Because it was thought to only strike children and teens, type 1 diabetes was known as juvenile diabetes for a long time. The truth is, though, a growing number of adults are being diagnosed with it.
All week long, we will present stories from adults who were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, describing the emotions and frustrations that came with their experiences. Each person defines success in different ways, but they all celebrate the triumphs that have helped them reach their goal of living well with type 1 diabetes.
First we’ll take a look at David, an athlete diagnosed with type 1 diabetes just a little more than two months ago. How would it affect his life and favorite activities?
Age: 25 (diagnosed at age 25)
Location: Palo Alto, Calif.
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes on May 1, 2012, and even more recently diagnosed with celiac disease. As I am an avid weight lifter, runner, cyclist and basketball player, this came as quite a shock to my friends, who all associated diabetes with being overweight.
As an athlete, one challenge I faced initially was ensuring my blood glucose didn’t drop too low while exercising—I’m very competitive and enjoy pushing my body to the limit. At first, I was afraid that diabetes would prevent me from really pushing myself, but I’m learning how to manage doing everything I did before.
I found that lifting weights doesn’t affect my blood glucose much, but running, cycling or playing basketball can make it drop quite a bit. I had to learn to plan ahead: reduce my long-acting insulin dosage the night before, be sure to have a snack before exercising and check my blood glucose during and immediately after exercise. I’m also considering switching to an insulin pump.
Another challenge for me is finding enough healthy food to eat. I have a fast metabolism and big appetite, so this was difficult for me even before I had diabetes. At first, I was a little bit confused about what was okay to eat and what wasn’t. My diabetes educator and dietician have helped me learn that I can eat just about everything I was eating before, if I plan correctly. Counting carbohydrates wasn’t new to me, because I’ve always been interested in nutrition, but controlling myself during meal time was quite a change. I used to fill my plate, eat until I was full and then go for seconds. Now I lay out all my food and give myself the correct dose of insulin before eating. If I’m still hungry, I plan a healthy snack for later.
As a 25-year-old living in the San Francisco Bay Area, food and drink are the center of my social life. I tend to favor restaurants that provide detailed nutritional information. When I don’t pick the restaurant, I do my best to judge what’s on my plate and make sure to test myself a couple hours after eating. I leave glucose tablets in my car and gym bag for emergencies. When it comes to going out at night, I often offer to be the designated driver.
In the time since my diagnosis, I’ve noticed a big difference in my health compared to the months leading up to it. In the two weeks before I was diagnosed, I rapidly lost more than 10 pounds; since beginning treatment I’ve managed to gain all that weight back. Extreme thirst and frequent bathroom breaks are behind me. I no longer feel tired at the gym and find it much easier to concentrate at work—I’m a software engineer at Facebook, so I stare at a computer screen for most of the day. For a month or so prior to my diagnosis, I suffered from eye strain and headaches and required glasses to work for more than a few consecutive hours. I believe this was caused by my trying to compensate for blurred vision, because now that my blood glucose levels are under control, I no longer require glasses during work.
I feel grateful for the support I get from friends, family and my diabetes care team. My close friends and my family are now all familiar with what it means to have type 1 diabetes and how it’s treated. It’s caused us all to learn more about the disease and get involved in efforts to find a cure. I sometimes get strange looks when new people discover that I have diabetes, because they either associate diabetes with obesity or with young children. Either way, it surprises them that a healthy 25-year-old can suddenly have diabetes. Before being diagnosed, I too knew little about diabetes, so I try my best to be open and use these situations as opportunities to educate others. I’ve noticed there’s a lot of curiosity surrounding insulin injections, for example, so I often find myself demonstrating how that works.
I think that because I caught it fairly early, before my symptoms became too severe, having diabetes sometimes feels more like a chore rather than a disease. I look forward to the day when medical advancements reduce the impact of diabetes on daily life even further.