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Shared experience

Tom Ball: My journey with type 1 diabetes

Tom is a singer, songwriter and teacher who shot to global critical acclaim after his performances as a runner up on Britain’s Got Talent and America’s Got Talent All Stars.

Singer Tom Ball who lives with type 1 diabetes is standing in a dark room wearing a black tux.

From teaching music and drama just over a year ago, to racking up over 55 million views, millions of streams and thousands of sales worldwide, Tom has had a busy year. He has recently signed to record label Westway Music and his debut Album ‘Curtain Call’ is out this November. We sat down to chat about his journey with type 1 diabetes, music and everything else in between.

“I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was just eight years old. Growing up, I never spoke about my diabetes in an open way. It wasn’t something I wanted to bring up in conversation unless absolutely necessary. I found ways to eat my lunch away from others, sometimes hiding in the music room, so I could inject without being noticed. I didn’t want my diabetes to define or shape me.

However, as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realise that it’s okay to manage my condition openly and having a profile through my appearances on Britain’s Got Talent has made it even more important for me to raise awareness of diabetes.

Teaching and talking

While teaching, I had an incredible experience at school when I had a hypo in the middle of a lesson. I hadn’t openly shared my diabetes with my students, but when they saw me finger pricking, their natural curiosity led to a 15-minute discussion about diabetes.

Two weeks later, I noticed that one of my students was absent from school. When she returned, she had been diagnosed with type 1. She approached me and said: “Thank you for having that chat with us because now I know that I’m going to be okay. I’ve seen you do it. I’ve seen you do Britain’s Got Talent, and you’re my teacher.” It was a touching moment that showed me the importance of open discussions and education.

Since then, using my social media presence and profile to educate and inspire young people with type 1 has become a significant part of my journey.

The tough days

About two years ago, I found myself really struggling with my diabetes management. The healthcare professionals diagnosed it as diabetic burnout and recommended counselling.

While I never stopped injecting or testing my blood sugar, I gave little effort to managing my condition. I just wanted it to stop. However, I’ve learned that these feelings come in waves. Sometimes I feel powerless and useless, but then there are moments when I feel like I’ve got it all under control.

When I have days or weeks when I don’t feel that I have control of my type 1 and I don’t want to get up in the middle of the night and treat a hypo or change my leaking needle and I feel agitated and angry, I turn to my wife, my mum, and my friend and manager Jay. They understand and provide the support I need to overcome those challenges.

Turning to music

Music and diabetes came hand in hand for me. I was diagnosed and within months I was deeply into music and musical theatre.

When I appeared on ‘America’s Got Talent: All Stars’, I performed the song ‘Creep’, as the song described my experience of growing up with type 1, feeling different and hiding myself away.

I’m now incredibly lucky to have an opportunity to record an album, which will feature songs from stage and screen and some originals that have been inspired by or are connected to my feelings about my diabetes.

Advice for others

The thing that I’ve only learnt myself very recently is that the type 1 community is there to help. Growing up, I dealt with it on my own, but the past year has taught me that the type 1 community is incredible because it’s so therapeutic to talk to like-minded people and have intelligent conversations about the condition.

Looking ahead

Looking ahead, my hope for the future is that we continue the fantastic advancements in technology that I’ve witnessed in my 16 years with type 1 diabetes. When I was first diagnosed, the technology wasn’t as advanced as it is now. Continuous glucose monitors weren’t a thing, and I had to rely solely on pens for insulin delivery.

In recent years, we’ve seen the introduction of closed-loop systems. I turned on my closed loop about two weeks ago and I was so nervous about it. For 16 years I’ve been the one in control. I chose how much insulin I got, I chose when to inject. Giving up that control was scary. But I’ve done it and it’s been a game changer. A weight has been lifted from me. I still have diabetes and I still have to think about it, but I’m not thinking about it all the time because I’ve got a little friend in my pocket, which I know is sorting things out for me.

I hope to see more advancements in diabetes care that make the lives of people with diabetes easier. There are always ways to improve the lives of those with diabetes. The future holds endless possibilities, and I’m excited to see what advancements lie ahead.”

Tom’s album Curtain Call is now available to pre-order.

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