Crash course

When you are first diagnosed with diabetes you have a lot of things to learn very quickly and this combined with the inevitable and very understandable rush of feelings going through your head makes for a very difficult experience.

Practicalities

When you’re first diagnosed you will hopefully be referred to a specialist diabetic nurse (DSN) who will give you a relatively brief training on how to manage your diabetes. They should:

  • Show you how to test your blood glucose
  • Show you how to inject yourself with insulin
  • Advise you about the amounts of insulin you should take

You should also have a chance to see a dietician who should:

  • Tell you about carbohydrates in food
  • Tell you how to balance your food intake against your insulin doses

In these first few sessions you should bring along a notepad to jot down notes to remind yourself what you have been told. If you are like any normal person you will forget everything you are told the minute you leave the consulting room. If you keep the notepad handy at all times you can also write down any questions that come to you in the middle of the night.

When noting queries down, don’t forget that there’s no such thing as a stupid question (unless of course it’s really, really stupid), so do not be afraid to ask your DSN anything that’s worrying you, no matter how minor. They will have heard everything before and will expect odd questions!

Despite your training, one of the most irritating features of diabetes is that it is different for everyone – what affects one person might not affect another. For example, some people find their blood glucose drops rapidly during the night and they tend to have night time hypos, others do not have this problem.

It will therefore take some time before you work out how diabetes will affect you personally and unfortunately there is a degree of trial and error about it all. But with practice and guidance from you DSN you will gradually get better and better at managing your diabetes.

Tim’s experience:
After diagnosis I found the injections and blood testing fairly straightforward. But it took quite a long time to get the balance between my long acting and short acting insulin correct. I also found that I needed about twice as much insulin in the morning than I did at night. I found that alcohol didn’t really affect my blood glucose much. But all these things were discovered pretty much through trial and error and so it took about 8-10 months before I got really good at my control – but I’m still learning five years on.

Your head

Even if you know someone with diabetes a diagnosis will be a huge shock. No one wants to be diagnosed with a chronic illness and it’s understandable to have a whole range of feelings flowing through your head.

Unless you’ve had experience of diabetes before you will know very little about it – half remembered anecdotes about comas, painful injections and a ban on eating chocolate. While in time you’ll find most of these are nonsense, it’s still a very frightening experience.

Some have actually likened a diagnosis of diabetes to the symptoms of grief, namely:

Denial
This simply isn’t happening to you. While you may go along to sessions with the diabetic nurse you may still not truly feel you are “diabetic”. It may take a very long time before you truly accept you have a chronic illness.

Anger
Why is this happening to me? What have I done to deserve it? Was my diabetes caused because of something I did wrong? These are all perfectly normal feelings to have and as you learn more about the condition you’ll find a diagnosis of Type One is pretty much down to bad luck, nothing more.

Depression
If you’ve been perfectly healthy up to the point of your diagnosis (or even if you haven’t), the thought of a life sentence of a chronic illness is very upsetting and feeling down about it is to be expected. Should this lead to serious problems with depression and feelings including wanting to harm yourself you need to find help and speak to your DSN, friend or relative as soon possible.

Acceptance
A Franklin D Roosevelt said “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” and it’s the same with diabetes. The more you learn about it, the more you talk about it (especially with other diabetics) the more you will come to accept that you have a chronic illness. It may take some time to reach this state but it will come in time.

Needless to say the more you talk about your diagnosis generally the better you will feel. Speak to a friend, spouse or relative who you can trust about your feelings – you will probably find just even voicing your worries to someone else will help a great deal.

Tim’s experience:
After I was first diagnosed, I found the first few weeks actually fairly easy to cope with. I was in effect running on adrenalin. I had a problem to cope with and I attacked it – taking notes and reading up about the subject.

However, after the first “excitement” had worn off I found my diagnosis difficult to cope with – frequently feeling down with the complexity of it all and frustration with unexpected hypos or hypers when I thought everything I’d done was correct.

A great source of strength for me was my then girlfriend (now wife!) with whom I could talk through my worries and frustrations. Just talking about them really helped, but by then Katie knew almost as much as me about diabetes and so was of great practical help too!

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