a lot of attention, and finally I had an explanation for the teacher (and myself) as to why I’d needed to lie down on that beanbag instead of spending my breaktime doing cartwheels and handstands.
While it was fun for a while, it definitely made me stand out from my classmates, and I was at the curious and naïve mercy of my peers. For the most part I was fine; I was well-liked and had some cheek chat. Being a bit different at that age isn’t really cool. Some weird disease where you have to inject yourself multiple times a day, get to eat snacks in class AND skip the dinner queue?! Uh oh.
After the initial shock/relief of discovering that something was actually wrong and I wasn’t just a really really tired girl with some sort of bladder problem, there was all the learning, adapting, and trying to fit in regardless.
I started to feel pretty awkward when the insulin made me put on weight and I became chubby for the first time in my life – just at the point that us girls had started to notice each other’s bodies. I learnt the hard way that diabetic chocolate is really not good for you. The first time I had a hypo in the middle of a lesson I was too embarrassed to put my hand up so I just sat there in the hope it would go away, until I just burst into tears instead. On the first overnight school trip we’d ever had, Mum rocked up to the coach with a toy box FULL of snacks in case I went hypo four hundred thousand times over the week. Oink.
But despite having enough packets of crisps with me to feed the entire year group, I still WENT on that school trip away. I still went to sleepovers too, and bought sweets in the shop on my way home with my leftover lunch money. I still went to my dance classes, and to house parties when the time came some years later. As protective (and panicked) as my dear mum was about whether I would faint when nobody was watching, we just had to get on with it. It didn’t take long for me to start injecting in class instead of in the secretary’s office. To wear my SOS bracelet with pride because I was the only one allowed to wear jewellery. I OWNED that disease, to the point that one of my friends, albeit ignorantly, told me she wished she had diabetes too so she could eat chocolate after PE.
Diabetes was a big part of my childhood, but it didn’t take over my childhood. Had I not carried on regardless, with the help of my parents, supportive teachers, knowledgeable diabetes specialists, and my own playful attitude, I probably wouldn’t have the opinion of it that I do now – that it’s just mildly-irritating background noise and for the most part, nothing that means I can’t do the things I want to. And as comfy as that bean bag was that lunchtime, I never refuted an opportunity to practice my cartwheels at lunchtime again. It seems a shame that now, at 27, that’s probably not acceptable lunch break behaviour anymore…