“People always say to me, ‘It must be rough being diabetic’ but the fact is, I can’t remember anything other than being diabetic. I was diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic when I was 4 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.
Having diabetes young meant my dad took full control of my care. This is something I will forever be grateful for and in awe of how hard that must have been. He truly is my hero. Due to this, I was never very conscious of my diabetes. I just knew if I wanted to eat my meals, then I had to have my injections. As soon as I got to the age where I was more independent and started to take over from my dad, I started to notice how I was ‘different’ from my friends. They could eat when and what they wanted, they didn’t need to plan ahead for anything, and most importantly, they didn’t need to wear a life-saving device attached by a wire to their body or prick their finger at least three times a day.
At age 8, I was transferred from injections to a wired insulin pump, giving me more control of my blood sugars, what I could eat, and a sense of freedom but with the added cost of having my previous invisible illness now visible. Being 8 years old, I wasn’t overly phased by wearing my pump. It was uncomfortable to start with finding places to wear it but I was now given more freedom with my diet so that outweighed what any of my friends thought. My diabetes was okay during primary school. I wasn’t too bothered about being different, as I had known all my friends since I was very young. My problems came when I moved to a new school aged 14.
A new school meant new people. I was always so nervous meeting new people. Even up until recently, I would always think to myself, ‘When are they going to find out? When are they going to notice my pump?’ Growing up is hard enough at school but having this added anxiety made it a lot harder for me. I never wanted to hold my friends back from being late to lunch, draw attention to myself if I was having low blood sugar, or my pump making noise during class. I just wanted to be ‘normal’ like my friends were.
A few years into high school, technology developed, and I was able to change to a wireless pump, the Omnipod. This is what I am still on now and I thank NASA every day for creating this device. It has given me so much more freedom, which I think you can only relate to if you’ve worn a wired pump for most of your life. However, at school, no longer having to wear my pump so openly just meant I got better at hiding my diabetes. And that is exactly what I did. I ignored it and just tried to get on with my life. I would rarely test my blood sugars and sparsely put insulin in for my school meals. This meant my blood sugars would skyrocket after lunch but since they were so high so often, I stopped feeling the symptoms of high blood sugar because my body got used to it.
My life-changing moment was when I applied to work a summer at Camp America for 12 weeks when I was 20 years old. I knew I was going to be in a completely new environment with people I had never met before, so my health was all down to me and no one else. Going to camp was the biggest breath of fresh air. I had stepped into somewhere new and I met people who taught me to love who you are exactly as you are and I will forever and ever be so grateful to every single one of my friends who I met that summer. I felt like I had finally got over the barrier I put up for myself for all those years. I was in a place where I could truly be me, devices and all. From here, I caught the travel bug and went on to do a university semester abroad and went back for another summer at camp. My diabetes became increasingly controlled and my body started to become healthier and happier with my management.
During my first summer at camp, I met my boyfriend, Zach. He was like no one I had ever met before and that is still one of the main reasons I love him endlessly now. From the moment we met, he was so positive about my diabetes and so accepting. He made me feel so beautiful for wearing my devices, which is something I had never felt before. Zach made me feel normal after years of worrying about trying to fit in. With his encouragement, I started my Instagram when I was 22, which opened my eyes to the online diabetic community.
I wish I had joined the diabetic community earlier, as I finally found people going through the same experience as me with the same everyday problems I had usually just worked out myself. I started posting pictures of me wearing my devices, something I would never have done going through school, and the community gave me such reassurance helping me fully embrace my diabetes. I use my platform now to encourage people to love who they are and help them to be the best versions of themselves. I am motivated to use what I have been through to help others.
At university, I studied a degree relating to physical activity and wellbeing, and I am currently training to be a health coach, which will allow me to help individuals become the healthiest and happiest they’ve ever been. I love to connect with everyone, not just diabetic people, but hearing people’s stories about them growing up, about why or how they are ‘different’ and what they go through day-to-day. 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 aim to share it with others, so they don’t waste so many years like I did.
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. I never expressed this 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, 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?
It wasn’t until recently, during lockdown, I read the book, ‘Think Like a Pancreas’ by Gary Scheiner, and finally connected the term ‘diabetes’ to what had happened to me at age 4. It may sound weird it took me 18 years to accept my diagnosis, but when you grow up with people telling you that you are diabetic, especially when you don’t remember the time of your diagnosis, you just go with it. I never took a moment to sit down and think, ‘What does this actually mean?’ Finally accepting it made me cry. I was so upset I had gone through that at such a young age, but I felt a huge sense of relief I finally understood it and I was on the other side of my burnout in a much happier accepting place.
Looking back at my desperation to be normal, I ask myself, ‘What is normal? What was so normal about my friends I wanted to fit in? And what made me fearful I wouldn’t fit in?’ Everyone has their own unique qualities and mine is diabetes. My one wish is I could go back in time and tell my younger self I need to embrace who I am, devices and all, and to stop worrying about everyone else. If you have a child yourself or a young family member who is Type 1, remind them of this, because they probably need to hear it more than you think.
The thought of having this illness for the rest of my life and any possible complications that come with it does scare me, but I know I have been on one hell of a journey and they say acceptance is the first part. So, 19 years later, I am finally at the stage of my diabetes journey where I feel ready and strong enough for anything that gets thrown at me. At the end of the day, if you didn’t have your own unique quality, then you wouldn’t be you. Being different is the only thing we all have in common. Embrace it.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Emma Beevers from North Yorkshire, England. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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