I have had type 1 diabetes for just over 20 years which is two-thirds of my life. That being the case having T1D has had a profound influence on my life and on the person which I have become. Not long ago I meet with a sports doctor who asked me what I wanted to achieve out of seeing him and what I would change about myself if I could change anything. I said that I wanted to generally be better so that I could achieve my goals and personal bests. He responded by pointing out that I obviously would want to get rid of diabetes as that would make things a lot easier. Funnily enough, I didn’t even think about my diabetes and when I thought about it after the appointment I realised that I didn’t actually immediately wish to be rid of T1D as it has really made me the person that I am.
Although T1D can be a big challenge and there are plenty of moments where I wish that I wasn’t a T1D, it’s hard to imagine where I would be and what I would be doing if I didn’t have the condition. In 20 years T1D has never stopped me from doing anything with all aspects of the condition being manageable. In many instances I believe that having T1D has actually benefited me through better thought and planning about events, taking a greater interest in my health and wellbeing and having a very sound knowledge of my own body.
Considering my life with T1D I have come up with some of the positives influences and traits which I believe the condition has given me and which have helped me in other parts of my life.
Planning: With T1D life needs to be planed and when trying to work full-time and also train 15hrs per week that planning goes to the next level. Each week I plan out my training around my work and family commitments and then each day I plan my meals and insulin plan so that my BGLs are right for my training sessions. Planning for these sessions can be up to 12hrs in advance to ensure I have eaten and have the correct BGLs to train.
Consistency: I believe that consistency is really important for maintaining stable BGLs. I generally wake, sleep, work, train and sleep at similar times each day. My meals are pretty consistent with my carb intake at each meal very consistent. Overall the number of times I test my BGLs and my daily dose of insulin are the same each day. Through this I have a good understanding of where my diabetes should be at each day and I can plan things accordingly around this.
Control: T1D causes a significant shift in the way we approach life, I believe that we need to have serious control of ourselves and what we do otherwise we can face some very serious immediate and also longer term consequences. Even with these serious consequences it’s often difficult to oneself especially around our weakness; chocolate or over exercising are two of mine.
Education and Understanding: T1D is a unique condition where the individual has such control of their treatment (as opposed to a medical professional) and the consequences of poor management can be catastrophic. To be able to do this effectively we need to be well educated on diabetes and have a good understanding of how we individually need to treat the condition. Even more difficult is that every T1D is different and thus need to determine their own methods to manage their condition. For such a serious condition it is amazing to think that the best manage can come from trial and error. This is a serious responsibility and forces all T1D’s to take the time to research and understand the condition and its treatments.
Take Action: I have learnt that assuming things will just sort themselves out usually guarantees that they won’t. BGLs won’t just go up or down by themselves, not eating a proper meal and just snacking is never a good idea and assuming you BGLs are ok and not testing is a big risk. I simply take the actions I need to ensure my diabetes is controlled. I ask for a special meal at an event or take my own food, I stop and test my BGL whenever I need to and I change my plans if things aren’t tracking right. If you don’t look after yourself then nobody else will.
Risk Management: There are certain risks associated with T1D which need to be managed every day. The most serious of these is hypoglycaemia which can strike at any time day or night and the consequences can be very serious. Being very active and not wanting to let T1D stop me from doing anything I always need be thinking about these risks. I must make sure I have all my diabetes items with and sufficient supplies to treat a fuel up and/or treat a hypo. Having an exit strategy is also very important be that being able to contact someone or being able to catch a lift home from a training run if things don’t go right. I have many times had to walk home mid-way through a run when I have been 5km from home and had a bad hypo.
Health and Wellbeing: With the inherent risks and complications associated with T1D keeping healthy is very important to me and it has really become part of my lifestyle. Through T1D have learnt a lot about health and nutrition and as I have become more into endurance racing and Ironman this has become a real focus for me. The active and healthy lifestyle which I have developed holds me in good stead for the rest of my life.
Having type 1 diabetes has definitely influenced my lifestyle, development strengths and attributes. It may be a bit of the chicken before the egg scenario but I do feel that whatever characteristics I may have inherently had have been amplified by living with T1D for the last 20 years. So back to my original thought, do I wish that I never had T1D or could be cured now? There’s clearly not a straight forward answer to this but I would not change having T1D and I really think that having T1D has made be a better person and a stronger athlete. I will still be strongly supporting find a cure as this will certainly make my life easier but I have plenty of other things to working on to continue to improve my performances.