Everything you think you know about Type 1 diabetes is wrong


This week is National Diabetes Week, so Ella O’Shea is here to enlighten you all on what life as a Type 1 diabetic is really like by disproving all the assumptions people make about it.

Type 1 diabetes. To you, it looks like jelly beans and sounds like a joke your friend says before diving into an artery-clogging meal. To me, it looks like regularly inserting a needle-tipped cannula into my stomach and sounds like the incessant beeping of an insulin pump when I’ve got to change battery – a battery that keeps me alive. 

There are so many misconceptions about diabetes, particularly Type 1 diabetes. This disease only makes up around 10 per cent of all diabetes cases across Australia, which leaves room for A LOT of misjudgment. 

You can understand the frustration that is shared within the Type 1 diabetic community.  Everyday is a battle. Sometimes I go to bed with the anxiety that I might not wake up in the morning, meaning a restless night filled with frequent blood glucose testing. Add the stigma placed upon diabetes to our everyday hardships, and you get a type 1 diabetic ready to set the record straight with a passion. 

So let’s debunk some myths. 

Assumption #1: There is only one kind of diabetes – the bad kind.

Most Australians would probably know ‘diabetes’ as its most widespread form, Type 2 diabetes, which is a disease caused by lifestyle factors that can potentially be reversed through weight loss. 

By a painfully stark contrast, Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition where the body attacks the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, a hormone that is released into the bloodstream whenever glucose is consumed. There is no cure. 

Just because both are called “diabetes” DOES NOT mean they are the same thing. In reality, they are completely different diseases.

Essentially, I have a completely useless organ floating in my body - so I have to wear an insulin pump 24 hours a day, everyday, that is constantly releasing insulin into my bloodstream and gives a dose of insulin prior to eating. 

Without it, my body would not be able to break down glucose and my blood would rapidly become acidic. My organs would start to fail, starting with my kidneys, and I would die. Truth be told, if we were living prior to 1922, I would have been given a year to live, 18 months if I was lucky, upon diagnosis. 

But I’m grateful to wear my insulin pump. For the first two years after my diagnosis at the age of seven, I had to give myself two to three injections per day through syringes. Add the six blood tests a day and it was truly not a fun time. 

Assumption #2: It’s your fault you’re diabetic

Since my diagnosis in 2005, I’ve had to face every kind of stereotype placed upon diabetics – “you ate too much sugar,” “you’re lazy,” and my least favourite, “you did this to yourself.” These harsh judgements couldn’t be further from the truth.

Let me clear this up, nice and loud for those in the back: TYPE 👏 ONE 👏 DIABETES 👏 IS 👏 UNPREVENTABLE 👏. There are absolutely no lifestyle factors that cause type 1 diabetes. In fact, nobody knows what actually causes type 1 diabetes – just ask the experts, they couldn’t tell you either. 

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Do you seriously think I would give myself a disease where I would have to inject myself with insulin all day?

I mean, Nick Jonas is a type 1 diabetic. Does he look unhealthy to you? (Correct answer: no).

Assumption #3: Diabetics can’t eat sugar.

Fun fact: diabetics can eat whatever we want, just like everybody else, in moderation. This assumption is accompanied by a judgement that somehow a Type 1 diabetic ate too much sugar and that’s how they developed the disease. This couldn’t be further from the truth. 

As mentioned, a Type 1 diabetic cannot produce the hormone insulin as normal people can, meaning they have to manually inject insulin into their bloodstream to break down glucose. 

Assumption #4: Diabetics get to eat jelly beans all the time.

As a newly-diagnosed Type 1 diabetic at seven years old, all my friends would squirm in jealousy whenever I had a hypoglycaemic episode because I had to treat my low blood sugar with jelly beans. But it became very evident very early on that jelly beans aren’t so fun to eat when you’re being forced to eat them.

Now I can’t stand them. In fact, I don’t think I’ve eaten a jelly bean since I was eight.

I’ve gone through phases of trying different hypo-treatments like Lucozade, apple juice, Gatorade, different sweet things that would quickly return my low blood sugar to normal. Now I stick to medjool dates, a natural alternative that’s jam-packed with glucose. 

Assumption #6: Our lives - as diabetics - are hindered.

It’s true that living with Type 1 diabetes is hard and, at times, debilitating. 

Living with this disease is like having an extra full time job.

The constant blood testing, calculating carbs and insulin ratios, insulin pump cannula infusions, the list goes on and on. I have to know exactly what my day is going to look like to adjust my doses and basal rates. 

However, as much as I would love a life unaffected by type 1 diabetes, it’s made me a more resilient person with a lot to prove. 

My type 1 diabetes doesn’t define me.

I’ve had to learn that my disease is part of my identity, but facing the stereotypes and hurtful comments thrown around about diabetes definitely made it hard to accept my diagnosis. 

I went through a phase in early high school where I did all my blood tests in the bathroom because I was too embarrassed to do them at the lunch table. But I’m here to say that if you’re a type 1 diabetic, you have absolutely NOTHING to be ashamed of. 

Our diagnosis was completely out of our hands, and how we control our disease is absolutely nobody’s business. 

And if you’re a non-diabetic reading this, please: stop with the diabetes jokes. Stop adding to the list of diabetic issues we have to worry about everyday in order to live. Stop spreading misinformation with your unfunny throw-away lines about diabetes, and start educating each other. 

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