Diabetes – Diagnosed at 19

By Elizabeth Wigley

It’s the same with every long-term or chronic illness – you never think it will happen to you. I am a fit, healthy, active 20 year old, so I certainly didn’t think I would ever say the words ‘I have Type 1 Diabetes’.

But that all changed about two months ago. I had suffered from the symptoms for about a month and a half, however it’s likely that my illness had gone undiagnosed for much longer than this. Fortunately, I am not someone to ignore my body acting abnormally, and so I realised I needed to act.

Diabetes was something I learnt about in GSCE Biology, but the main things I remembered about it was that it was likely to occur in older, overweight individuals; had I known that even 18-month olds could have it, I perhaps would have caught it sooner.

On my fourth trip to the doctor my symptoms had not cleared, despite being prescribed antibiotics. My glucose levels were tested only for the first time, which was when they were noted as worryingly high. Seeing the expression on the nurse’s face confirmed to me the results, and I was submitted to A&E that evening.

I had never been in hospital before that week for anything other than my birth, and having a drip in each arm and my blood tested every hour was a real shock to the system. I ended up being in hospital for five days, whereas I was told I may not have to stay even one night.

I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes on my second day in hospital. The wave of information given to me over that week was overwhelming to say the least, and I found it difficult to absorb it all. My mum remarked that I was handling it surprisingly well, but I think it just hadn’t sunk in yet. When you’re in hospital you’re normally there to get better, and then you go home. But I knew I wouldn’t get better, even when I went home, and I struggled with that.

On leaving hospital with a large carrier bag of medication, consisting of needles, blood-testing kits and insulin pens, I felt like a completely different person. Yes, my original symptoms were gone and I felt a sense of resolution from having an actual diagnosis, but I knew my life was never going to be the same again. Those who know me well will agree that I have a very sweet tooth, and the thought of having juice or chocolate as a ‘treat once a month’ actually upset me (although I am now pretty¬†much eating as I did before my diagnosis).

Two months on I am back at university for my second year, I am injecting myself with insulin and testing my blood glucose levels as if I’ve been doing it my whole life, and I’m doing approximately 10 hours of exercise a week. I was told whilst in hospital that the Diabetes should fit around my lifestyle, not the other way around, and already I feel like I’ve got to a place where that is happening.

I will have this for the rest of my life, but I won’t let my illness change the quality of the life I lead. I would encourage anyone who has Diabetes to not allow it to conquer you, because your life can still be whatever you want it to be.

If you are experiencing any odd symptoms that you think may be a sign of Diabetes it is so important to get them checked out. Even if they are nothing it’s still worth investigating. The help I have received at UEA has been amazing, from my advisor to Student Support Services to the Medical Centre, so I know there are people out there more than willing to help.

Some links to helpful sites about Diabetes:




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