The many benefits of pets.

Something I’ve been thinking a lot about this week, off the back of my mental health post. Pets can be a really great addition to someone who is suffering with both mental and physical illnesses.

We got our (not so) little puppy back in July. I really wanted one anyway, I was unemployed so had time to train him up, and to be honest, I was really lonely when Keith was out at work, especially with him staying away quite frequently. I’d been trying my luck for a while, and after a spate of break ins round our estate, I managed to convince him a guard dog would be a really good idea. Yano for safety and stuff.

We looked at rescuing one, as ideally that’s what we both would have liked to do, but with me wanting to try and train him as a possible diabetic alert dog, plus having the cats, we decided we’d be best getting a puppy. On the Thursday, we set a budget, had a look around and on Sunday (I’ve never been known for my patience) we broke our budget and did the 8 hour round trip to Essex to bring home our Golden Retriever, Max.

If you follow me on Twitter, or basically any social media, you’ll know I’m always posting photos of him. I adore him. He quickly became a brilliant guard dog, barking whenever anyone comes to the house, never being aggressive, but just alert. It put my mind at rest massively. Someone actually did try to get in to the house while Keith was away a couple of weeks ago, and I think Max scared them off, because for a 5 month old, 17 kilo puppy, he sounds a lot bigger!

Mentally, he’s helped a lot. I absolutely adore our two cats, and they can be really affectionate, but they’re very independent and not often very interested in sitting cuddled up on the couch. Max is the total opposite, if anything, he’s too clingy, but I can’t help but love it.

Now I’m not suggesting for a second that you should get a pet just to make you feel better or to cheer you up. Puppies especially, are really hard work and there were some days when I thought I’d cry because he was peeing all over the carpets and biting anything and everything. With some stern words and lots of training, he’s now (touch wood) really well behaved. He’s going to be such a big dog, it was vital we got him trained early. But he’s really helped me. Not just for the big furry cuddles whenever I need them. It gave me a reason to get up, a reason to get out the house. I could take him out to the park, get some fresh air, just have a bit of purpose and focus. You can’t sit on the couch in a ball if you’ve got a puppy that needs fussing or taking out.

When it comes to being a diabetic alert dog, he has not picked it up at all. We had a glorious couple of months where Diego (the black cat) would notice if I was having a hypo. He’d scratch at me and bite me until I realised what was up, even if I was asleep. I mean, there was also the time when he picked up the packet of glucose tablets I was using to treat my hypo and ran off with them in his mouth, so I guess it all balances out. He soon lost interest, but it was brilliant while it lasted.

At the end of the day, alerting me to blood sugar changes wasn’t a big issue for me, it just would have been a nice bonus. All 3 pets are so docile and loving, and that’s the main thing. They’ve all helped so much in their own ways, and they’ve brightened my life after the past year more than I could explain. If you’ve got the time and the money, not to mention the patience, it really might be something worth considering.

(Pictures of aforementioned pets below, Max at 9 weeks and Max at 5.5 months, Diego and Paco below on the couch.)

A Parents point of view

Something a bit different tonight. Below is a post written by my dad, giving a parents point of view on life with a Diabetic child. I’m forever grateful to both of my parents for what they have been through, what they have done and the support they always have for me. As always, please view, subscribe, comment and share my website to help me keep raising awareness.

Ours was not a typical introduction to this most insidious of diseases.

Kelly, over a period of several months had noticed a subtle change in our daughter; headaches, Hollies pallor usually if she hadn’t eaten and for Kelly, an overwhelming feeling that something was not quite right.

Hollie was a happy, well-nourished child, but never fat, an allegation frequently leveled by a misinformed public; so we visited our general practitioner and so began a run of tests, taking my wife’s concerns seriously as he himself said you should never underestimate a mother’s intuition.

We were called by our GP practice telling us to take Hollie to A&E as they had reason to believe she was diabetic. Numbly we did this but blood and urine tests were normal. We were advised the original test results must have been a blip and if we had any further concerns to return to our GP.  We did, and asked if she could be beginning to develop diabetes.  The GP said this was his thinking, he would repeat the fasting blood test and if this was again borderline he would refer her back to hospital.  They were and we were referred to a specialist at Alder Hey.

When we met the specialist, she asked Hollie was she worried and what was she worried about.  “Diabetes” she replied.  The specialist told her don’t worry about that, whatever it is we will find out but you’re definitely not diabetic. We were all kind of relieved but that just gave us fresh concerns over what was actually wrong.

The first test we were called back for was a glucose tolerance test.  Hollie arrived at the hospital having fasted, a blood glucose reading was taken then she was given lucozade to drink and her blood sugars were taken again at set times.  When we saw a nurse rushing off we asked if everything was ok and he replied “No the reading is very raised.”

 The same consultant came back to apologise for her earlier statement and she was then diagnosed with diabetes.  Hollie was referred back to a consultant at our local hospital who stated it was diabetes, but highly unusual in its presentation.

Most diabetics are discovered when they are taken to hospital in ‘crisis’; meaning their blood sugars are dangerously high and causing them a lot of harm. In some small way we were lucky Hollie’s diabetes had been realised early, but it doesn’t change the diagnosis. So unusual were Hollies symptoms the consultant speaks of her in his lectures

Initially Hollie’s treatment required one injection, every evening. Personally, I went a whole gamut of emotions, so desperately sorry that Hollie now, at nine years old would have to face a life time of injections, a constant burden of self-awareness, a balancing act of insulin and blood sugars.

I took the turn of the first injection. Previously I had done my best to rationalise and not so much deny the situation but not think about it, but there was to be no more hiding. I did what thousands of other parents have to do every day, against every instinct of protecting your precious child I gave her an injection. Fortunately for Kelly and me, Hollie decided she would be the one to do all further injections, and she has ever since.

As I said, initially it was one injection and Hollie had to eat only as much as the medication allowed, very cruel at Christmas, but by Easter, having initially progressed to two Hollie was on four injections a day and as unpleasant as that was, it gave Hollie the flexibility to eat what she wanted and medicate accordingly. Now she is over eighteen we have the compounded issue of nights out, everyone worries about their child going to pubs and clubs, now add the fact alcohol again alters blood sugars but also impairs people’s judgement. You don’t sleep too well those nights especially if they don’t come home and stay with friends.

We get to be very proud of how grown up and responsible our daughter is, but you never escape the flip side. The constant fear at the back of your mind, when Hollie get a cold or an infection, small ailments can get big quick due to higher blood sugars and that’s before you factor in hormones, that crazy chemical roller-coaster that leads to a reduced effectiveness of insulin, so you have to administer more, carefully, your best guess, as too little can be ineffective and lead to organ damage, too much can put you in a coma.

This is not once or twice, this is every day. You do get used to it, but as a parent you are always vigilant. You have to trust your child more deeply, even though sometimes you know you are not getting a true picture. To further complicate matters for Hollie, in a cruel twist she has a couple of times appeared to produce her own insulin again, this has muted a possibly theory that Hollie’s pancreas is dormant not destroyed, as in other diabetics and perhaps she is lacking a trigger enzyme which activates her pancreas. Who knows it may turn out to be another classification of diabetes (as there are more than 1&2). As far as we know no further investigation is being conducted in this area, who knows with this blog maybe someone will.

So if you’re out and about and you see someone who appears to be drunk or confused take a moment, smell for alcohol, they may be a diabetic in need.

“Sorry, I’m low”

After how serious my last post was, I thought I’d go for a bit of a lighter topic today!

I’ve been really suffering all weekend with hypos (low blood sugar), and I’ve done a couple of stupid things, and it got me thinking about all the weird things I’ve said and done when I’ve been low.

Now I know low blood sugars aren’t really something to joke about, I’ve been on the end of some really bad ones, but you need to be able to see the humour sometimes! I’ve mentioned before, hypos cause me to shake, feel sick and I can become really confused and emotional.

As I said, I’ve suffered some bad hypos this weekend. Not entirely sure why, but I’ve adjusted my insulin and I’m not suffering as badly today, thankfully. I spent most of yesterday in bed, but managed to drag myself out to the shops about 4pm. I hadn’t hypoed for a couple of hours and finally felt a bit more human. I went into town, picked up a couple of little bits and headed back to the bus stop to go home. Well I was half way to the bus stop before I realised I was still pushing the trolley from the shop and I was attracting some weird looks. I stopped and realised I didn’t even remember getting to where I was. I then felt myself begin to shake and I suddenly felt so nauseous. Yep, I’d gone low. Ignoring the urge to abandon the trolley and walk off like nothing had happened, I turned round, took it back and rang my brother asking him to come meet me because I’d gone low again and needed a hand.

In the past, I’ve done some even weirder things. Or at least I’ve been told I have, I don’t always recall what I’ve said / done after a bad episode. A favourite of mine was from when I was about 13/14. My mum came in to check on me before she went to bed and I was asleep. She tried to wake me and ask if I was okay. I’m not entirely sure what got said, she must have asked me how old I was or something (when they suspect I’m low, they sometimes ask questions like this, you’re about to read why) and my genuine response was “I’m 21, I’m driving the night bus and I’m wearing a funny hat.” (Yeah, I think I’d watched Harry Potter before bed). She woke me enough to test my blood and sure enough it was low.

I use to have one of those sofa beds, with a little ladder leading up to the bed and I remember once being low, trying to get out of bed and attempting to climb down the wrong side. It didn’t go well, how I didn’t break something I have no idea.

However a firm favourite of my mum’s, and a story that still gets brought up every now and again, was the time my brother went upstairs to tell her “Hollie’s finally lost it”. She came downstairs to find me in the kitchen with tea all over the counter, and me stood there, seemingly completely fine, trying to make a cup of tea in a bowl. She asked me what I was doing and I informed her I was making a cup of tea in the microwave. Naturally, she asked why I was trying to use the microwave and I turned to her in disbelief and told her “because that’s how you make it!!” She still to this day laughs at how determined and confident I seemed in that I was right and she was wrong, to a point where she even questioned herself for a minute. Obviously she realised I was low and sat me down while she brought me something to eat.

Other times, I’ve been out shopping and gone low. I start snarling at everyone, glaring and muttering under my breath. (more than usual). Once I just sat down in the middle of an aisle and started crying. It can come on so quickly, sometimes I’m not even sure myself what’s wrong. I’m lucky that family and friends normally spot the difference in pretty fast and are pretty understanding. I’ve lost count of amount of times I’ve come round from a hypo and had to go and apologise to people for the way I spoke to them, but normally they’ll laugh it off.

That’s what’s so important with this disease. Having people to laugh with and be supportive. I know I don’t need to be embarrassed or worried about anything I might say or do when I’m not quite myself. It’s like that Snickers advert, “You’re not you when you’re hungry”. I feel like it should be my little motto or slogan or something, “You’re not you when you’re bloods are high / low!”.

Highs, lows and being diagnosed.

Diabetes revolves around blood glucose levels. (Also called blood sugars/bloods/sugars/levels).

A non diabetics blood sugar would be between 5mmol and 7mmol. I know this is measured differently in different countries, but I’ve only ever used mmol. I have had lows of 1.2mmol and highs where my meter has lost the ability to read exactly how high my blood is, I just knew it was above 30mmol. I’ve mentioned before, anything can impact my bloods and I have to monitor them constantly.

When I was 9, I became ill. If I didn’t eat enough, I developed a headache, I felt sick, and I went white as a sheet. I also lost a lot of weight, although this wasn’t noticed by anyone at first as I lost it so gradually. So my mum took me to the doctors as she thought I was suffering from hypoglycemic episodes, which is basically low blood sugar. I was referred for some blood tests, and it was a case of wait and see. About a week later, my family and I were shopping at a big outlet type shopping centre. It was one of those days where you were treated to a McDonalds and some sweets in return for behaving as you were dragged around a bunch of shops you didn’t care about.

When we got home, there was a note through the door from the doctors. They had been trying to get hold of us all week, and after a few failed attempts, they had turned up at the house. The note said that my blood test results indicated I was diabetic and I needed to get to A&E. We rushed up there where I underwent some more blood tests. After the day I’d had, with the food I’d eaten, you’d expect high blood sugars. Nope, all fine, all normal and I was sent on my way after a pretty scary few hours.

We thought that would be the end of it, but my GP requested a repeat of the original fasting test, as my results were borderline and he wanted to see if it really was a one-off. To cut a long story short, the results came back the same and I was referred to Alder Hey Childrens Hospital for further testing. Now the first consultant I saw, told me not to worry, as I was “definitely not diabetic” … Imagine telling that to a scared 9 year old. I thought I was off the hook, I thought that was it, the tests would be fine and I could go back to normal.

Nope. I went back again a week or so later for a glucose tolerance test. It basically meant me sitting in a hospital bed all day, playing games and drinking a big bottle of Lucozade so they could do my blood sugar again and compare it to my blood sugar before I had drunk the Lucozade. A few hours pass and I’m called in. My blood sugar was 24. It was the most crushing, heartbreaking feeling. My first thought was honestly “Does this mean I’m going to die? Why isn’t my body working?” It sounds silly, after all, this was 12 years ago, but trust me, you don’t forget a moment like that.

The months that followed were a complete re-adjustment of my life. Learning which emotions did what to my bloods, what foods I could eat and what foods to avoid. (This was before the 4 injections a day begin. At the beginning it was just 2). My entire world was turned upside down and it was never going to go back to how it was before. Growing up is bad enough, growing up with this hanging over everything you do, is even worse.

Nowadays, this is just my life. It’s the norm and I get by most days just fine. There are still days when I drop too low and some days when I go to high, it’s all trial and error, hoping you judge things correctly and hoping that if you do get it wrong, you realise quickly enough to fix it before it gets too serious

Diabetes is like walking a tight rope, but as time goes on, I’d like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at balancing.

Humour around Diabetes (and why it isn’t actually that funny)

So, I don’t know if I’m the only one to notice this, and maybe I’m reading into things too much…

But has anyone else noticed how often diabetes is joked about? Whether it’s in a TV programme, a meme or just an ignorant tweet / Facebook post, us diabetics are the butt of jokes far too often.

Now don’t get me wrong, I can laugh at myself, I don’t get offended easily and I’d like to think I’m generally quite a laid back person. I also have no problem poking fun at my condition, I honestly feel like if I couldn’t laugh, I’d cry. But sometimes, it does hurt when I log into any social media platform, to see another picture of cakes labelled “diabetes” or “diabeetus” as seems to be one running joke

For a start, and I touched on this in my previous post (Type One Diabetes and the stigma around it) all the obesity and unhealthy eating jokes are actually aimed at Type Two Diabetes. I’m not condoning this, as all diabetics know that each and every case is different, however some cases of Type Two are caused by obesity, and can even be reversed. I must stress though, I know this isn’t the case all the time. But trust me, if I could reverse this by eating more healthily, I’d do it in a heartbeat. I’d be the happiest, healthiest little thing there was.

Unfortunately, Type One does not work this way. Yes, to a degree, healthy eating makes a difference, of course it does! After all, who doesn’t benefit from eating better? But there is only so much healthy eating I can do. It doesn’t matter if I’m eating a carrot stick or a chocolate bar, at the end of the day, my pancreas still doesn’t work.

(I’m already planning a post around Type One Diabetes and eating after some comments made to me the other day, and if you’re reading this, I know you know who you are, ha!)

Back to my original point though. You don’t see jokes about cancer, depression etc, and rightly so! The problem we face, in my opinion, is that Diabetes is a joke condition to a lot of society. It’s why people feel they can make the comments and jokes they do, why the media never feel the need to specify that the majority of the time, the column inches are about Type Two. It’s why people like me, have for years felt ashamed of their condition. There is simply not enough awareness.

People who have read my first post (Yes I keep plugging it, but I am really quite proud!) have said it really opened their eyes and they had never realised or even considered what we go through every day. That’s what this is all about for me. I’ve spent years embarrassed about being a diabetic, not talking about it, not accepting it. I don’t care if 10 people read my blog or 100, because if for just five minutes (maybe ten, I tend to waffle on) then 1 person sees life from my point of view, then I’ve done what I set out to do. Of course it would be great if word spread, whether it’s through my blog or not. (But it would be quite cool if it was through my blog, so feel free to share it…)

I hope that anyone reading this, and maybe in the past you were someone who would make comments or jokes about diabetes, I hope that this has just made you think a little bit about what you’re saying. Type One Diabetes is a chronic, serious and sometimes scary condition. It isn’t pictures of cake or desserts that yes, quite honestly would take a whole load of insulin for me to even consider eating (But knowing me, I probably would give it a go. In fact there is no probably, I’d give it a go). Some diabetic jokes honestly make me laugh out loud, I just wish people would learn the difference between humour and ignorance.

Thanks for reading!