The one where I talk about being a type 1 diabetic

For some completely unbeknown reason, I decided to sign up for a mindfulness course last year.

I wasn’t entirely sure I trusted myself t know what mindfulness actually was.

As well as that, I think, in my head, I had to potential to be some kind of ‘wellness’ type on Instagram, and all that lay between me and several thousand followers was a supportive pair of printed leggings and some deep and meaningful quotes.

So on the first night of this course, we leant about what it meant to treat ourselves with kindness, and we did a lot of thinking about our breathing. Everybody was lovely, and there was an excellent selection of tea available at break time, which was nice.

I have been type 1 diabetic for 19 years of my time on this Earth, and the next week, just before this class, I realised my blood sugar was a little bit high.

After 19 years, I can smell it, and taste it. It is the strangest thing, sort of like pear drops, or sugar puffs, or something.

After 19 years, I am also very good at ignoring it.

So ignore it I did.

And I hauled myself to the class in time for a meditation. Which suited just fine, because aforementioned high blood sugar is bone-crushingly exhausting, and so I started to look forward to sitting in a warm room surrounded by lovely people and have a nice cup of tea and think about breathing in and out for a while.

Except I couldn't concentrate, because I could still taste those pear drops.

In breath, pear drops. Out breath, memories. 

In breath, pear drops. Out breath, annoyance that my blood sugar was interrupting my pleasant evening in the warm room surrounded by lovely people.

In breath, pear drops. Out breath, thinking about the last time I had actually used a monitor to check my blood sugar, and realised it had been months.

In breath, pear drops. Out breath, maybe that was years.

In breath, pear drops. Out breath, remembering five trips to India, my blood sugar monitor safely at home in my knicker drawer.

In breath, pear drops. Out breath, the memory of an entire marathon, run without checking my blood sugar once.

In breath, pear drops. Out breath, thinking about swearing off mashed potatoes, just because they seemed to cause my blood sugar to crash, and I was too scared of the effort involved in trying to figure out the overwhelming task of balancing insulin with different carbohydrates.

In breath, pear drops. Out breath, memories. 

In breath, pear drops. Out breath, memories. With this breath, very recent memories, of my summons to a diabetic clinic for the first time in 12 years. I needed to go, I needed my driving license approved, and I could bluff my way through that easily enough.

In breath, pear drops. Out breath, the terror of having to come clean. To doctors, to friends and family, to myself.

In breath, pear drops. Out breath, fear.

In breath, pear drops. Out breath, trying to be kind to myself.

I didn't say much that night, to the lovely people, in the warm room, with the nice cups of tea. I was far too busy trying to convince myself that being self-compassionate in this instance might be not doing that terrifying thing and just carrying on as I was.

By the time the appointment rolled round I had prepared my answers that would result in the golden signature on the driving license form. I drove to the Ulster hospital, I parked the van, I took a seat, I accepted a coffee from a kindly volunteer. I held out my arm for a blood sample, I peed into a paper cup, I smiled, I nodded.

A lovely doctor called me into a cubicle, and started looked up my records on her computer. The fact that this was a a health service computer meant it took some time, some time for silence in that room.

I heard her in breath and out breath.

I thought about pear drops.

I realised I was holding my own breath.

Somehow, in the next in breath, and the next out breath, and the next twenty minutes of that poor woman's life, I told her everything. I told her about the 19 years of diabetes, and the 12 that I had all but ignored it. I told her about the travels, and the marathons, and the wine-filled nights out, and the career in catering, and how scared I really was of this disease.

In turn, she told me what she knew.

A new blood sugar monitor was handed over (and lives in my handbag, not my knicker drawer, I promise).

A new night time insulin was prescribed (along with a new word for describing it, which I keep forgetting).

A new world of carbohydrate counting and insulin tracking was all mine.

And so, armed with my shiny new toolkit and full of enthusiasm for a whole new me, I threw myself into this world with the enthusiasm of an American evangelist.

I checked my blood sugar at least four times a day, I ate the right food, I did 30 minutes of high intensity interval training on top of my daily yoga practice, I drank water, I went on a massive learning curve.

I've learnt that I need to drink less alcohol. I've learnt to eat different quantities of certain foods. I've learnt that exercise changes everything, both in good and bad ways. I've learnt about how important 8 hours sleep is. I've learnt that my body reacts more favourably to a jam doughnut was better than it ever does to an 'energy ball'.

And, at my last check at my GP surgery, my long-term blood sugar reading is reflecting that. I have managed to get this disease under some kind of control.

And this, unfortunately, is where this lovely story takes a sour turn.

Because this is where the Hollywood moment should be; with all this exercise and single glasses of wine and lack of refined carbohydrate, I should be holding up a comically large pair of jeans I can fit into twice over at the very least, and at most I should be tasting myself as a ‘wellness’ expert in some printed leggings, showing off my newly toned abdomen with a look of glee upon my smug little face.

But I can’t.

The shiny new insulin that has my blood sugar so well controlled means that, despite being a new woman, there are more than a few extra kilograms under the print of those leggings.

I mean, there are also really strong muscles developing thanks to some sort of torture that goes by the name of a ‘walking press up’, and I can squat and lunge and run a mile in three quarters of the time I could way back when I started this whole thing, but I look a little bit like a burrito when I put those printed leggings on. It just seems so unfathomably cruel and unfair I have shed more than one tear about it.

So I did what any self-respecting person does in this day and age, and googled how the hell I could get rid of this new found weight, and amongst the juice cleanses and blogs telling me to do EXACTLY WHAT I HAVE BEEN DOING FOR THE LAST SIX MONTHS, I started to learn about counting carbohydrates properly, so I don't take too much insulin, and in turn, gain even more weight.

Which, bizarrely, if you like to cook, is 19 times harder than if you eat from packets.

Because the nice people who make the packets print on the side just how many carbohydrates they contain.

And so, a new fear started.

A fear about what I was eating.

To the point where I couldn’t blog about being a ‘wellness’ expert because I look like a burrito in my printed leggings, and I couldn’t blog about what I used to blog about because, well, I was mostly eating brown rice and Lidl oatcakes. 

Even for breakfast.

So I’ve put up pictures of the food I make for other people, and just kind of gone really quiet about the brown rice and Lidl oatcakes.


Last week, I had a check up at the GP surgery.

I woke up really early, because I had a hell of a lot of work on that day, and had to make my weekly Facebook video.

I started to film (a really bloody delicious) lime and coriander salsa, and had a complete meltdown because it needed a smudge of sugar and I couldn’t work out exactly how many carbohydrates were in a quarter of a tablespoon and I’d forgotten to write down how much my tomato weighed and I couldn’t possibly eat it and now it was time for my appointment so I couldn’t even finish what I was doing, anyway.

I went to the nurse’s room.

I waited for her computer to come to life, and listened to her breath.

In turn, I listened to my own.

And as I offloaded six months of stress and worry and pressurising myself to be perfect in every way onto this poor nurse, she reminded me that it was trying to be kind to myself that has brought about the brand new me, and maybe I should try to remember that rather than reducing myself to tears over the carbohydrate content of a lime.

In breath. Out breath. Trying to be kind to myself.

In breath. Out breath. No pear drops.

In breath. Out breath. A wobbly diary of blood sugar monitoring, where I was able to pinpoint exactly what caused that high, or low.

In breath. Out breath. That coveted lower long term blood sugar reading. That I had worked so hard for.

In breath. Out breath. Thinking about those amazing friends who have fed me pizza or gone out for dinner and celebrated my single glass of wine.

In breath. Out breath. The realisation that I will never be a ‘wellness’ expert.

Thank god.

Because I am far more interested in cooking and eating burritos than I am in showing off how I look like one, no matter how lovely the print on my leggings.

I have been type 1 diabetic for 19 years of my time on this Earth, and that isn’t going to change.

I have been sharing recipes, and jokes, and the ridiculousness of my life for the last five of those years.

That isn’t going to change either.

And perhaps, after the rockiest of roads, being kind to myself isn't about trying to change or hide either of those things.

So I shall continue to look after myself, but I will stop hiding, and I will continue to share recipes and jokes, and the ridiculousness that is my life.

If we meet for a single glass of wine, or a meal where I am calculating the carbohydrates on the back of my napkin, I promise I will leave the printed leggings at home. I might even order a burrito.