Written in November 2015:
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.
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 bolus 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, in the bigger picture it was where I learnt more – you have to hit the ground sometimes in order to pick yourself up a stronger person.
In terms of night life, today I am 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 into 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 a Frankenstein 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 aware of the potential effects 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 control stems begins. The blood sugar level is not so much the main part before bed, as Francesca 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!
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.
This usually needs to be accompanied by a snack before sleeping, to stop the crash later on.
Here is a Alcoholbetic guideline:
Spirits, especially vodka: tend to lower levels fairly quickly!
Ales and Beers: they are carby, they tend to rise levels on the first few pints, ale’s perhaps more so, but hours later, if you’ve had a few too many, a U-turn might take place – usually a slow but heavier U-turn depending on how much you’ve had.
Lagers: can be similar as to the above, little less carby but may contain more sugars, depending on the drink could rise levels a bit faster. I hate lager, but it might be the bets bet if sticking to it and not mixing drinks.
Ciders: going to boost levels fast! Apples, pears, natural sugars and carbs! May not crash until the next day.
Stouts like Guinness: will also rise levels, not quite like cider, a much slower process, but more carbs in stouts than in lagers.
Wines: rises levels a bit more too, whites tend to be more sweeter than reds. Similarities to cider?
Alcopops: just avoid altogether, they are sh** drinks (excuse my french) and are filled with added sugars and whatever else!
Cocktails and Jagerbombs: can have a quick rise and hard crash impact, 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.