Tom started learning guitar a few years before he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes age 13. He reflects on how music helps him deal with the emotions that come with his relationship with diabetes.
When I was diagnosed, I felt like it was all happening at once. I'd just become a teenager and was going through puberty, and now had type 1 diabetes to deal with.
I'd been unwell for a while, I'd lost a lot of weight was drinking more than 1.5 litres of water a day. It got to the point where I'd fill my bottle from the tap in the toliets because it was faster than the water fountain. It never crossed my mind that it could be diabetes.
“The whole experience of being diagnosed with diabetes never really feels right.”
Soon after I was rushed to the hospital and taken to the High Dependency Unit (HDU).
A few years before my diagnosis I had started learning to play the guitar. I wasn’t very good but enjoyed messing about on guitar with a friend.
Around my diagnosis I remember hearing artists on the radio who wrote, recorded and produced their own songs from their bedrooms. They did everything by themselves, and I thought that I could do that.
I loved the thought of being in a band, but when I got home I always had a feeling that music was my thing. It was how I dealt with what was going on in my life.
"Music gave me space to think about something other than diabetes. When I put my headphones on, I only though about the music. As soon as they came off, diabetes was front and centre."
Coping with emotions
Over the years I saved up money to buy a new guitar and laptop and started working on more songs.
I see music as my way of coping with negative emotion. It’s inevitable that you will feel low about diabetes from time to time. When I feel like that, nothing makes me feel better in the same way that music does.
It’s the place I go when I’m feeling rubbish about everything, and eventually, my rubbish feelings often turn into inspiration for new songs.
I started writing happy, cheerful music to bring myself up. Then I realised I could make sad music, and it could be an even more powerful help when I’m feeling low.
My songs are like a journal that I’m constantly writing. I don’t write about diabetes in a literal sense. But I look back at my lyrics and at the relationships I write about and can see that my relationship with diabetes is subconsciously there.
"I’ve always focused on recording music because it takes a long time and often time has been exactly what I need to process how I feel"
It’s a love-hate relationship. And the time when I’m able to love the condition is when I’m writing music. I wouldn’t change being diagnosed as it’s such a key part of who I am.
Being diagnosed at 13 years old means having diabetes completely entwined with puberty and finding my voice. In the long run I think having diabetes has pushed me to achieve my goals in life.
I’ve always focused on recording music because it takes a long time and often time has been exactly what I need to process how I feel. I’ve had my songs played on BBC Introducing East Midlands and the next step is to focus more on performing live. I want to be able to use my music as a way of helping others cope.
Sometimes people refer to a hobby or passion like this as an escape. But I think that means forgetting about a crucial part of yourself.
Music is a tool I can use to help myself feel OK about everything including my diabetes.