14 realities of having type 1 diabetes in your 20s

Today is World Diabetes Day and while millions of people live with the condition, only 10% of them have Type 1 – which develops when insulin-producing cells have been destroyed and the body is unable to produce enough.

Type 1 is usually diagnosed in children, so what is it like to find out you have it as an adult? Lauren Proctor, 25, developed diabetes in March 2009, during her second year of university at Keele in Staffordshire, England. She now works as a PA in London.

Lauren put the symptoms down to her student lifestyle at first (Lauren Proctor)

Here, Lauren explains the reality of suffering from the lifelong condition in your twenties.

1. The symptoms are not totally obvious.

I brushed off my symptoms as all part of being a student. The tiredness especially, I couldn’t get through the day without having an afternoon nap. And I was drinking a lot of water, once I had to ask a girl I didn’t know sitting next to me in a lecture if I could have some of her water, because I was parched. I’d get through an entire bottle of squash in a day.

Over a month I just felt worse but when I went to the toilet five times in one night, and was almost in a car crash because my vision had started to be affected, I Googled my symptoms.

2. No one expects adults to be diagnosed with Type 1.

Type 1 is also known as juvenile diabetes because most cases are found in children. To be diagnosed at the age of 19 was pretty rare. After Googling I was convinced I had Type 2 diabetes and went to the campus surgery. The nurses said because I was young and slim it wouldn’t be diabetes, I’d be fine.

Then they took my blood sugar and it was 15.5 – a normal reading would be six to eight. So I was taken to hospital where I was diagnosed as Type 1, and the doctors were really surprised because of my age.

3.The reality that diabetes is going to affect the rest of your life is huge.

Forgetting to take insulin could be dangerous (Thinkstock)

At first it was a novelty, getting loads of get-well-soon cards and flowers, but soon the reality really hit me. For a lot of the first year I’d stay in my room and just cry. There are quite a lot of links to diabetes diagnoses and mental health problems because it is such a challenge to deal with. Suddenly my student life was turned upside down, now I couldn’t even leave the flat without my insulin, blood sugar monitor and glucose tablets. It also happened a couple of weeks before all my essays were due in before Easter so there was extra stress.

4. You become acutely aware of what slightly high and low blood sugar feels like.

When my blood sugar is too high, I get snappy, thirsty and have very little patience. A blood sugar crash feels like you’re drunk. I struggle to string sentences together. But you become very good at reading what’s going on in your own body.

5. A hangover is SO much worse if you’re diabetic.

Think your hangover is bad? It is worse if you are diabetic (Thinkstock)

Waking up with a hangover is horrible for everyone, but it is to do with your blood sugar being low, so you can imagine it is much worse in someone with diabetes. I know I will have a few “hypos” in the morning, which is more than an excuse for a bacon sandwich. On a night out I have to remind my mates that I can’t drink sugary alcopops, and before I go to bed I make sure I eat something carby.

6. Injecting yourself becomes as habitual as brushing your teeth.

It’s not a pleasant thing to do, but you just have to get on with it. I inject insulin four times a day, in my tummy before every meal and once in my thigh before bed. I also test my blood sugar levels four times a day, using a finger pricker.

7. You have an amazing knowledge of how many grams of carbs are in something just by looking at it.

Eating something with a lot of carbs will spike your blood sugar (Charles Cherney/AP)

I know that there are 18 grams of carbs in a piece of my favourite bread, and I’m always on the calculator on my phone working out the carb content in food before I eat it. I need to know beforehand so I can calculate how much insulin to take before the meal – 12 grams of carbs is one unit of insulin. It can be tricky when you’re going out for a meal or going round to a friend’s for dinner.

8. If you want to have kids at some point, you need to be even more regimented when you are pregnant.

I attended a five-day diabetes education course a few years ago called Dafne, and learned so much more about my condition in a week than I had in three years, like if you are pregnant you have got to be so thorough looking after your health and keep an even closer eye on your blood sugars. If you don’t it could be a risky pregnancy, and could affect your baby.

9. Not managing your diabetes properly can result in some pretty scary things.

The worst case scenarios are that you go blind, get ulcers, have to have limbs amputated … but also if you let your blood sugar drop too often your body becomes less aware of the symptoms which can be dangerous.

10. The lack of understanding between Type 1 and Type 2 is frustrating.

Lauren talking at Diabetes UK event (Diabetes UK)

Type 2 is mostly lifestyle related so there’s this assumption that Type 1s shouldn’t or can’t eat sweets, desserts or soft drinks. We can (with insulin) and in moderation (like everyone else).

11. It is like walking on a tight-rope all day, every day.

It’s like you can’t relax. I’m always thinking about it. Buffets are the worst. It’s easy to lose track of how much you’re eating and I won’t have taken enough insulin beforehand. But for a Christmas roast for example, meat, potatoes and veg are all fine, so I might overcompensate with insulin before and still feel starving after the meal.

12. You have to think about your long term health a lot sooner than more people do.

How I control my diabetes now will affect how likely I am to lose my sight, or limbs, in the future. It’s horrible but true.

13. You end up with insane organisational skills.

Lauren needs to be extraordinarily organised about her healthcare (Lauren Proctor)

Docs’ appointments, prescriptions, injections – all need to be coordinated. If you’re a child, your parents manage those, as an adult, or if you’re diagnosed as an adult, it’s entirely up to you. I have a weekly routine on a Sunday night where I throw all my old needles and testing strips into the big yellow bin I keep in my bathroom.

14. Most people have no idea about the mental energy it takes to juggle your life with diabetes.

You can be awake at 2am battling a hypo and know you’ve got to be in work the next day and pretend that nothing has happened. You’re constantly counting carbs, testing your sugars, injecting, re-testing, correcting a wrong insulin dose. I’d have so much time on my hands if I didn’t have this condition!

For more information on the condition visit Diabetes UK.

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