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"Music is a tool I can use to help myself feel ok about everything – including my diabetes”

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.


The whole experience of being diagnosed with diabetes never really feels right.

Diagnosis

When I was diagnosed, it felt like it was all happening at once. I'd just become a teenager and was going through puberty, and now had diabetes to deal with. I had been unwell for a while and had lost a lot of weight. I had a 1.5 litre water bottle that I kept filling up with tap water from the school toilets, because it was quicker than the water fountain. It never crossed my mind that it could be diabetes.

Soon after I was rushed to hospital and taken to the High Dependency Unit (HDU). 

At the time you just accept that that’s what’s happening. You reflect after, and think about everything you’ve been through. The whole experience of being diagnosed with diabetes never really feels right.


Learning guitar

A few years before my diagnosis I had started learning to play guitar. I wasn’t very good to begin with but enjoyed messing about on guitar with a friend.

Tom as a teenager playing guitar
Tom playing at Uttoxeter Acoustic Festival Buskers Stage as a teenager

Around my diagnosis I remember hearing artists on the radio who did it all themselves – wrote, recorded and produced their own songs from their bedroom. I remember thinking 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 was engrossed in 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 complex 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 that music does. It’s the place I go when I’m feeling rubbish about everything, and in turn my rubbish feelings often turn into inspiration for new songs.

Tom producing music in his bedroom
Tom producing music in his bedroom

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.

Tom with umbrellas

 

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.


Love-hate relationship

 

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.

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 it’s 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.

 


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