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Type 1 diabetes doesn’t hold me back from my dream career: Kaajal’s story

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Kaajal

Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 5.

I'd go back and tell myself not to feel unwelcome or out of place because actually, I'm in the best place possible through all the experiences I've had.

Kaajal was made to feel different as a child for managing her type 1 diabetes. But diabetes has never kept her from her dream of becoming a designer, helping others with type 1 or enjoying life to the full.

Diagnosis

How I found out I had diabetes

I was diagnosed at five. I was in and out of hospital quite often.

I only found out recently that, at the time, my mother thought her child was going to die. This was in the eighties and I was living out in Africa at the time, that's where I grew up. We had no internet, no information. She really thought “Is my child going to die?” And my father cried actually.

I was too young to really understand what was going on. I don't remember my parents feeling anything, they just got on with things. My father helped financially to get insulin and whatever I needed. My mother was there by my side, day in day out.

Emotions

Managing emotions

I think diabetes first started to affect me emotionally when I went to school. I couldn't go to friends' parties. When I did go to them, I had to take my own sandwiches and snacks. 

I remember one party where the kids laughed at me and just looked at me funny - why is she coming in with sandwiches? I think that affected me as I grew up. I thought that there was something different about me.

This made me feel out of place, maybe slightly inadequate, or unwelcomed. And that just made me try and push myself more in life to say, “well, there isn't anything wrong with me.” I tried to live a full life after that.

When I got to 17 or 18, I was exercising quite a lot, eating less, trying to be a certain size and I ended up having such low sugars. From then onwards, I said, “I need to eat.”

Questions 

When I started dating, my ex-boyfriend's family asked if I could have children. It had never crossed my mind that that would even be a problem. I've always just done what the doctors have told me is medically correct. The rest of the world started questioning me too, saying “can you do this? Can you do that?” That made me question myself, but I never let it affect me in any way.

I want other young people living with diabetes to know that there's nothing wrong with you and that it’s not the end of your life.

"I am now in the best place possible because of the experiences I’ve had as a result of what I’ve been through. Just because you live with diabetes, doesn’t mean you should feel unwelcome or out of place in any situation!” 

If I didn’t have diabetes, I wouldn't have the good habits that I have today, like exercise and eating well. So I’d tell other young people to just live life fully.

Life with diabetes

Diabetes didn't hold me back in life

Diabetes does interfere quite a lot with life but I try not to let it. There will be days when I wake up late and my sugar levels are high. I do get affected and irritable sometimes, but what can I do about it right now? There's always going to be something that's affected my sugar levels somehow. It's never the same each day because of things like my hormones, my body weight changing and the food I eat. So it does affect me on a daily basis, but I have to be mentally strong. I tell myself I have to do one of the jobs of my pancreas right now. So I need to be able to handle the stress that comes with it.

Being prepared

I'll go out and have a few drinks. But I understand that if I've had a little bit over my limit, I'd have to take less of my background insulin, or I need to make sure I'm taking more food. It does affect you for 24 hours. 

It's not like I can't have fun, but I have to be a little bit more aware of myself. I live such a full life: I design, I go to the gym, I go out, I've dressed celebrities. I never allow myself to be held back but I just make sure I’m prepared and in my bag I've got my testing equipment and little snacks, I've got my juice (for hypos), because you can't just tell your diabetes to hold on. Diabetes does come first and you can't ever take a break from it. 

Lack of understanding

I was on a date once and a guy asked, “oh, so you're diabetic? Is it transferable?” I didn't understand what he meant. What do you mean, transferable? I mean, like, is it contagious? And it just really baffled me, because that showed that there's such a lack of information out there.

Diabetes doesn't have to hold you back from the next stages in your life, whether it's getting married, having kids, starting a business,​​​​​​ travelling, going out - it shouldn't. I'm trying to battle those misconceptions. I'm trying my best now to speak out more about it. I’ve done so many things in my life, but no one ever knew that I was battling this hidden condition.

Work

I’ve always wanted to be a designer. I tried to find work in the UK when I finished university. I couldn't find many opportunities so I started looking elsewhere. I happened to find an embroidery job in Zambia that allowed me to train and even to run my own department and train an apprentice. 

Embroidery has allowed me to build my own athleisure range. I started doing hoodies and caps and I started dressing local celebrities, DJs and musicians. My little logo is in quite a few places out in the southern African region. As a person with diabetes working for myself, if I get tired, I'll take a rest. But if something needs to get done, it needs to get done.

Volunteering

Why volunteering for Diabetes UK is so important

I've done a lot of diabetes social outreach work in Africa.

It's a huge thing for me, because growing up I didn't know anyone else with type 1 diabetes. We had very little information and no internet in the eighties and nineties. I don't want another generation of young people with diabetes to feel as though their life has ended.

You can get medication and the meal plan from different members of your healthcare team, but it's the mental and the emotional feelings that you struggle to handle. I want the next generation to know that it's okay and you can live a full life. If you're newly diagnosed, some healthcare professionals can scare you so much. If your sugars go high for a short time, it doesn't mean that you're going to have a leg amputated. And you can take action, or get support from your healthcare team to help bring the levels down.

I started doing my YouTube channel and my Instagram page about two or three years ago. I did a lot of diabetes community days in Africa because they didn't have any information there. I wanted to share information and experiences with people. That's my duty right now. After 30 years, I feel like I’ve been to the University of Diabetes! I want to share that because I don't want people to feel alone or unwelcome the way I did when I was growing up.

I'm a volunteer for Diabetes UK and training to be a Community Champion so I can speak out more about what Diabetes UK does, as well as my experiences. Putting all the work that I've done in the past, on my Instagram and YouTube, under the Diabetes UK umbrella, I think it just packs a punch so much better.

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