Adam Smith talks to us about living with type 1 diabetes and the mental health challenges he faced as a busy sports presenter.
When were you diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and could you tell us your type 1 diagnosis story?
I was diagnosed in February 2015 when I was in my late twenties.
My diagnosis came on suddenly. All the usual symptoms were present – extreme thirst and fatigue, weight loss and going to the toilet all the time throughout the day. I was rushed to hospital with a blood sugar reading of 34 (it’s supposed to be between 4 and 7, as we know). I was told I was a week away from slipping into a coma and that I needed to take five insulin injections daily for the rest of my life in order to stay alive. I remember that week so vividly as it was the week my life changed forever.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced since your diagnosis?
The biggest thing I struggled with (and I bottled this up for years) was the staggering impact and damage the diagnosis had on my mental health. I dealt with the physical side of injecting, carb counting, ordering medication, stocking up on emergency sugar, the swings of the ‘highs and lows’, and treating hypos fairly well, however it was the mental side of things that was particularly hard.
Type 1 diagnosis is a brutal and relentless condition that really is 24/7. My mental health got so bad in the early years of diagnosis that I ended up having balance tests, counselling and even a brain scan because of the extreme dizziness I was suffering. I was certain there was something else seriously wrong with me, but the dizziness was a direct result of the anxiety I was experiencing. Once I opened up and started to talk about my condition, a huge weight was lifted. I was then able to inject in public and my physical and mental health improved dramatically.
What tips do you have for living with type 1 diabetes?
I would stress that no one is perfect, and no one has all the answers when it comes to managing this condition. It is impossible to replicate the role of a major organ whilst trying to live your life at the same time. Be kind to yourself and don’t beat yourself up if you have a bad day. Take things one day at a time and talk to people openly and honestly about your condition. The more people that know about it, the more people can help!
What is your management routine for type 1 while you are working?
As I type this on the way back from a shoot, I am glancing down at my blood glucose readings, and I’ve had a 3.2 and a 16.7 in the last 24 hours. So, I clearly don’t have it nailed, but this is a particularly bad day and usually my control is fairly good. I tend to stick to the same foods and always carry food and emergency sugar with me. I also try and test as often as possible so I can see a hypo or hyper coming.
Due to your profession, you spend a lot of time in the public eye and on social media. How do you manage your physical and mental health?
I try to just be as honest as possible. I have an amazing job, which I absolutely love. I get to host live shows on Sky, interview some of the biggest names in football on a weekly basis, and host huge events at some of the most iconic stadiums in the country, for which I am incredibly grateful.
I always think it’s important to be honest with people about how you are feeling, when you’re having a good day and when you’re having a bad day. Your support network of friends and family is so important, so lean on them whenever you can.
Do you use type 1 technology? If so, how has it helped with diabetes management?
I use a Dexcom and it has dramatically helped my diabetes control. Technology has come a long way in the past few years and hopefully it continues to do so in order to make the lives of people with type 1 diabetes that little bit easier.
What tips would you give to someone that’s been newly diagnosed?
YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Reach out, talk to someone, don’t be afraid to admit if you are struggling and if it is all getting too much. There are a lot of incredibly knowledgeable and helpful people who are there to help. We are all in this together.
What would you say to someone living with type 1 diabetes, who is worried how the condition will affect their work?
This was one of my biggest fears. I got my presenter’s contract at Sky in the same year I was diagnosed with type 1 and I was so worried the condition would prevent me from progressing in my career that I didn’t speak out. In fact, I kept the condition hidden and even injected in private. This probably wasn’t the best approach as what I actually found was that the more I opened up and spoke to people about it, the more help I received. Everyone was brilliant and the condition hasn’t prevented me doing anything in my life whatsoever.
Who inspires you?
My wife, my mum, my son: my family.
I also take a huge amount of inspiration from my fellow people with type 1 who have not let their condition stand in their way. Sir Steve Redgrave has won five Olympic gold medals, Theresa May was the Prime Minister, Gary Mabbutt has won the FA Cup, Henry Slade has played in a Rugby World Cup Final and James Norton is one of the country’s most recognisable actors. Type 1 will not prevent you from living your dream. Never forget that!
We are delighted to have you as an Honorary Patron. What are your hopes for the future in terms of research?
This was a huge honour for me, I want to use this position to raise as much money and awareness for the condition and also for all things mental health as possible. I was in such a bad place for the first few years after my diagnosis. I am now pleased to say I’m in a much better place and I don’t let my condition stop me from doing anything. In fact, I’m proud to say I have type 1.
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