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“I write to help myself but also raise awareness”

Duke Al Durham, 27 years old, living, working and studying in Cardiff shares his story

Headshot of Duke Al Durham


I was diagnosed in January 2018 when I was twenty-three years old, although my story starts three years earlier when in Bali I had really serious salmonella food poisoning that led to sepsis and months of recovery. This most likely was a trigger for the onset of type 1.

By late 2017 I was losing weight, I was uncharacteristically tired, I was thirsty, drinking and needing to urinate frequently. My girlfriend said my breath smelt of pear drops. I had a really supportive GP who ran some tests, diagnosed me with type 1 diabetes and sent me straight to Llandough Hospital, where I had great support from my diabetes specialist nurse who took me under her wing.

I knew the diagnosis was bad news because my young cousin had been diagnosed at six years old, some years earlier- she was really ill with DKA. My life changed when I was diagnosed.

I went through a number of stages in the first year of recovery: acceptance, frustration, anger and then self-destruction. Now three years on, I have moved on from self-destruction, but there are still times when it comes back.

Learning to live with type 1

I’ve always been athletic, I’ve trained hard, looked after myself physically and sport has always been a really important part of my life. My degree was in sports coaching, I was a personal trainer after university. After diagnosis, I had this horrible feeling that I would never reach my physical potential. For twenty-three years, I had been able to live the life I wanted, to eat and drink what I wanted. That all changed when I started living with type 1.

Now three years on, I take inspiration from athletes who I see achieve amazing things while living with type 1. In early 2021 I completed the David Goggins 4x4x48 challenge – running four miles every four hours over 48 hours. A total of 48 miles were achieved and myself and good friend Sam Middlemiss raised over £1500 for OCD Action, as OCD is a mental health illness that I live with.

Writing as my therapy

I’ve always been a writer since I was 11 years old. I am a spoken word poet and rapper. Writing rhymes is my therapy. From a young age, I’d scribble raps and poems in my old lyric book. It was my way of expressing myself; an escapism to challenge my OCD. A passion for words, flow and rhyme flared. After being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, the pen was there to help me understand and articulate how I felt. Now I aim to make an impactful change using one rhyme at a time.

I’m now doing a creative writing masters at Cardiff Metropolitan University while working as a Groundsman for my local authority. I like being out in the open, in nature, growing things, fixing things.


Bittersweet is my collection of poems about ‘The highs lows, hypers and hypos living with type 1 diabetes.’ I have two sayings: ‘I create to relate and educate’ and ‘I write how I feel because I only truly feel when I write’. I write to help myself but also raise awareness and understanding and to forge connections.

I always think that human beings are extraordinary. I think about the Nobel winning scientists, Banting, Best, Collip and Macleod who discovered insulin and how incredible their achievements were saving millions of lives.

But I also think about what a cure would mean. To me it would be overwhelming, it would change my life. When I was diagnosed, I felt like I was a weaker version of myself. I still feel I can’t quite reach my potential because of type 1. If I could be cured I would feel that I would be a stronger version of myself, however, I would not change my diagnosis, I believe that everything happens for a reason, I know that ‘Bittersweet’ will help so many going through the struggles of living with type 1 diabetes.

I’m publishing Bittersweet on the 100th anniversary of the day that the first human life was saved as a result of the discovery of insulin – the first of many million lives. I want to share the importance of that medical research breakthrough and to raise awareness of what it is like to live with type 1.

Bittersweet is just one of my projects. I’m writing about nature, racism, global warming, loneliness, and a range of subjects. I am writing a book called ‘MIND – My Imagination Never Dies’, all about how we can use our creativity and imaginations to combat mental health. Another project I am hoping to release in late 2022 is my collection of poems called LOST- Loneliness Only Serves Time, where I explore global warming, nature, racism, social issues and human connection to the Universe and each other.

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