I wasn’t overly concerned when at the age of 26, and two years into a management consultancy graduate scheme, my vision began to blur. Perhaps too much time spent on a computer was taking its toll on my eyesight. I checked out different styles of glasses in Specsavers, but the optician sent me packing after I read off the bottom line of the eye test. Yet at times the following day, I couldn’t make out the time on a clock five yards away.
I kept getting thirsty, drinking lots, but remaining thirsty. I was dehydrated, and was struggling to last a full hour on the 5-a-side pitch without getting cramp in my calves.
I mentioned these symptoms to my best friend that weekend. "Sounds like type 1 diabetes," he said. Matt had a family member with the condition and knew the signs. A visit to my GP confirmed that I had the condition, which is lifelong and has no known cause or cure.
Being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes is a massive shock and learning to manage the condition is a steep learning curve. Maths and biology were perhaps my two least favourite subjects at school but I now need a decent grip on both. I don’t think I knew what a pancreas was before being diagnosed but had to swot up quickly.
Put simply, the condition means that my pancreas does not create insulin, which regulates the level of glucose in the bloodstream. I thus have to inject the stuff around four to six times a day and do a similar number of finger prick blood tests.
It’s a constant battle to keep glucose levels within the recommended range and every hour of every day I have to think about the effects that eating, exercise and insulin are having on my blood glucose levels. If the levels are too low I have a ‘hypo’ – dizziness, sweating and an inability to form anything like a coherent sentence. If they’re too high, over the course of time I could develop heart disease, kidney damage and it can even lead to blindness and amputation.
I’ve had type 1 for five years now and got to grips with the day to day management of it. It doesn’t stop me doing anything. I still play football, eat out, get drunk, take holidays to far-off places and managed a 120 mile all-night bike ride last weekend.
But it does change things. The worst thing about it is that I’m not as carefree as a used to be. I always have to carry insulin, needles, a tester kit and glucose tablets. Regardless of what I’m doing - whether I’m at a job interview, out for dinner or playing sport – one part of my mind always has to remain on type 1.
I’m hoping that this is something that can change. Continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) that act as a kind of alarm when your blood glucose goes out of its normal range aren’t widely available at the moment but a landmark study last year showed just how useful they can be. JDRF, the type 1 diabetes charity, is funding research to link these CGMs to insulin pumps – creating a system known as an artificial pancreas. This would take away the need to think about blood glucose levels all of the time.
It will be a number of years before me and the 400,000 people with type 1 in the UK have the option of an artificial pancreas. In the meantime I’ll be trying to live as ‘normal’ an existence as possible. I was recently asked to cycle the ‘Tour de Type 1’ next year to raise funds for JDRF - following the first stage of the Tour de France which starts in Leeds next year. It involves cycling, type 1 and Yorkshire, all of which are in my genes, so I could hardly say no.