Type 1 diabetes is a fairly rare condition so it can often be prone to some strange questions, particularly if you’re injecting insulin or finger-prick testing in public. As today is World Diabetes Day, I thought it was particularly fitting to write about some of the misconceptions I come across whilst living with Type 1.
There’s a difference between Types 1 and 2
Firstly, talk to any Type 1 diabetic around and they will no doubt tell you that the most annoying question you can be asked is, “are you allowed to eat that?”
Not only can this really ruin a great slice of cake, it also makes you want to roll your eyes at the ignorance. There is a difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks its own cells, it is not curable and requires insulin injections at every single meal. On the other hand, Type 2 is caused by eating too much sugar, and often but not always, linked to being overweight. Type 2 diabetics are told to cut down on the amount of sugar they eat, whereas those with Type 1 are pretty much free to eat whatever they want to, providing they take the insulin needed. I’m sure you can imagine it’s not great to have people assume you’re to blame for your condition, with people saying things like ‘you shouldn’t have eaten so many sweets when you were younger‘. Although the cause of Type 1 is still unknown, it’s been proven that is has nothing to do with eating badly. Generally, the reason for this confusion is that 95% of diabetics are Type 2 and generally diabetes is just referred to without mentioning the different types. I genuinely don’t mind answering curious questions about diabetes, but please just think before you say ‘so you just can’t eat desserts right?’
It’s not just about sugar
Secondly, diabetes is not just about sugar and if you ‘give up sweets you’ll be fine‘. Many people may not know this, but blood sugar levels are actually affected by lots of different factors. The main one of course is how many carbohydrates you eat, which includes but is not limited to sugar, and because of this it is better for me to eat a pack of Haribo’s than to eat a bowl of pasta without injecting. It is also important for diabetics to consider exercise and how it affects sugar levels. Also, strangely enough, even the weather and the mood you’re in can affect your blood sugar levels; it’s really not simple!
Another issue with Type 1 diabetes which many people, even diabetics, are not aware of, is the fact that your blood sugar levels can affect your mental wellbeing. High blood sugar levels can mean you are more likely to be sad or feel depressed. It is because of this that diabetics are more likely to experience bad mental health and according to Diabetes UK, 3 in 5 people with diabetes experience emotional or mental health problems because of their condition. Just something to bear in mind if you’ve got diabetic friends!
It’s not always the high life
Another thing that Type 1 diabetics have to deal with that generally Type 2s don’t, is hypos (hypoglycemia). This is when your blood sugar levels become low and your body reacts with headaches, shaking, hunger pangs and if serious enough, it can even lead to seizures and coma. It can be brought on by injecting too much insulin or doing too much unexpected exercise. Honestly, a hypo is one of the worst feelings in the world, but on the plus side you have to eat to bring your levels back up again! Often it’s difficult maintaining good blood sugar levels, without increasing hypos.
Stupid comments are very commonly thrown at diabetics, and sometimes all you can really do is laugh. Things like ‘I never would be able to inject, I hate needles‘ and ‘don’t you get bored of doing that everyday?’ are very common but as it turns out, preventing myself from dying has proven to be quite a large motivator actually!
Probably the weirdest and most annoying thing that’s ever been said to me when someone found out I was diabetic was ‘but you don’t look diabetic!’ I really don’t know what a diabetic is supposed to look like. I guess some people just aren’t worth talking to.
Anyway, it’s not all negative with diabetes, just make sure you educate yourself before you ask ignorant questions. I think everyone should understand the basics of Type 1 so, since it’s National Diabetes Day, why not head to the JDRF or Diabetes UK websites and have a read?