You’ll never hear me say, “sorry lads, I am not coming out-out tonight, I’ve got diabetes.” Not unless I’ve got a date lined up which I don’t want friends to know about, and am seeking an excuse.
Whilst ‘playing the D-Card’ is something we can get away with from time to time – like when I flew to Vancouver in firstclass despite holding an economy ticket, as I had a sudden ‘hypo’ on entering the aircraft when conveniently stood by spare firstclass seats – the condition of type 1 diabetes itself is something that, with the right understanding and self care, should never stop us from being social and doing the things we enjoy most in life.
When it comes to a night out on the town, however, that ‘self care’ part should be emphasized. It is very difficult to keep on top of your health responsibilities when you are so battered you find yourself attempting to stage dive across a packed dance-floor, skiiing down underground esculators like James Bond (but falling off) or swimming in public fountains on the way home.
Although I’ve calmed and matured a bit in my mid twenties now, I certainly am no stranger to the wild side, and those past experiences as a teen in particular have been real learning curves, both in general and with diabetes.
In Britain we have a big social drinking culture, you are born and then there is beer. This is partly how the British Empire conquered the world, we had a few and decided places like Canada would be interesting. So especially over here adolescents with diabetes have to learn fast.
For me when I was a teen it was difficult. At that time I was learning the diabetes ropes independently as an adult. I was also misinformed about my insulin management – being told to inject a certain amount of insulin for each meal time following a switch from mixed insulin to basal and bolus, not carbohydrate counting for the meal itself.
So I very much had to learn the hard way in managing my diabetes, from sports to socialising and all else in between.
The initial attitude I had, which many young adults may relate to, was to just get on with it – which is great – but the feeling was to just get on with it and almost ignore my health duties. I would always do my insulin, I realised the importance of that (even if overdosing myself without knowing at the time, 14 units of basal novorapid for every dinner meal was my regime!!) but would seldom test my blood sugar levels regularly enough.
My A1C was well up in the 8s – maybe it should have been worse – but I had a lot of hypos due to the mass amounts of insulin I was told to take. So my long and short term health was at risk. Whilst this all sounds bad though, in the bigger picture it was where I learned all I did, in order to be an advocate as I am today – you have to hit the ground sometimes in order to pick yourself up a stronger person.
In terms of night life, today I am very good at knowing what I am drinking and that is key in keeping safe and healthy(ish). Back in those early outgoing years without that understanding of my blood sugars, I would either be flying hyper or crashing hypos – or both – never well managed. This can create a real monster, out of character, we get angry when we are hypo and can also do so when too drunk – the two mixed together is worse than Frankenstein’s creation.
The added risk with that is if you are out-out and you are hypo, people don’t know your situation, that your blood sugars are low, they will just assume you are drunk.
The bottom-line is that you cannot hide from your diabetes, you have it and if you don’t respect that, you only harm yourself. Confidence is a big deal in life in general, a thing like diabetes can affect it too, but in gaining that understanding that you are still you and can live life to the full – if you just take on that responsibility to keep a check of your blood sugars, take the appropriate amounts of insulin your body needs, to look after your diabetes, your diabetes will look after you.
In living proudly with my British culture, I am well aware of the potential affects on my blood sugars. In fact too aware, when I do go out-out in the present day (which isn’t that often anymore) I go to the level of waking up with selfies on my phone of returning home, after a fair few drinks, of myself holding my blood sugar meter with a good reading and smile on my face.
The smile is the main part – I am more than happy living with diabetes, that is where good control stems from and my A1C is 6.0% by the way! The blood sugar level is not so much the main part before bed, as Dr Annan said at an event with me recently, it is not about the level it is about what that level is doing. You don’t want a hypo in your sleep!
Waking up with a level of 5.5mmol/l – as I did last weekend – that’s when you can say I know my stuff!
On nights out I do confess to switching drinks, if I feel it is necessary. I do not recommend mixing drinks, it messes you up man, but on medical grounds when I have noticed the lagers or the ciders have caused my levels to go too hyper, I switch to vodka and diet coke and drop the levels down. Hence the happy ‘I am smarter than you diabetes selfies.’
This usually needs to be accompanied by a snack before sleeping, to stop the crash later on.
Here is a Alcoholbetic guideline from vast drinking experience:
Spirits, especially vodka: will lower your levels fairly quickly, no carbs here!
Ales and Beers: they are carby but very yeasty (if that is a word), they tend to rise levels on the first few pints but hours later are known to decrease levels.
Lagers: can have the same affect as above but contain more sugars, depending on the drink will rise levels a bit more.
Ciders: going to boost levels! Apples, pears, natural sugars and carbs!
Stouts like Guinness: will also rise levels, not quite like cider, a much slower process, but more carbs in stouts than in lagers.
Wines: tend to rise levels a bit more too, white more than red as white is much sweeter in general. Both with a lot of natural sugars.
Alcopops: just avoid altogether, they are sh** drinks (excuse my french) and are filled with added sugars.
Cocktails and Jagerbombs: can have a rise and crash affect, more so with shots like jagerbombs – a lot of added sugar in red bull but also the spirits will decrease levels. Cocktails depends on the drink and level of alcohol included, as you can get many which include added sugar drinks and syrup, which will make you fly.
Verdict: know what you are putting in your body! You can make slight adjustments with insulin or plan what you will drink through the night. Type 1 diabetes cannot stop you enjoying yourself, just remember enjoying yourself is best done with good health.