Chloe Bullen is taking on the challenge to raise awareness of type 1 diabetes and the difficulties faced by many people with the condition.
Chloe, 29, grew up in Chesterfield and was 15 years-old when she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. She remembers it being a particularly stressful time of her life as she was in the middle of her GCSEs and didn’t really know the impact of her new diagnosis.
She recalls: “It came out of the blue and was a big shock. At the time I didn’t really know the impact of my diagnosis.”
Chloe found it difficult to live with type 1 diabetes and the impact it had on her life. She adds: “I think I denied my diagnosis, I wasn’t in control of my diabetes and at the time found it easier to ignore it. There wasn’t any emotional support available when I was diagnosed and I think it would have really helped me to come to terms with things and to properly recognise what I was going through.”
Chloe says that when she started university in Nottingham, she really started to struggle. She adds:
“I just wanted to get on with being a student, meeting new people, going out with friends, I didn’t want to acknowledge my diabetes. I wasn’t using insulin as much as I needed to and I had also developed an unhealthy relationship with food."
Chloe continues: "When you have type 1, you have to think about food all the time as it affects your blood glucose levels and how you treat them. In hindsight I think I had an eating disorder but I just didn’t recognise it at the time”
Not long after finishing university, Chloe was hospitalised twice with diabetic ketoacidosis- a potentially life-threatening complication caused by excessively high blood glucose levels. She adds: “DKA was a real wake-up call. I realised that ignoring diabetes was not going to make it go away, that it was only going to make things worse- for the first time, I wanted to take control of my diabetes.”
Chloe started to do more research into diabetes management and find out about the technology available to support her to manage her condition but it was also around this time that Chloe started to develop some severe diabetes-related complications.
She adds: “Because I’d struggled to manage my diabetes for so long, I started to experience severe complications including autonomic neuropathy, in particular nerve damage to my heart. I was incredibly weak, in lots of pain and struggled to walk short distances. It was a really scary time, but I had some incredible support from my partner, family and diabetes team. I knew that some of the complications were permanent but was told that with support I could rehabilitate and reverse some of the damage to my heart.”
With the support of her health care team and access to diabetes technology, such as a continuous glucose monitor and insulin pump, Chloe started to manage her diabetes. She also began to gently introduce exercise, having struggled to walk short distances when her complications were first diagnosed.
Chloe, now a pharmacist in primary care, adds: “My long-term goal was to be fit and healthy- it still is. I’m lucky to have the support of my partner and family who have always been there. My dog Todd, was also a huge part of my rehabilitation.”
Chloe has now taken on a challenge to take part in 100 spin classes over 100 days. It’s something Chloe couldn’t have imagined doing just a few years ago and she hopes that through raising awareness of her own struggles she can help others with the condition.
Chloe says she now feels stronger than ever. She says: “My exercise bike played a big part in my recovery. The real progress started in lockdown. I just steadily increased the distance I was cycling every day at home and it helped me to rebuild my strength and fitness one step at a time.”
Chloe, who started the challenge on 3 January and will finish on 13 April adds: “If hearing my story can help somebody else in a similar position, then I want to be able to do that. Diabetes is often a hidden condition but for the person living with it, it’s very real. You can’t have a day off from diabetes and it can feel relentless but with the right help and support, you can live a healthy, happy life.”
She feels there’s still a long way to go to ensuring that people with diabetes get the emotional and mental health support they need. She adds: “We’re definitely taking steps in the right direction but there are still huge gaps in support and understanding of how diabetes can impact our mental health. I hope that highlighting this issue will help us make steps in the right direction to ensure everybody receives the care and support they deserve.”
You can support Chloe’s fundraising by visiting: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/spinwithchloe