So, what the heck is diabetes?

Oct 23, 2023Bridget Scanlan
So, what the heck is diabetes?

In short; it's complicated. 

If you've read my diabetes diagnosis story, then you'll know that I understood nothing about diabetes when I was diagnosed with it. And having talked to hundreds of people with diabetes around the world, I can say that's the case for most people.

Diabetes is a name used for quite a few different types of autoimmune conditions that are alike because they have something to do with the way our bodies produce (or don't produce) insulin, and the way they regulate blood sugar. Because there are lots of different types of diabetes – we're learning more about it all the time – I won't try to claim that I know what it's like for everyone.

But for me, having type 1 diabetes means that my body doesn't produce insulin anymore. It decided to stop doing that of its own accord, and that will have lifelong implications for me. Insulin is what our bodies need to balance the levels of glucose in our blood (I say 'blood sugar' because 'blood glucose' seems weirdly medical to use in normal life). Without insulin, my blood sugar levels would go rogue and that would have serious consequences. 

To avoid that I take insulin manually through injections, and I test my blood sugar throughout the day to make sure it stays within safe levels by putting a small amount of blood (from a finger prick) into a machine that reads it. Sometimes I dabble in a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) which is a device that attaches to my skin and continuously samples my blood so that I have constant readings. 

The treatment sounds pretty straightforward, but the kicker about diabetes is that it's unpredictable. Pretty much everything affects my blood sugar – food; mood; exercise; sleep; sickness; stress; temperature; medication...did I say stress? It means that I keep a mental run-sheet of everything I've done in a day to predict the overall impact it will have on my blood sugar, and either take more insulin (to lower it) or have high glucose snacks like juice or candy (to bring it back up). 

If you're new to diabetes like I was, I hope this gives you some sense of what the heck it all means. More than that, if you ever find yourself talking to someone with diabetes, I'd love you to commend them for the major work they put in to keep themselves safe and well every day.  

You can find loads more information about diabetes from Beyond Type 1, an awesome global organisation that supports people with diabetes through advocacy and sharing stories from our community. 

I'd love to hear from you on this one – how do you explain diabetes?

Bridget xx
Designer & Diabetic

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