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Jon's story: Joining the diabetic football community helped my mental health

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Jon

Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes aged 5

Our WhatsApp group has over 70 lads living with type 1 diabetes. If you're struggling you can send a message and the support that comes back in straight away is absolutely incredible and so powerful.

Jon is a PE teacher. He talks about his diagnosis and life with diabetes and being part of the diabetic football community. 
 

Diagnosis

Finding out I had diabetes

I was diagnosed at five. We had a family GP who was always coming up and visiting my nan, who lived with us. Anything that was possibly wrong, she had it. So he'd be round often enough. My mum mentioned to him I’d been going to the toilet a lot and drinking a lot. I remember having to have a pee on a stick and then being told I needed to go to the hospital. 

I think they thought it might be measles originally, so I was in my own little room, which was great, until I realised I wasn't allowed out to play with anyone else.

The morning after being diagnosed the nurse came in and told me I had to do an injection. It was the mid-1980s. She had a sort of sterile syringe and was telling me I’d have to do it. I went and locked myself in the toilet and refused to come out. From memory I was screaming the place down and saying I’m not coming out. Obviously, I eventually did. 

"I think I just got used to having diabetes. In a way it was good being diagnosed then because it’s all I’ve ever known." 

It just became part of life. At school I used it to my advantage at times; I needed a snack before breaktime in primary school so I'd be there next to the teacher's desk having my little treat, which was great when no one else in the class was allowed to have one. 

There wasn’t as much awareness of what diabetes was and I think other children just accepted it. I remember there was a phase where I’d quite often be going to the toilet in assemblies – I’m not sure if that was deliberate or not. It may have been because my blood sugar was higher in the mornings. A couple of people made comments about it that upset me. That was the first time I’d ever had anything negative.

Life with diabetes

Diabetes didn’t hold me back in life

Having diabetes didn’t stop me doing anything. My mum and dad were great like that. They never said: “Oh he can’t do that because he has diabetes.” But sleepovers made me nervous. I worried about doing my evening injection and having breakfast the following morning and standing out compared to everyone else.

I’ve always been of the opinion that diabetes shouldn’t hold you back. You just have to take extra precautions. So always making sure you’ve got some hypo treatment on you and having your meter on you so you’re able to test your blood sugar. When my sugar levels are slightly raised, I run and join in with the children or just have a bit more insulin and test again.

I've been a PE teacher for 18 years now. In the early years when I was fresh out of university and still living in those uni ways, I think my blood sugar control maybe wasn't the best. But as long as you've always got hypo treatment on you, there's no reason it should stop you doing anything. In my office desk I've got three or four tubes of Dextrose and a massive pot I keep cereal bars in.

Family life

My wife’s a nurse and when we first started going out – even before I’d said anything – she saw my insulin pens on the table. I thought I’m not going to get away with anything in terms of my diabetes now. 

Both my boys see it as normal. If they see me as having something because my blood sugar’s going low, it’s just known as Daddy’s having medicine because he’s not feeling very well.

My oldest is six and a half and I'll get him to help me. So he’ll scan the sensor on my arm or put my carb numbers into my meter. He knows if Daddy needs some sugar to either get me a drink or go and get the tablets – he knows where they’re kept. He’s got a girl in his class who has type 1 diabetes, so he doesn’t see it as something different. 

I like to keep my children active and be involved. Exercising definitely helps me in managing my condition. I notice this when I'm not as active, for example during the school holidays when I’m not cycling to work.

Bringing diabetes into the open and dispelling myths 

With the changes in diabetes technology, whether you’ve got something on your arm you can scan or a pump that's much more visible, the conversations are there to be had. And a lot of students are inquisitive. When I talk to them, somebody might say, “Oh, my uncle's diabetic, or I know someone, one of my neighbours is diabetic” and this sparks more conversations.  

"I think there's still a lot of education needed. I did a lesson the other week and the member of staff that had prepared it had actually got their information about diabetes wrong. But we then had a productive conversation about it, which was good." 

Occasionally there are still the odd comments, like, “Can I catch it? How do you get it?” and I remember a boy in secondary school actually say, “My mum says you're diabetic because you've eaten too much sugar.” 

Emotions

How diabetes has impacted my life emotionally 

People don't necessarily realise the impact that being diabetic can have on you and the number of extra decisions you have to make each day.
Even a simple cup of coffee, when you're having milk in it, changes from if you're having a flat white or cappuccino. You have to think: “Right, what size is it? How many carbohydrates am I going to have? What's going to happen now? Have I given myself my insulin early enough?”

The Diabetes Football Community has been an incredible support. It was set up by a guy called Chris Bright. I saw something on social media and I met him in a café in Worcester. Before I knew it there was a big list of things I’d agreed to be involved in. We're all living with type 1 diabetes, with a range of different experiences. We all advise and support each other and you can ask all sorts of questions. And it’s great for me to learn from some of the people who have been newly diagnosed too.

Just knowing that you're not alone in it and there's hundreds of people going through the same thing helps. The diabetic football community is tight knit - if you are struggling with diabetes, it is just simple; tap out a message, send it there, and the support that comes back in is absolutely incredible and so powerful.

I was lucky enough to go away to Ukraine a couple of years ago to play over there with a group of other diabetics. I knew that it might be a struggle as it was my first time away from the family – my youngest was only six months old. I spoke to one of the other older guys who's got two kids, and we decided to look out for each other, which was great. We both got to know each other's families. 

Positives of diabetes 

My advice to other people would be: It’s going to be all right. It might be a pain in the backside but it opens up so many other opportunities. I wouldn’t have been involved in the diabetes football community or gone to Ukraine with them. I wouldn’t be able to do this interview and use it as a chance to inspire others. 

If someone else sees you can actually live a normal life if you’re living with diabetes, you’re going to help that person.

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