RAiISE Your Voice is a blog series in which we provide a platform for young people to share their stories and speak up about issues they face whilst living with invisible illnesses and conditions. In this post, we hear from Emma, who shares her experience of gtowing up with type 1 diabetes.
People always say to me ‘it must be tough being diabetic’ but the fact is, I can’t remember anything other than being diabetic. I was diagnosed as Type 1 when I was four years old. I was too young to remember my diagnosis story or the transition into a diabetic lifestyle. In my eyes it’s something I’ve always been but that hasn’t made it any easier for me. It just means my acceptance of it was delayed.
Growing up in school is hard enough but having this added anxiety of living with a chronic illness made it much harder for me. I never wanted to hold my friends back from being late to lunch at school, draw attention to myself if I was having a low blood sugar or my insulin pump was making a noise during big lectures at university. I just wanted to be ‘normal’ like my friends. They could eat when and what they wanted, they didn’t have to plan ahead for anything and most importantly they didn’t have to wear lifesaving devices attached to their body or prick their finger at least three times a day.
At school no one ever wants to be different, even going into university, you just want to fit in. But this is hard if you live with a chronic illness because you have different requirements. This greatly affected me both physically and mentally growing up, I just tried to ignore my illness and get on with my life. I would rarely test my blood sugars and sparsely put insulin in for meals. This meant my blood sugars would skyrocket but since they were so high so often, I stopped feeling the symptoms of a high blood sugar because my body got used to it. I became the master of hiding my devices and pushing my diabetes aside.
Having been diagnosed so young I think everyone expects you to be an expert, but I wasn’t and I’m still not. I was going through extreme diabetes burnout, denial, and anxiety when I was younger that I never expressed to my doctors during my appointments or to friends and family because at the time I felt fine. I didn’t feel ill, I was doing well in school, got into university and other than my diabetes I was very healthy and active. I had never heard of any of these terms when I was that age so how do you know to ask for help if you don’t know what you need help for?
My mindset changed when I applied to work in America during a summer at university. I had to get my sugars in control because I was going to work there alone with no one I knew and in a completely new environment. Little did I know, this was the biggest breath of fresh air I needed. I had stepped into somewhere new, and I met people who taught me to love who you are exactly as you are. I had finally got over the barrier I put up for myself for all those years and I was in a place where I could truly be me, devices and all. From here my diabetes became increasingly controlled, I started to accept my illness and my body started to become healthier and happier after so many lost years.
It took being immersed in a new environment where I was learning so much about myself as an individual to realise that by understanding who I was as a young adult ready to go out into the world, also meant I had to understand and accept my illness that I’d spent my whole life resenting. I realised that without this illness I wouldn’t be who I am as it had been a part of me for so long and without my devices, I wouldn’t have made it so far to do all these amazing things with my life. These are things that should be celebrated and not hidden away. It has taken me a long time to get this positive outlook, but I am motivated to use my experience and encourage people to love who they are and help them to be the best versions of themselves through my Instagram @smile_beyou_ and my career as a health coach.
Looking back at my desperation to be normal, I ask myself, what is normal? What was so normal about my friends that I wanted to fit in? And what made me fearful that my illness meant I wouldn’t ‘fit in’? I can’t go back in time and tell my younger self to stop caring about what others think and to start putting my health first, but I can tell you reading this now. It is okay to feel every emotion you feel towards your illness but please remember it is nothing to be ashamed of. If you didn’t have that unique quality about yourself then you wouldn’t be you. If you think about it, differences are the only thing we all have in common, embrace them.