Type 1 Diabetes

20 Years with Type 1 Diabetes

May 17, 2016
20 years with type 1 diabetes

Hey there, type 1 diabetes, you unassuming little thing.

It’s just a Monday today. A Monday in late spring, where we’re still clinging onto the hope of a decent summer that may or may not be just around the corner. A Monday in which I got up, got showered, got dressed and went to work. I asked everyone how their weekends were. I told them about mine. I sat in meetings. I did my weekly shop on the way home.

There was no party, no event. A day of routine behaviour; pleasant and nondescript.

But today is also a unique day – an exceptional one in fact.

On this day two decades ago, when I was eight, I woke up and did a wee in a glass jar. I went to the doctors, and then I got sent to the hospital. I was prodded and poked and my blood was drawn from my arm. I thought it was all quite fun. I was told my pancreas had stopped working. I’m not sure I even knew I had a pancreas. I sure as hell know I’ve got one now, because for the past 20 years I’ve had to manually take its place.

I’ve had type 1 diabetes for 20 years. I’ve been a type 1 diabetic for 20 years. I’ve lived with type 1 diabetes for TWENTY WHOLE YEARS. You came crashing into my life without warning or invitation, twenty years ago today.

I’m not celebrating you, type 1 diabetes, because you’re a drain on my head, my body and – at frequent intervals – my heart. You are deadly and contradictory and everything and nothing to me. You don’t deserve credit because you are sly and cunning and unpredictable and irrational. You steal a certain innocence from people who deserve to be free of you.

I’m entirely loathe to say this because I think it’s exactly what you want, but I can’t imagine you not being there the second I wake up. You’re the first thing I think about in the morning, and the last thing I attend to at night. You interrupt my sleep, and sometimes you do your best to interrupt my day too. But we’re quite the team, you and I. Inseparable, respectful, interesting. You haven’t really ever stopped me doing anything despite some unbelievable attempts on your part, and you’ve made the journey quite something. I honestly don’t think, at this point, 20 years in, I would go back and change you. Don’t get me wrong; I’d be delighted if you just disappeared tomorrow, but I’m fond of you, in some ways.

Today I am celebrating the things you have inadvertently and unintentionally given me. An awareness of how precious my body is, a maturity that would have probably passed me by. A sense of achievement in the every day. A lust for life, a thirst for knowledge, an awareness that things are not all that they seem. A steely determination, patience that still surprises me, an unrivalled ability to think ahead, to attend to the little details. A considerate nature. Compassion. Kindness.

I have achieved in spite of you. And I have achieved because of you. 170,000 published words, incredible connections with incredible people who share the commonality of defying you on a daily basis.

I’m celebrating the people who have helped me get here, to this average and yet extraordinary Monday. Hospital staff, doctors, specialists. My dear parents who fought their way through the weight of your presence – steadily, protectively, hopefully. My wonderful partner whose grasp on your tricks and scheming ways blows my mind. Whose unquestioning and unwavering support has helped me live with you, and live beyond you, more than he will ever realise. Medical companies who want things to be better. Scientists who want our lives to be easier. My brothers whose happy little party you interrupted too. My school friends who just accepted it, and their mums who had me round for sleepovers even though they were a bit nervous. Teachers who were open to me teaching them about this, and colleagues who enquired and enquire, openly and earnestly. Friends who make my heart burst with love, who constantly show me how much life there is to live – and just how much I want to live it, with them. To make memories that have absolutely nothing to do with you. People who inspire me and make me want to be a better person. People who have it much worse than me. People who don’t get to choose whether they live or not.

So thanks for all the adventures, and many thanks for keeping things interesting, but this is a show you simply won’t be stealing. You may have turned up unannounced, and you may refuse to leave, but you’re at my party. And I’m 20 now.

jen ball pool


  • Reply Helen Wills May 17, 2016 at 8:22 am

    I wonder if all people with Type 1 share those qualities? Because that’s exactly what I’d say my daughter has gained from her diagnosis. She is remarkable in a way I had only ever hoped to see in her adult self, before diabetes. Perhaps it comes with the job description. Thank you for writing it x

    • Reply missjengrieves May 17, 2016 at 9:05 am

      The more you tell me about your daughter, the more she sounds like a thoroughly incredible young lady. I think living with something like this has a big part in it, but also I wouldn’t dare give my diabetes the credit! It’s amazing what adversity – big and small – can bring out of people. Thank you for being a wonderful inspiration to me x

  • Reply Grainne May 27, 2016 at 5:30 am

    This was wonderful to read. I’m 23 years with t1. I was 20 when I was diagnosed so turning the D-20 was the tipping point of have diabetes longer than how long I didn’t (?). In addition I turned 40 in life years-that I’m still dealing with 😫 Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply Nadia June 6, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    Ah this just made me cry! You wonderful being, you xoxoxo

    • Reply missjengrieves June 9, 2016 at 9:29 pm

      NADIA!!! Are you married now?! I hope it was glorious and wonderful and magical and CONGRATULATIONS you ray of light you! xxx

  • Reply Weronika June 10, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    Hello :) I run diabetes blog too! :) I’m 21 years with T1D since I was 4 years old. On your diabetes bday I wish You only good numbers 😉

  • Reply Heather June 22, 2016 at 5:42 am

    Thank you for writing an inspirational and accurate way of life for us Type 1’s. Myself, being diagnosed at age 7 and have lived with it for over 30 years- frustratingly and angry at times, have now learnt to accept that this is who I am and what I have, so just deal with it. There will always be people who think they know everything about it and actually don’t know much, and those that dismiss it as they think its easy. But its our own battle, not every month, week or day, but every minute. All the best and thanks for sharing- bring on digital CGM that is inexpensive and not clunky!!

    • Reply missjengrieves July 6, 2016 at 9:50 pm

      Hi Heather, thanks so much for reading and commenting. I bow down to you and 30 years of knowledge/experience/frustration/achievement!! I do really believe the amount of work we have to put in just to stay alive is lost on us sometimes as it’s so second nature. It really is a funny condition – some days it’s easy(ish) to manage and some days I almost envisage myself detaching my diabetes from my body I’m so fed up with it. But if I didn’t have this it could be something else and I remind myself to be kind to myself. You’re right it is a unique battle and one that we are overcoming every day. I’m with you on the CGM!!! Someday… there is always hope. Take care and thank you so much for reading xx

  • Reply Claire McKenna June 22, 2016 at 7:20 am

    The words “I have achieved in spite of you. And I have achieved because of you.” are a great way to describe my 18 year old son and probably everyone else with Type 1. Everyone will have had their own battles and challenges with type 1, and they aren’t insignificant, but it is overcoming them that is the reward.

    I’ll print the sentence and put them on my Son’s wall. Thanks

    • Reply missjengrieves July 6, 2016 at 9:54 pm

      Hi Claire. Thank you so much for reading, I really appreciate it. Diabetes is a daily battle and I think we don’t give ourselves enough recognition for what it means for type 1s (and relatives who are also living with the same battle!) to simply keep themselves alive. I often wonder who I would be if I was never diagnosed and I really don’t think I would be half the person I am now, despite being very happy for someone to take it away if and when that is possible! There is so much to be said for dealing with this thing and still achieving in life, and experiencing things and not being afraid to get out there and do the things you want to do. Take care and much love xxx

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