Grace Clover is currently studying German and History at Oxford University and also works as a high fashion model. She’s spoken to us about her type 1 diagnosis, how she manages her diabetes and her hopes for the future.
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes six years ago when I was 14. My immediate response to diagnosis was relief, as I could understand why I was not feeling well. I spent the next few years underplaying diabetes and not fully recognising the way it affected me. I continued doing the same activities, like basketball, netball, ballet and dance, whilst not acknowledging the way that diabetes changed my relationship with these activities.
I kept my diagnosis to myself
Initially I kept my diagnosis to myself. My family and close friends knew but it wasn’t something that I was super-open about. I was invited to tell my class what diabetes means and explain how it affects your day-to-day life. I really wasn’t keen to do that. I think it felt like sharing part of my life that I didn’t understand that well at the time.
I learnt about my diabetes in quite an introspective way. I would write in a notebook, ‘this food did this thing at this time of day’. I was determined to be very independent and do it all on my own. It was about six months before I was more willing to ask people for support and join online forums or read news articles, and years before I spoke about it openly.
It’s only in the last few years where I’ve fully been able to say, ‘well actually you know what, it does have a big effect on my life and it is something I will have to think about every day’, but then to acknowledge that I can still do normal things. I think that balance has recently become quite important to me.
An easier way to manage my diabetes
My CGM has been a massive change in my life. I got it two years ago and it has made my diabetes care much more fluid and integrated. It was initially suggested to me by my doctor because it would be an easier way to manage my diabetes when I was very active or busy.
When I was 14 I really didn’t want to have anything that was visible and I think if there were more people openly wearing them in the media that’s something I would have considered. Lila Moss wearing her pump very visibly on her leg during the Fendi x Versace show was a really big thing. I thought that was really cool.
I have occasionally been asked to take my CGM off when modelling. But I think that genuinely just stems out of people not knowing what it is. Or it might be that I’ve spoken to one person to explain what it is. But then there’s a second and the third person who I haven’t spoken with and they might say ‘Oh, would you mind taking that off?’. The fashion industry is always such a fast-paced environment. You could never explain to everyone in the room your exact requirements.
Dispelling myths about diabetes
Sometimes I’ll explain what it is whereas some days I just can’t be bothered so I have just taken it off because it’s easier not to have that conversation. This is why dispelling myths about diabetes is so important. If everyone had a slightly better working understanding of what diabetes was, then these questions wouldn’t necessarily happen and it wouldn’t fall on the individual to have to explain every time.
The fashion industry can be very fast paced, very high intensity. There can be 150 people in a room. And even though people want to be supportive it’s my responsibility to keep on top of it. And sometimes it falls into the background because other things are going on. You have days where you’re really on it and days when you’re not so much. And that’s fine.
Type 1 technology
My hopes for the future are around the artificial pancreas. It’s the most exciting thing for me because I’m already using a CGM. I’m also considering using a pump as it seems like a very tangible goal. When I was first diagnosed, it was presented to me as ‘you will have this for the rest of your life’. Technology, and the ways to manage it are the things that I think about, whereas cures are extremely exciting for the medical community, but not something that I’ve necessarily thought about so much. It’s more about how technology can make my day-to-day life a bit easier.
Talking can help
If I could tell my 14-year-old self something about diabetes, I think I would say that it’s fine to take the time you need to treat your diabetes and talking about it is actually helpful. There is no need to hide treating your diabetes in order to ‘be polite’ if it will put you in dangerous or stressful situations.
If you have a family who understands and people around you who sort of understand what you’re going through, I can see why you wouldn’t necessarily want to talk about your health publicly all the time. Especially when you’re 14. But making that step to start talking about it a bit more can help.