Take control to get the best from life
With the right tools, diabetes doesn't have to stand in the way of anything, including the fun and games of university life.
As a student mental health nurse, Kristy Haywood, 21, moves house about every three months, so frequently has to adapt to a new routine: but she doesn't let that stop her getting everything she can out of the experience.
"When I was younger, I thought diabetes defined who I was and that it was going to ruin whatever I wanted to do with my life.
"But I have learned to accept it and that I can control it: it doesn't control me," said Kristy, who was diagnosed with Type 1 when she was nine.
"I went clubbing every night during Freshers' Week! I was testing every hour and learnt to stay away from the cocktails, but I didn't see why I shouldn't act like a student. Diabetes doesn’t define me."
After her first term, at Bournemouth University, Kristy is yet again adapting to a new way of life, this time in Yeovil, Somerset, where she is on placement for three months.
"After this, I will go back to Bournemouth, then to somewhere else in Somerset: I don't know where yet. Yes, it's difficult, but it's about adjusting. I am learning how to develop a new routine and once I have one, I stick to it."
Using data to guide decisions
Her strategy is based on data collection, and she explained how she monitors herself very closely for the first couple of weeks of a change in routine, recording test results alongside a food and exercise diary.
I write everything down and then try to spot the patterns: you can usually see them emerging within a day or two.
"I write everything down and then try to spot the patterns: you can usually see them emerging within a day or two. Then I adjust my routine based on what I have spotted," Kristy said, admitting that it was easier said than done.
"It's not simple. Understanding your results comes from experience, and it is trial and error. Everyone is different, and things affect you differently. There are so many factors that can affect your levels: what you have eaten, what exercise you have done, if you are stressed or premenstrual."
Part of the learning curve is understanding how different food or drink impacts on your body. Opting for a pint of Guinness over a sugary cocktail meant she could enjoy a night out with friends without diabetes playing a starring role, she explained.
Beating the odds
Talking to Kristy now, it's hard imagine her finding it difficult to manage her condition, but she didn't even tell her friends she had Type 1 for the first two years of secondary school.
Kristy, who grew up in High Wycombe, was diagnosed when she was nine after collapsing at a country dancing festival: when she arrived at hospital her blood sugar level was 60mmol/L.
"My parents only told me this recently, but the doctors said they didn't expect me to make it though the night," she told Reach.
Kristy, blissfully unaware of the prognosis, defied the odds, and was discharged after about a week. As time went by and she began to understand the diagnosis, she found it very difficult to accept this new reality, particularly when moving from primary to secondary school.
"I was embarrassed by it, because I just wanted to be like everyone else. I didn't tell anyone, and I stopped eating my snack because I wanted to fit in. The school gave me a private room to inject in and I would lie to my friends about where I was going."
It wasn't until she was in Year 9 that she spoke to a school nurse about her growing anxiety and realised keeping her condition a secret was a root cause of the problem.
"That's when I thought ‘this is my life and if I want to have a future I am going to have to take care of myself’," she said.
It was around this time that she found her love of helping others, especially when she became a mentor to a Year 7 student who also had Type 1 and was experiencing many of the same emotions she herself had been through.
From then, her future career was set.
“You can do this”
"I am feeling good so far. There are days when I feel 'how do I do this?' but I just think 'Kristy, you can do this'."
Asked her advice to others in a similar situation, Kristy said learning how to spot patterns in her blood glucose test results were key to living well.
"Know how what you are putting in your body affects you. Adapt your life, but don't let diabetes stop you doing anything. It's all about moderation. If you want a night out go for it, just be aware and try to monitor your levels more closely."
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