Meet our Volunteer Spotlight for August 2021, Nathan Truesdale
This month we sat down with Nathan Truesdale, one of our wonderful speaker volunteers, about his experience of type 1 diabetes and how he got into volunteering for Diabetes UK. Nathan lives in Nottingham and has delivered both in-person and virtual talks to hundreds of people across the country. Although Nathan’s been volunteering with us for a couple of years now, his journey with type 1 diabetes goes back a lot further.
Nathan’s first encounter with type 1 diabetes was when he was 25. It was during this period that he spotted he was losing quite a lot of weight – although this was happening without any real explanation behind it. He also noticed that he was having difficulty sleeping, drinking a lot of water, and going to the bathroom regularly. It was at this time that Nathan was working in his first serious job – something that by his own admission was highly pressurised. Naturally, he put his physical changes down to the stress of his new role.
That same year, Nathan flew to Northern Ireland to see his mum, who he hadn’t seen for a few months. It was during his trip that his mum mentioned that he should get himself checked out at the doctor. Nathan admitted that if it wasn’t for his mum he would have carried on with things as they were.
“I’d made excuses for the symptoms, which I didn’t see as symptomatic of anything at all and had ignored them. I continued to ignore them, actually, and I only went to the GP to keep my mother quiet, as she was asking on the phone every day. Turns out that she did know better – the diagnosis was a complete surprise, and I was expecting to be told to go away and stop wasting my GP’s time.”
When Nathan went to see his GP, he mentioned his symptoms prompting his doctor to perform a quick finger prick. This revealed Nathan’s blood sugar levels to be extremely high. The next day, Nathan had an appointment with a diabetes specialist who confirmed his diagnosis of type 1 diabetes. After a brief demonstration of how to inject insulin and carry out finger pricking, Nathan began his new chapter of life with type 1.
The early days
Nathan acknowledged that when he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, his only real understanding of diabetes was with type 2, having met several colleagues who were living with the condition. In those early days of living with type 1, Nathan conceded that there was a huge amount of information to take in, leading him to ignore his diabetes.
After five years of high blood sugars, avoiding carb counting and in his own words ‘freewheeling’, Nathan remembered a particular day when he was climbing the stairs to his flat and took two hours to reach his fifth-floor apartment. It was then that he realised he need to make some changes.
“What was actually going on is that I was in the early stages of DKA – diabetic ketoacidosis – and once again I’d been ignoring the warning signs. Somehow I managed to ignore the two-hour climb up the stairs and went to work the next morning. My manager pretty much put me in a taxi and sent me to A&E, and the consultant admitted me on the spot. I had felt pretty indestructible, but clearly I wasn’t the Superman I liked to think.”
Following this experience, Nathan’s diabetes control improved, and he admitted that the key ingredient that helped with this change was getting the right diabetes education. After this realisation, Nathan says that at times he still coasted with his diabetes management, but that he was no longer the freewheeling Nathan that ignored his high blood sugars.
It was in February 2020 that Nathan got the opportunity to try out the Freestyle Libre, a flash glucose monitor that lets people scan their blood sugar levels. This followed Nathan’s experience of going on the type 1 diabetes education course, DAFNE – something that Nathan describes as a real revelation.
“Sitting round the table for a week with eight other type ones was game-changing. I realised that other people had similar misunderstandings to me, similar insecurities and similar experiences. And I also realised that there’s no such thing as a perfect diabetic – we’re all trying to live our different lives and manage the condition, and sometimes we get a win and sometimes it doesn’t quite work out.”
Nathan also puts his better diabetes management down to the ease of being able to order medication online.
One of Nathan’s big passions is musical theatre, so when he found himself between gigs in 2017, he decided he wanted to perform again. It was then that he came across the Association of Speakers Clubs. He went to Nottingham Speaker’s Club where he met Alan, who lives with type 2 diabetes, and who was himself giving lots of talks about living with the condition.
This planted the seed in Nathan’s head, and although he didn’t act on it straight away, it wasn’t long before Nathan reached out to our regional team in the Midlands looking for opportunities as a speaker volunteer. From there, Nathan met with our volunteer coordinator, Roy, and went through training which he described as being a complete learning curve.
“I should have known better from the DAFNE experience but getting a really rounded picture from Roy about the national diabetes problem changed a lot of my thinking. Rather than seeing type 1 diabetes as a private, personal issue, I began to see it much more as a public health issue, and I started to understand the context of type 2 more as well – not just the impact on the individual’s life, but also the huge resources required for the NHS to manage the condition and its complications.”
After his training, Nathan started to give presentations on the ins and outs of diabetes, educating himself about the different types, and beginning to speak publicly at conferences and at local groups. Sadly, it was during this time that the pandemic struck, so much of Nathan’s volunteering was moved online.
Whilst it’s fair to say that Zoom calls haven’t been Nathan’s favourite experience, it’s made him appreciate the energy that he gets from a full room of people, discussing diabetes and being able to educate others – and importantly himself – about living with the condition.
Nathan now can’t wait for things to open up again and is looking forward to taking part in the work of Diabetes UK. Being able to see people build their confidence and bust stigmas when it comes to diabetes forms a huge motivation behind why Nathan volunteers for us.
For those looking to get into volunteering, Nathan admitted that he never really overthought the process, and went into his volunteering without any grand plans.
“Getting the bigger picture from conversations with the people at Diabetes UK and seeing how diabetes affects people other than myself has been a big part of this experience. I know a lot more than I did a few years ago, and I’m beginning to get more interested in the research into areas like immunotherapy and the role that lobbying and funding plays in developing new therapies and health interventions. The pandemic has shown us that with enough effort and resource, any condition can be taken on, and perhaps in fewer years than we think, diabetes might be something we only read about in history books.”
If you've been inspired by Nathan's story, find out more about our volunteering opportunities.