"My diagnosis brought at lot of mixed emotions, and I was filled with anxiety but the most important thing for me was being the healthiest version of me for my daughter – I had no choice but to learn as much as I could, as fast as I could."
Bangor woman, Gemma Bell-Gibson shares her experience of living with type 1 diabetes and the journey she has been on since diagnosis over a decade ago. As part of this year’s Diabetes Week, Gemma joins Diabetes UK Northern Ireland in its call for greater awareness and understanding of this condition which is very often misunderstood and underestimated.
The lates figures showing how common diabetes is indicate that nearly 112,000 people aged 17 and over in Northern Ireland are living with a form of diabetes. Gemma’s story provides a glimpse of the experiences felt by thousands of people across the region.
“I will never forget the day I was diagnosed with diabetes – I was expecting my firstborn and was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, something I thought would go away after my daughter was born. However, over time my consultant knew this was not the case and very kindly tried to prepare me by explaining that my symptoms were not typical for gestational diabetes, but was in fact type 1 diabetes.
“I was frantic, numb, and extremely emotional – one part that fed into that was that I have a life-long needle phobia and I knew this meant I would have to use needles and inject. I was in such a deep state of panic that I ended up in hospital for around five days before I could calm down – I’m incredibly grateful for the team within the South Eastern Trust that took care of me during this time. Having such wonderful people around me during this turbulent beginning is something that I will be forever grateful for.”
Fear and uncertainty
“My diagnosis brought fear of the unknown, I didn’t know what my journey with diabetes was going to mean or how it was going to impact my family. I took my diagnosis very seriously but, in the end, I was overthinking and reading into absolutely everything – I had become fixated on it. I feared that should my sugars drop really low during the night; would I even hear my baby crying?
“I developed an unhealthy habit of wakening in the middle of the night, every night to check my blood sugar levels which obviously impacted how I faced each day – this went on for around 10 years. At this time, I didn’t want to seek any help because I didn’t want people to assume that I wasn’t coping.”
What mattered the most
“It’s so important to get the care and support you need. I’m normally quite a private person, so I was embarrassed to seek help – I didn’t want people to see or treat me differently. I almost wanted to carry on pretending as if diabetes wasn’t there.
“With diabetes, every day can be a learning day. But with the right mindset and wanting to show up the best I can for my young family, I eventually found my rhythm in managing my condition. Taking diabetes seriously is of course a must, but it’s equally important not to let diabetes take control of you. The last couple of years were of course strange with covid, but it gave me time to focus on myself and address areas where I could improve for my own wellbeing.
“I aim to eat healthy, nutritious balanced meals and I love walking, so aim for 10k plus steps a day and make sure to finish each day knowing that I have done my best. Life is about balance, and I will enjoy celebrating occasions without any guilt attached. From where I started, I now feel so much clearer in my mind, I’m sleeping better at night and enjoying my healthier mindset.
“As part of my journey, I reached out to Diabetes UK to see if I could volunteer and be around other people sharing my experiences. Being part of the Live Well Hub in Bangor has been fantastic – everyone can come together, share experiences, and ask for any support they may need. It’s great to be surrounded by other people who know what you are going through.”
Brighter days ahead
“For anyone living with diabetes, be that recently diagnosed or not, I just want to reassure them that there is light at the end of the tunnel and to hope for the brighter days ahead – they are coming. Your diabetes is part of you and never be ashamed of it, it’s also so important to speak out so you can avail of the support services available to you.
“I did struggle with my diagnosis and did hold back from sharing it outside of my family circle and closest friends. It’s vital to be around a good support network and not feel like you’re on your own, because that’s when things can feel very lonely and dark. Along with the Live Well Hubs, there are lots of excellent resources online to support you, including helplines. It’s by no means an easy journey, but if you are able to accept your diagnosis, learn how to adapt your lifestyle, and lean on the support of friends, family and medical professionals, you’ll very soon realise that diabetes is not something that can hinder or hold you back from what you want to achieve.”
Diabetes UK offers a dedicated helpline for all people with diabetes, their family or friends, and people who are worried they might be at risk. If you would like answers, support or just to talk to someone who knows about diabetes, contact the helpline on 0345 123 2399.