Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Natalie Balmain - More Than Just a Type

I asked my friend, 'Natalie Balmain', who is founder of Type 1 Clothing, to write a blog for me talking about her life as a whole, both positive and negative. When living with type 1 diabetes, it is easy to let it take over , and Natalie talks about how living with type 1 diabetes has played a part in hers. Please read it until the end! - Alyssa


"I've been thinking of how to start this blog for a long time. I don't generally find it difficult to write about my opinions or experiences, but I do find it hard to be vulnerable.

You see, I have a lot to be vulnerable about. I've felt every hollow, stinging, shot-to-the-heart pain you can imagine, but because the foundation of my soul lies in loving everyone, (whether they be an old friend or someone I've just met on Facebook), I've never wanted anyone else to feel the pain I've felt. So, I never shared it.

When you watch my vlogs, or see me speak at an event, you'll see that my message is a positive one. My drive is to inspire others and make everyone around me happy. By nature, I'm a people person, and if I only achieve one thing in life it would be to help everyone else know that they can overcome anything, and live happy, fulfilling lives. Especially my type 1 family, because in all honesty, they are the some of the truest friends I've ever had.

So it upset me recently to hear stories from some of the young people I seek to inspire, saying that either friends, family, or they themselves, have used me as an example to demonstrate that 'controlling' type 1 diabetes should be easy, and if I can manage it so well, why can't they? And my heart sank. I've always sought to uplift people with the positives, but in that moment, I realised that the negatives are just as important. So, I decided that I'm going to share mine.

Firstly, I would like to make it very clear that controlling type 1 diabetes is NOT easy. My favourite meme on the subject describes it as "Walking a tightrope. Except you're on fire, the tightrope is on fire, and everything is on fire". Yup, pretty much sums it up. Over my 12 year tenure as a T1D, the most part was spent with an average HbA1C of 12. That's pretty horrific. I've had touches of neuropathy, signs of kidney damage, and a blue-light trip to hospital in 2017 in severe DKA with a blood PH of 7.0 (when I later saw the healthy blood PH range chart, 7.0 was labelled as 'Death').
Its only in the last year and a bit, and only because I've been fortunate enough to have access to technology like my Dexcom CGM and an insulin pump that I've been able to bring my HbA1C down from 12 to 8. And even that brought on haemorrhages in my retinas. It's still not perfect, but I'm getting there. Perhaps I'll even manage to avoid some complications, despite being told at diagnosis that complications were 'inevitable'.

So, maybe some of you reading this are not type 1 diabetics, and maybe you need an explanation as to why I'm still struggling after all these years to 'manage' my condition. (I can't tell you the number of times I've wanted to scream in someone's face when I've told them I'm a type 1 and they have responded with 'but it's manageable isn't it?')

Well the dirty little secret is, none of us are JUST type 1 diabetics. We are human beings with the same real lives and stresses and emotions as any of you, AND we have type 1 diabetes on top of that. Perhaps if none of us worked, or cried, or danced, or ever had a heartbreak or lost a loved one; if we had no lives at all, then maybe we could all have perfect blood glucose levels all the time. But life isn't simple like that.

On top of the fact that everything we eat has a different effect on our levels (even the same food eaten at different times of day requires different doses); exercise, having your period, stress, excitement, heat and so many more things impact your blood glucose, and that's before we even factor in mental health and life.

Mental health is the biggie for me. You see, I suffered with depression even before my type 1 diagnosis. When I was 5 years old, I lost my Mum to cancer. I only found out recently from a cousin that I didn't speak for months after that happened- my brain had blocked all those early childhood years out. 

And maybe it was the fact that I didn't have my Mum around, that I was desperate to be loved. Whatever the reason, being desperate is a sure-fire way to NOT make friends. I remember being at primary school and hearing my child minder ring up other kids’ mum's to invite them round to play. I could only hear one side of the conversation, but it was always "Ahhh.. ok, never mind", as those kids' parents made excuses for their children who didn't want to play with me.

Over the course of my young adult life, I got into trouble a lot. I hung out with bad crowds just to feel part of something. When I got my diagnosis of type 1 diabetes, the guy I had been seeing for just a couple of months couldn’t cope with it (and my severe depression), but I guess he felt too much pity for me to break up with me, and so I stayed in a 7.5 year relationship with someone who cheated on me from the first day to last, hoovering up any shred of self-worth I might have had left. (I'd like to add at this point that I don't actually blame him, we were both young and my diagnosis and depression was too much for either of us to deal with well).

When I eventually found the strength to leave, after a period of living on my friend's sofa because I had no home and no job, I got a place by myself and let strangers party in my flat just, so I wasn't alone. I ended up being assaulted in my own house. Since then, I've kept myself to myself because being alone has seemed preferable by comparison.

Even writing this now, I feel an overwhelming urge to apologise to you all for burdening you with this. But perhaps if I lay all my cards out on the table, it might make it easier for you to understand why managing type 1 diabetes isn't just about finger pricking and injections.

You could probably understand why people who have gone through things like that might have mental health issues, or even feel suicidal. But let's put that into perspective: what if someone with those struggles ALSO had type 1 diabetes, and was responsible for keeping themselves alive every minute of every day? Could you understand why that person just might not always feel like it's worth the effort? Why do we try so hard to stay alive when life itself can be so tough?

Now I'm not suggesting for a minute that everyone has been through things as extreme as I have (although many may have dealt with worse), but every one of us has struggled at some point. We've all lost loved ones, dealt with heartbreak, been fired from jobs or fallen out with friends. We all have good days and bad ones too. And those struggles impact us emotionally, and in turn, affect our strength and our motivation to look after ourselves. How many of you have gotten drunk to cope with things? You know it's bad for you, but you still do it. Well, type 1 diabetics know that not being on top of our control is bad for us, but we are only as human as you are.

So perhaps next time you judge a type 1 for not having good control, remember that berating us is only adding to the problem. Child or adult, all anyone in this world really needs is love, and support.

Love Natalie"

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My name is Alyssa Faulkner. I am a Type 1 Diabetic Teen living in Scotland. I currently use a Medtronic insulin pump and an Enlite CGM, and am a volunteer for Diabetes Scotland.