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Shared experience

Diabetes made me much more open with people

Seun Alaba talks to us about his type 1 diabetes diagnosis at university and how the Type 1 Diabetes Football Community gave him the confidence to exercise.

A man drinking coffee in a cafe. He has a flash device on his arm.

I was in my first term at university when I first experienced symptoms. I didn’t know it at the time, but they were the classic symptoms of diabetes. I was tired but thought maybe I was genuinely exhausted from my first term at university. I had a lot going on educationally and was pretty much going out five days a week as well as holding a job down. Then I began going to the toilet a lot and that got progressively worse. From there I remember being dehydrated for a couple of weeks and realised I probably wasn’t very well.

I think it’s important that people understand these symptoms and understand that type 1 diabetes doesn’t only start in childhood. I was 19 when I got it. It can happen at any age.

Christmas in hospital

When I came home for the Christmas holidays I went to the GP and they sent me to hospital. I was admitted to intensive care and stayed for a week or so hooked up to various lines. I spent my birthday and Christmas in hospital – I remember the NHS Christmas meal! I had a phobia of needles which made the experience even worse. As I lay in hospital it hit me hard as I thought, how do I move on from this? How do I accept living with type 1 for the rest of my life? It was a tough period.

Returning to university with diabetes affected my confidence. I’d had a lot of confidence in my first term and was part of a futsal team, which is a variation of football. People were shocked when I told them I had diabetes. Some didn’t understand but others wanted to know how they could help. I wasn’t confident managing my diabetes and that dominated the things I wanted to do, like Futsal.

The early years were hard

The hospital was under-resourced and I didn’t get guidance on managing sport, carb counting or diabetes technology. I couldn’t manage my diabetes for a long time which made me really frustrated as a person. I focused on my education and my social life instead of my health. My Hba1c was very high which affected my energy and concentration. Those early years after my diagnosis at university were hard.

Access to technology would have made it easier. It’s time-consuming to use a conventional blood glucose meter and not always practical for the student lifestyle. I think access to technology, especially for young people is opening which will improve quality of life and in the long run, Hba1c results.

More confidence to exercise

After university my approach to diabetes changed so much that I halved my Hba1c. I had support from a new hospital and learned how to carb count. I wasn’t going out as much and had more time to take care of myself. I was put in touch with the Type 1 Diabetes Football Community, which gave me more confidence in that football context.

We bounce ideas off each other about diabetes management and that’s how I found out how to access a flash glucose monitor. With more confidence to exercise I took up running and cycling and doing that helps me manage my type 1.

To anyone starting university with type 1 diabetes, I’d say it can be a roller coaster but with support you can take it in your stride.

Cook your own food!

With hindsight my advice would be, above all, to stay in close communication with your hospital. Eat the best food you can; I know I sound like someone’s Dad, but I would genuinely advocate being comfortable with your cooking! You’ll have better control if you cook your own food.

Managing diabetes is 24/7 so if you need extra time or anything else, your university will support you. Always take your diabetes equipment out with you and don’t worry about other people’s opinions. You’ll gravitate to people who are supportive rather than people who aren’t. Generally, though young people these days are much more accepting of difference. Diabetes made me much more open with people.

Make time for yourself and your type 1

Don’t keep it to yourself because unfortunately you may need someone to help you at some point. You can drink alcohol but must be sensible. Understand how alcohol affects your body and do what you need to do. It really helps to talk to others with type 1 diabetes, especially if they have experienced the same lifestyle so tap into any support networks. Finally, if you make time for yourself and your type 1, you’ll have the energy to get the most out of student life.

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