This week is Diabetes Week, which I always find kinda weird, because every week is diabetes week really. How about Diabetes Life? But it’s great to have a focus and raise awareness in a concentrated way. This year’s Diabetes UK theme is #DiabetesandMe, which I like as I’m constantly emphasising how personal type 1 diabetes is to each individual living with the thing. Which can be empowering, but it also makes life very hard, as there really is no one size fits all approach to self-management.
Anyways. Here we are.
Last month I entered my 28th year on this earth, and also marked my 19th year as a type 1 diabetic. That’s a big portion of my life, nearly 70% in fact, in which my days have been punctuated by testing, counting, dosing and all the rest.
I took some time (read: ten minutes on the tube) to ponder how far I’d come in this near double decade without a working pancreas, and how it’s played a part in who I’ve become. I often profess I’m still figuring it out (‘it’ being diabetes, life, the world… y’know – small things) but surely I’ve sussed SOMETHING along the way? I used each year as a marker for the things I’ve been through and felt – whether aided, hindered, intensified by or because of type 1 being a part of my life. It’s self-indulgent by its very nature so bear with me on that, but it’s likely in some way relatable, fellow voyagers of life – whether your pancreas functions or not. This also turned out to be quite cathartic, a little bit sad, and weirdly reassuring. I’d recommend it. I present, Diabetes and Me.
(Aged 9) 1996
Ahhhh, hello world turned upside down. You’ve never heard of this thing ‘diabetes’ before, but believe me you’re going to know all about it pretty quickly. It’s very distressing right now but you’ll get the hang of it. Things are going to be different now. Not bad, just different. They said you couldn’t ever eat sweets again at the hospital – they’re lying. You eat plenty of sweets in the future. Chocolate too. And ice cream. So much ice cream.
(Aged 10) 1997
All active (and sedentary) hobbies and interests are still viable. Dancing, gymnastics, football, netball, swimming, singing Spice Girls lyrics at every possible waking moment. All good – you crack on there. Also, you didn’t get diabetes because you agreed with those older girls that you all felt fat when you knew you were skinny. None of this was your fault. Also – stop lapping up the attention you weirdo.
(Aged 11) 1998
Sleepovers are anxious for your parents, but serious fun for you. Go. Take extra snacks, but go. Watch I Know What You Did Last Summer and Scream too many times. Eat popcorn. Sing Avril Lavigne songs. The weight gain from the insulin is because they’re telling you to eat a ton of carbs, and they’ve got that a bit wrong. You’ll be fine, just stay active.
(Aged 12) 1999
Boys are weird. That’s ok. Girls are weird too. And just because they don’t have diabetes, it doesn’t make them less weird. You’re really really valid. You don’t think you are, but you really, really are. People think you’re funny, and kind. You’re also mischief. Stick with that, it’s really fun.
(Aged 13) 2000
Basketball is a thing now. And you get the opportunity to go skiing! Imagine. Embrace it. The doctor has never seen anyone so in control of their own situation. Lap that up while it lasts. You’re good at being carefree at this stage. That’s really nice. Your friends are really solid, you should hang onto them for longer than you do after school. But then, most of them will stay in Basingstoke. You will not.
(Aged 14) 2001
Everyone else has got boobs. You don’t. PCOS comes along which has been causing the problems, that’s annoying. You feel like you’re not the same as your friends. Has the insulin done something to your puberty? Hmm. In any case, you’re doing everything everyone else is doing – but stop doing things because everyone else is doing them. It’s ok to be your own person. And don’t smoke. That’s not cool. Oh, and you do some work experience at the local paper because you really like writing. You hate the placement. The office smells like dog.
(Aged 15) 2002
Ohhhh you got tall didn’t you? Don’t worry about your braces, no one cares. You still have no boobs but you know what love? That never really happens anyway. Keep dancing every evening; you’re really good at it. Even though it does mean your parents have to run you about every damn day. This growth spurt is weird. You still feel inadequate compared to your friends. But they do too. You’re bright and you really like school, so that’s nice.
(Aged 16) 2003
You passed your GCSEs! You have the world at your feet. Diabetes is nothing! Life is exciting! You’ve sussed your friends, and you’re earning your own money. You got this. Oh, and what’s this – your first boyfriend!? He’s a nice guy isn’t he! You’ve arrived, babes.
(Aged 17) 2004
Oh hi night clubs and bars. You passed your driving test. College is a whole new world and it’s REALLY exciting. No uniform! You should have pursued art rather than sport as your fifth AS Level. You LOVE art. You always have wanted to do everything all at once *sigh*. One of your best friends tells you she’s moving to Australia which is the first time you think about living somewhere else. It sounds good. Still no boobs. Diabetes is doing fine. Mum and Dad aren’t. Disaster.
(Aged 18) 2005
Oh shit, you’re having a really tough time and you don’t even realise what’s happening. You’re finding comfort in food and you’ve lost the drive that you need to be a dancer. Your HbA1c is the highest it’s ever been. Hold on to those friends, they’re good people. That new boy isn’t the best, but you don’t feel very good about yourself so you learn this lesson the hard way. Somehow you ace your exams though.
(Aged 19) 2006
Universitttyyyyy. Loughborough University. You get a free ensuite in your room for having type 1, so take it. Sexy, right? You’re the youngest in your halls. Everyone is better travelled. You’ve never been anywhere, unless you count Spain. You hear about Jack Johnson and Jack Wills at the same time. Forget them both, and quickly – they will not serve you in life. These people seem to understand the world much more than you. They’ve been on boats and stuff. What? But, in the meantime… Booze! Fun! Fancy dress!
(Aged 20) 2007
While you were busy at uni, mum moved to a new city 250 miles away from your hometown, and technically you now live there too. That’s a bit weird when you go home for Christmas, but it’s the right thing for her so you need to respect that. You meet a boy in the Easter holidays. You really love him, and things are great. Oh to be in love! You get to the gym, get a sense of self-worth, sort yourself out, get on top of things. Then he breaks your heart. But on the plus, hello student media. You start writing features, and people read them. They read them and they like them. You also join the dance squad. Your jazz teacher is incredible. You wish you had her when you were auditioning properly for dance schools. But you found your way back to class, and it’s amazing. But PS you should be better at saving money so you can go travelling. You’re really going to regret that bit.
(Aged 21) 2008
Low point. You’ve really lost it food wise. Your blood meter gathers dust on the windowsill and you let your sugars soar, and you feel quite consistently rotten as a result. You make bad, toxic friendships while the many decent ones you have worry about you. You are really not being very nice to yourself. You’re a fat dancer and it’s a bit sad. You move to London for work experience after graduating and you kind of hate everything, even though it’s everything you dreamed of. Except becoming a dancer. You can’t do that. You’re fat. You’re not even paying attention to your diabetes. Things with mum and dad are really damn weird.
(Aged 22) 2009
You’re being paid to write for the first time, which feels pretty amazing. Sure, it involves staying up overnight to watch the 24 hour Big Brother feed but you’re on the sofa, in your PJs, writing. Suddenly you decide your other weird subbing job isn’t enough. It’s not – you’re in a chicken shed in the arse end of nowhere. This isn’t media.
You start a journalism post-grad – ohhhh this is different. Education that makes sense in the real world, instead of living in literature of the past, as you have done for three years studying English. You meet people that bring you back to life. You fall in love with Leeds. It kicks Loughborough’s ass. The course gives you purpose. You have a sense of self-worth. But chill out, you’re trying too hard. You become very career focussed. You also join a gym again and start to figure things out. That’s good. But Jen, chill out. You’re trying too hard.
(Aged 23) 2010
You move to Hull to be an actual journalist! You’re paid utter pennies but you’re having a ball in a brand new city full of people who don’t give a shit and you love them! Hang onto them for dear life, they’re great, great people. And you’re seriously loving life again. As you bloody well should.
Something a bit scary happens at the hospital. Those weird eye photographs you have taken every year come back funny. They start talking about sight loss and lasers are you’re really terrified. You also feel horrific because you know you did this to yourself – all those years of damaging your body have bitten back. So now what? You start to read lots of diabetes books and articles for the first time in your entire life. You learn basic things you’ve never ever been told. You’re full of so much life and awakening and a sense of responsibility to yourself. On a whim, you sign up to WordPress and you start to write. You write every day. India Knight retweets you and 500 people read your blog in one day. You didn’t even know 500 people cared about life with type 1. This feels weird. But you sense you’re onto something, and you’d be right. But you need to keep writing.
(Aged 24) 2011
Big year. You fall in love and you move in and you stop writing because you’re really busy being in love. Silly Jen. Things are rather glorious and easy and fun, to the point that you question how important chasing weird career dreams are and start to see the appeal in a simpler life.
But he gets really sick, and you give everything you have to stick through it and help him be ok again. It drains you, and you’re quite alone in something so intense. For once, your diabetes holds strong. It ticks along in the background while the chaos and confusion of mental illness smothers over the rest of your life.
BUT you take a risk for yourself too, in the end. You quit your staff journalism job for an eight week contract 250 miles away in Cardiff. At the BBC! You get a proper BBC pass! You work mad hours but you love this job, so very much. Your lovely, kind housemate helps you remember what normal life is like. You go out, you have fun, you chat rubbish on the sofa with red wine while you paint your nails. It’s time to remember why you’re here. So you see that amazing contract out, giving it every bit of your being, and with nowhere else to go as you’ve realised that relationship wasn’t quite right in the first place, head back South. To Dad’s doorstep. Without a job. You probably shouldn’t have left the cat up North, she means an awful lot to you. But let’s give London a go then shall we?
You start writing the blog again because you don’t know what else to do with yourself. Good move. Australia comes back around. It feels like a good time. Let’s save to move to Australia.
(Aged 25) 2012
You ROCK the career thing. You had nothing to worry about. You start freelancing in telly land, you start seeing your Basingstoke friends again, who moved to London while you were being all Yorkshire. You slowly come back to life. London’s exciting isn’t it!? And big. You get a contract in digital for telly and that’s really fun. It’s long enough and secure enough that you can make the big leap and move to the big city. You can’t open the door of your bedroom because it’s so small but who cares, it’s yours. Then a job comes up that you almost psyche yourself out of applying for because it’s so good. Too good. Ridiculous in fact. Radio 1. Actual Radio 1. You only go and get it. And you know that really uncool diabetes blog of yours? It helps you get that job. Who’d have thunk?
WOAH life is suddenly The. Most. Fun. Ever. New people, LOADS of them. They’re all really nice. You’re running around with a camera snapping lots of exciting musicians and DJs. How is this a job? And you’re good at what you do. Is this a thing? Am I a professional person now who actually managed to build a real career? This feels good. London feels good. Australia plans get side-lined for a bit. The background retinopathy’s still there though. That really, really sucks. You’re really scared of going blind. It doesn’t help that you get told something different at every appointment.
(Aged 26) 2013
The year starts on the mother of all highs – a jaunt over to Australia for a month, with two of your best friends. This is bloody wonderful. You’re so ALIVE. You come back to cold London with a bit of a bump and buy a bike for reasons you’re still unsure of. Suddenly you’ve signed up to ride to Paris. Oh, and run a half marathon. You hate running, why did you do that? Shit, you’d better start training. Oh my god, people have sponsored you. What?
But hang on, you really start to like this Jen. LOVE her, in fact. You’ve never truly loved her, why not? She’s been there the whole time. Lots of other people love her. Is this self-respect? Self-acceptance? Oh my god you feel so peaceful, so happy. You’re working hard on the blog too, and get offered a yoga retreat as this is all happening which completes the puzzle. This feels incredible. It all makes sense. This is who you are. You like yourself, you like exercise, you like to think, and you really, really like the world. And after four months of training your ass off, you get to Paris on that bike. And you feel super human for a long time. And your HbA1c is the best it’s ever ever ever been – that’s because you feel content and happy. That’s the key. And you’ve had that key all along you silly thing.
MORE? A boy comes along. Well, a man. You’re not expecting it. He’s not your type. But he knocks you sideways and it feels so surreal. What on earth is this? Love. Unmistakable, all-consuming, whirlwind, chaos and magic love. Woah. What a year.
(Aged 27) 2014
Ok, you’ve proved some really amazing things to yourself. You’re strong in your mind, you know who you are. And it feels really, really good. The blog stuff gives you a lot of joy. It’s hard to fit it in though. Then YOUR BEST FRIEND MOVES TO LONDON. This gives you more joy than you could ever imagine. Then YOU’RE BUYING A FLAT. WITH A MAN. Well, half a flat. It’s a big deal. You’re taking a leap – the most you’ve owned up until this point is an IKEA wardrobe. You’ve let him in and you know what? It’s ok for someone to help you live your type 1 life. You don’t need to be so defiant, or nonchalant, or play it down so much. It’s a lot sometimes, and that’s ok. In line with being more of a grown up and stuff, the time feels right to switch from injections to pump. This feels huge. It also feels like you’re comfortable enough with yourself to handle it. And that’s pretty cool.