My diabetes story began in March of 2005, over fourteen years ago. I was in sixth form, in Manchester, preparing for AS levels when I had an onset of illness I had never experienced before: dramatic and rapid weight loss, constant thirst and dry skin on my hands. I wasn’t aware these were symptoms of dangerously high blood sugar levels (DKA) but on Mother’s Day that year (of all days) my mum drove me to A+E and confirmed her suspicions, and I was admitted immediately.
The next few days were spent coming to terms with my diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes, which meant learning exactly what insulin was, practising injections on an orange and meeting my diabetes team whose care I would be under for the next 10 uninterrupted years. It was overwhelming and a lot to take in. I knew of one friend who had it and she helped me understand some of the jargon but my only other reference was 5-time Olympic Gold medalist Sir Steve Redgrave, so I knew that comparison was futile to cling onto. I got into a habit of testing my blood sugar levels regularly and learning what to do for hypos…and how to learn from each new experience.
Aged 18 the following summer, I went on a young people’s adventure holiday in beautiful Loch Tay in Scotland, solely for people with Type 1. We participated in a number of outdoor activities under the watchful eye of a team from an Insulin company and fun activity leaders. As well as being great to meet other Type 1s, the week was useful to ask questions together about anything from sport to the science of diabetes and food (important) or faulty equipment. Indeed, I distinctly remember the doctor saying the kebab at 3am at the end of a night out with alcohol, was not a bad idea as it would slow up the alcohol absorption! It was a really fun week because no one felt judged or self-conscious and we realised that even in the same condition, no two experiences are the same. I would recommend young people with diabetes doing a similar residential or “diabetes holiday” as you learn so much and you can take what you feel is most useful from it.
I managed to navigate my university years with my diabetes adequately. Because I needed prescriptions, I had to re-register with a team in Sheffield but I kept my appointments with my Manchester team (because I could) and it wasn’t too far to travel. I wanted to enjoy and embrace student life without feeling burdened so I didn’t change too much in my lifestyle because of T1D; I still cycled everywhere and played sports and went out with friends (and studied for a degree!). My housemates were made aware from day one and I told people I met as I saw fit. It was just something I live with, not the ONLY thing that defined me. I was never embarrassed by it but there were probably times when I didn’t want to drink more alcohol (and therefore declined invitations to nights out) because I knew it would disrupt my control. Friends who understood this were important to have and I appreciated it.
In my working life I have had a few jobs but the main one was working as a Teaching Assistant with Hearing Impaired children. I did that for 6 years and the school day routine was helpful for maintaining good levels and being able to focus on my job. I never felt any stigma while injecting around colleagues and appreciated their support and understanding if I had to abandon a lesson to treat a hypo, or- one time- be helped out of an assembly and plied with chocolate after an almighty blood sugar crash. It is a frustrating condition in that sense but manageable- most of the time.
The long summer holidays allowed me time to indulge my passion for volunteering at big sports events. I have been to many during the past decade- both in the UK and abroad- and hope to go to the Olympics at Tokyo 2020. My roles at events have been varied and I have to manage my diabetes a bit more closely so that I am fit to do the job properly. I don’t always feel I need to disclose it but that is a personal decision. The events are usually good at making time for mealtimes but I’ll always have a snack in my pocket in case.
I left my job in July last year and have been travelling round the world since September. I have been to 11 countries, had more than 11 hypos (not major episodes), but have had the best time of my life. And there is still 2 months left to enjoy. I am writing this from New Zealand but I will be in Canada by the end of the week, indulging in some baseball, city sight-seeing and eventually skiing. I have met some friends for life and have promised myself I will come back to some of these amazing places.
When I get back to England, I hope to get a job on a new career path, ideally in sports events organisation or sports journalism.
Thank you for reading my story.
Jack Perryman, 31, Manchester, UK
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