It’s 1am on a Wednesday morning. I’m sitting on the footstool, my legs are dripping with sweat. I’ve managed to wake myself up in the night and get to the kitchen. I’m eating raisins dipped in honey because it’s the only sugary food I could find. I’m sitting there thinking about how pissed off I am. Why is my bloodsugar low when it shouldn’t be? Why am I still sweating? Why is there no sugary stuff in the house? I work for bloody Coca-Cola for God’s sake! I know I’ve eaten too many raisins & honey ánd yet I can’t stop eating them. I’m in no state to really know how much I should be eating. So I’ll guess, and then triple it because I’m like an 8-year old kid in a candy store when my bloodsugar is low. It’s an excuse to scoff my face and not worry about the consequences. This over indulgence frequently leads to an avoidable insulin injection a few hours later. It’s one thing to know when to stop eating, it’s another to actually stop – we diabetics are an impatient breed. After 5 minutes I’m still sweating, so I assume I need more sugar. In reality, I need to wait another 5 minutes – but try doing that when you’re not thinking straight at 1am on a Wednesday morning, in a land of raisins and honey. Sure enough, on this occasion I woke up again at 4am with a dry mouth and needing a wee. My bloodsugar was now 19.8 (far too high!). Cue the avoidable injection.
You might get a sense from this latest episode that it can often be a bit of a battle. Whatever health condition someone might be faced with, I am a strong believer that you just cannot let it control you. It shouldn’t stop you doing what you want to do – unless it physically does – in which case you might need to bring down your goals a little. My point is – you can always have goals. They should be tailored, difficult, and achievable.
It’s January, the month of New Year resolutions. The month where people set themselves stupid goals for the year that most of them will break by February. One of my friend’s resolutions was to go on holiday more this year……..come on. When it comes to diabetes I try not to set myself too many goals. Having diabetes isn’t a game, and I’m not trying to win. There’s a measure of control in diabetes called the HBA1C*, which measures glycated haemoglobin in your blood to determine your average bloodsugar levels over a period of time. Probably the only diabetes goal I set myself is to improve my HBA1C each time I see the doctor. I have no idea what the number means but I know I can get mine lower, which means my control is better.
Hopefully, you’ve noticed a theme. If not, the clue is in the title. Control. Control is important in diabetes to avoid health complications in later life. I want to share some ‘out of control’ experiences with you, even if they do make me look like an idiot. Control is also an ongoing battle with diabetes. I am always focussed on taking control and not letting diabetes control me. I want to overlay another theme here which is sport. Sport is a huge passion in my life and probably the area where I am most dedicated to taking controI over my diabetes. I set myself many goals playing sport and I don’t let diabetes get in the way. Although, it often does, and it’s a constant reminder that the control is still up for grabs.
I’m doing “dry January” this year. Those of you who read my last post “Booze” will know that avoiding alcohol makes my life a lot simpler! Yes ‘dry-Jan’ is a massive cliché, but I’ve realised how much easier it is to know how much to inject when I’m eating out, and I don’t have to worry about late-night snacking. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still absolutely gagging for a beer right now. I’ve never gone a month without boozing since I turned 18 (well maybe even before that) and with 7 days to go I’m craving that alcoholic complication once more. It’s only this year that I’ve realised how many of my friends have birthdays in January (a stupid time to be born … but not next year, as I plan to dedicate myself 100% to wet January, or Ginuary).
Not boozing has allowed me to simplify. I think it’s important to take out as many variables as possible in life – one less thing to think about can only mean you focus on the more important goals and have more chance of achieving them. I had laser eye surgery a few months ago and it has given me one less thing (putting in contact lenses) to worry about. An expensive way of reducing life’s complications admittedly, but still, it’s great.
Back to sport. I played pretty much every sport in school and was lucky to be half-decent at most of them. As I got older I refined my talents to a few sports, mainly football, cricket and golf. My girlfriend maintains that golf is not a sport – but frankly, she’s wrong. It’s in the Olympics this year, so it stays in this blog!! Playing sport means I have been Lucozade Sport’s most loyal customer over the past 15 years. To avoid a low I would down litres of the stuff before and during rugby and football matches.
Sometimes though, it all went tits up. Trying to play sport with a low bloodsugar is like trying to run through a swamp after 10 pints with hippo in your rucksack. On a cricket tour in Barbados I was fielding and for a few overs I knew my bloodsugar was getting lower. I was trying to make it to the next drinks break when I could run in and grab some Lucozade. Every time the ball came to me I would fumble it and throw it half the distance it needed to go. Once the ball just got past me and as I caught up with it on the boundary my legs gave way, I tripped and landed face-first, pushing the ball over the boundary with my forehead. My team-mates had no idea what was going on, I think they just assumed it was another instalment of ‘Ben Tadman’s comical fielding mishaps TM. But rest assured, I had a valid excuse!
Golf has always been difficult with diabetes. It took me about 10 years to realise that I was having too much background insulin** which meant I needed to snack constantly during a round. Admittedly, it’s only recent developments in background insulin which have allowed me to reduce this before a round of golf. Before I switched to Levemir***, which I take twice a day, it wasn’t really possible to adjust my background insulin for short term activities like golf. I don’t know what it is about golf, but it drains my bloodsugar. So much so, on one occasion I was playing a round at Elsenham with my brother Joel when we were about 13. I was walking up to the 6th green in a bad way. I think I got a club out of my bag to try and play a chip shot, but decided instead that the shot was better played from a horizontal position with my arms and legs gesticulating all over the place. Needless to say, the ball didn’t move and my brother claimed an immoral victory while the paramedics attended to me (such was the competitiveness between us, I would’ve done the same).
There are a few professional diabetic sportsmen that I take (some) inspiration from. Gary Mabbutt, the ex-Tottenham defender is a type1 diabetic (legend!). Steve Redgrave, and Scott Verplank, the PGA tour golfer is also diabetic. He wears a pump on his belt which continuously drip-feeds insulin as and when he needs it, which apparently “has meant he is no longer tied to the daily regime of injections, and has allowed him to focus on his golf.” Fair play. I’ll talk about pumps another time, but I don’t think they’re for me just yet.
Anyway, what’s left to say is that for all the times diabetes has defeated me, there are a hundred times more when I get on with life and don’t even think about it. These are the times when I’m in control, and it feels damn good! So screw you diabetes, you’re in the back seat as long as I’m driving… (tenuous golf pun).
From that persistent old hummingbird,
*HBA1C is a measure of control in type1 Diabetes:
** Background insulin or Basal insulin is important as it keeps bloodsugars consistent throughout the day:
*** Levemir is a type of background insulin: