By Tom Higham
I believe a chronic condition like type 1 diabetes can drive you. I was a young teenager when I adopted something of a mantra in relation to my diabetes – that it would not stop me doing anything.
I was diagnosed at the age of six. I vividly remember the doctor coming over to my mother and me, having checked a urine sample. His expression told us everything. I had absolutely no idea what type 1 was, but I was overwhelmed with the gravity of the situation. Since that day, I’ve had to inject myself over 35,000 times, and prick my finger for a blood sample at least 50,000 times.
Throughout my school life, I was obsessed with sport. I played football, basketball, rugby, cricket — all to a decent level. I was a little irresponsible looking back, as most of the time I didn’t want my coaches or teammates to know I was diabetic. I didn’t want to be treated differently – I wanted to be selected, and to win, with no special treatment.
At university my life revolved around basketball (captaining the uni team), and a whole lot of socialising. I never took risks with my diabetes, but it never stopped me from getting involved.
I can very confidently say that without type 1 diabetes I wouldn’t have worked as hard, wouldn’t have got as far in sport as I did, and wouldn’t have progressed professionally in the same way.
Diabetes hasn’t made me more productive, but it has definitely driven me on. Happiness and satisfaction mean different things to different people, and to me they mean doing what I love doing, and doing it hard.
I think that a chronic condition can bring perspective that can help you to focus on what it is you want, and what it is that matters to you. Conditions like this are hard, they are relentless, but they build a discipline and a toughness that is hard to find otherwise.
1. Live your life
Cliché, but to me it’s very important to not let the condition define you. I’m not ‘a diabetic’, I am a person who has diabetes. There’s a huge difference.
2. Give yourself a break
Conditions like this never rest, and so can be exhausting — mentally and physically. It’s easy to become obsessive with your control, your data, your readings, but it’s important to not give yourself too hard a time when things go pear shaped — which they often do with diabetes!
3. Break it up into winnable challenges
Be it exercising more, getting a better seven day sugar level average, or improving your HbA1c, for me winnable goals are important.
4. Embrace it
In the last couple of years I’ve discovered a huge online community of people living with type 1. They refer to themselves as the DOC — the diabetic online community. I find engaging in that community more beneficial than the medical care I receive, more honest and more educational.
5. Take control
You must take control of your own condition. The NHS is a wonderful, wonderful thing, and I owe my life to it, but unless you push for things, you’ll fall into default / lowest common denominator type care, and when you live with a condition day in, day out, you deserve more. It took me ten years of hassling to get on a pump, and I’ll never look back.
Tom Higham is Executive Director of FutureEverything in Manchester, UK. Feel free to get in touch with the author on Twitter where he is @TomHigham.