health

The worst symptom of my diabetes is the one nobody sees.

There are many unfavourable symptoms of living with type 1 diabetes. 

When my blood sugar is high, I get thirsty, irritable and fatigued, and have to go to the toilet every 10 minutes. 

When my blood sugar is low, my tongue goes tingly, I feel faint, see stars, and sometimes feel like I’m in danger of eating the entire contents of the pantry. It’s not a good time. But you know what? I can live with these symptoms. 

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I’ve had diabetes since I was a baby, so I am quite used to them after all these years. For me, the most challenging part of having type 1 is something you will never see: the mental symptoms.

I have the most caring and supportive parents in the whole world. But even they couldn’t protect me from the mental struggles of living with type 1. 

When you’re diagnosed with diabetes as a kid, you have to develop an immediate sense of maturity

For my own safety, my parents, nurses and doctors drilled me about how to take care of myself so that I didn’t do anything that might put me in danger or at risk of developing complications in the future.

I was taught how to count carbs, check my blood sugar and give myself insulin. 

Image: Supplied. 

I had to visit the diabetes clinic at the hospital every three months for a check-up, where they would weigh me, check my HbA1c (a measure of my average blood glucose levels over the previous three months) and go through my blood sugar logbooks. 

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As a kid who was a natural perfectionist, these appointments started to make me incredibly anxious.

I was hyper-sensitive to every comment the doctors made about my weight and began to get paranoid about getting diabetes complications when I grew up.

Over the years, I have had periods of intense diabetes burnout and feelings of anxiety. 

Type 1 diabetes is relentless; there are no days off. It comes with you on holidays, to special occasions, and sometimes wakes you up multiple times during the night to keep you on your toes.

It was there through my first day of school, first party, final high school exams, graduation, getting my drivers' licence; and it’s with me now while I teach, study and work. It’s like that one friend that you wish would leave you alone, but never does.

The average person with type 1 has to make an extra 180 health-related decisions per day.

Even something as simple as going for a walk along the beach after breakfast can be a multi-step mathematical equation! 

Image: Supplied. 

On top of all of this, there’s so much stigma to deal with. People often say to me, “should you be eating that? Your blood sugars will be through the roof!”. 

Even worse, there’s always that one person who says before eating something sugary, “I’m gonna get diabetes from this.” 

There’s often a lot of shame that comes with being diagnosed with diabetes because of this stigma. I wish people knew diabetes isn’t caused by eating bad food or being unhealthy.

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To be honest, I used to constantly beat myself up if I made a decision that messed up my blood sugars. 

All I would be able to think about when my blood sugar was high, was the complications I might get in the future because of it. 

There are so many metrics that we can measure ourselves against with type 1 diabetes, and as a self-proclaimed perfectionist, that can be overwhelming. 

These days, I give myself so much more grace. It’s physically impossible to be the perfect diabetic and there is SO much more to life than letting myself be controlled by the fear of what might happen because of my blood sugars.

Image: Supplied. 

At the end of the day, we are all doing the best we can, with what we have, and what we know in the moment. 

Diabetes has given me the gift of knowing that sometimes, even when I try my best, things won’t always go exactly to plan, and that doesn’t mean I am a failure or a bad diabetic… it means that I am human. 

I think that’s a pretty great gift to carry through every part of my life.

Emily Vuong is a diabetes advocate and blogger. She is currently studying her Masters to become a high school Science teacher and has an equal passion for both running and croissants.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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