"Type 1 diabetes means a mental, scary, draining, and frustrating fight with yourself and others around you. It’s a full-time job with no pay, and the tricks it can throw at you are endless." Jim Crossland talks about life with diabetes including his time at university.
“Oh you have diabetes. Doesn’t that mean you need loads of sweets?” “So you’re diabetic. Please don’t collapse on me.” These are some of the typical comments someone with type 1 diabetes faces. It’s almost exhausting how many times I’ve replied and now I’m bored of explaining myself.
I don’t think people realise that anything can affect your blood sugar levels if you have diabetes: from eating a small chocolate bar to exercising, sitting an exam or getting into an argument. And for someone with diabetes, this takes serious managing.
I go through times of being frustrated, especially when my HbA1c is off, or when I’m told I need to manage my bloods sugar levels better. But I try and channel it through sport, especially running.
I was diagnosed at the age of two. My mum, who used to work full time as a nurse, needed to do everything for me. She’d even drive into school and check my blood sugars at lunchtime. I feel like she’s given a lot of her life for me.
When I was young, I used to have doctors telling me off: “Devote more time to your diabetes,” “never eat cake” and “stop pretending it isn’t there.” These days it’s more a case of, “You can’t smoke!’ and “avoid alcohol.”
As I’ve got older, I’ve finding having diabetes harder and harder. And sometimes – in fact a lot of the time – I just think “No!” and I get on with my fun life; drinking when I want, having an occasional cigarette and eating the food I want to eat. But then it becomes serious, do you want to live this life and have complications? I could not handle these – not as an active person.
Life at university
Going through university with type 1 diabetes was challenging. The lack of routine after boarding school impacted my blood sugars massively, and I felt quite isolated with the condition. You have to be mentally on it all the time otherwise your blood sugars go out of control.
I wanted to focus on the whole university experience, but I couldn’t completely relax like everyone else because I had to think about my diabetes. While I was there I talked to Diabetes UK about mental health. The personal responses I got from that Facebook video from people going through similar problems was almost alarming. For example, getting unwanted attention when removing themselves from social situations to do their insulin. Or dealing with the physical curve balls diabetes throws at them.
I’m a person that likes to give and diabetes can get in the way of that. I don’t like telling people about my diabetes.
Sometimes before a football match I am so eager to play that I won’t say anything, even though I’m having a hypo and then play awfully. I would do months of play rehearsals at university, only to walk on stage, have a hypo and slur my lines.
This is where diabetes becomes consuming and has the ability to crush extroverts like myself. You cannot share these thoughts, you sit alone with them, sit alone with them whilst thinking about your next meal. It can feel endless.
All in all, though I did have a great experience at university. I had fantastic friends who I could vocalise and even joke with about my diabetes. They made me feel normal for discussing how I was feeling, which is hugely important. This made me feel more ease, and although it wasn’t easy, they helped me more than anything else.
On the academic side, having the extra time to check my blood sugars was pivotal, as all I had to worry about was the exam. The stress of having a hypo was still there but I knew it would be feasible if I had to step out and do the exam at a different point.
Hopes for a cure
I remember my mum said that there would probably be a cure by the time I was 18, but I’m now 22. So far, the best ‘cures’ are aids like insulin pumps and the freestyle libre. People without diabetes often think they’re the answer to everything, but although they can be a big help, they don’t suit everyone and having something attached to your body keeps reminding you that you have diabetes.
The word ‘manage’ when it comes to diabetes makes me shudder because I’ve been managing it for 20 years – and now I would like a little break. So I’ve got very excited about Steve and Sally Morgan’s £50 million to find a cure for type 1 diabetes.
The idea of a cure for something which takes up all my days seems surreal. To say it would mean the world to me and others in the type 1 diabetes community is an understatement.
I wouldn’t want any young, newly diagnosed person to have to go through diabetes. That’s why the news is so important. I’d like to see a cure for all types of diabetes.
The burden that type 1 diabetes has brought my friends and family may never be diminished and some of the traumatic events may stay with me forever, but to wave goodbye to the condition would be magical. I feel like my life could start again without this scary, exhausting, and all-consuming niggle on my shoulder.
When I talked to a brave boy at a school I was working at, he had someone following him checking his bloods – and just checking him. The boy whispered to me how he hated it. I couldn’t have sympathised with the boy more; the last thing you want is unnecessary attention. We want a cure and to get our pancreas working.
Jim lives in London. He works in a drinks company and is developing a new healthy soft drink. He loves sport, drama and all aspects of London life. @jim_crossland
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