The IDF Diabetes Atlas (2021) reports that 10.5% of the adult population (20-79 years) has diabetes, with almost half unaware that they are living with the condition. Of this, 90% have type 2 diabetes, which may have been preventable or at least delayed. Type 1 diabetes is not preventable or curable, but early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent serious complications.
Tuesday 14th November is World Diabetes Day, and this year, STR spoke to one of our employees with the condition. Our aim is to help spread awareness of the symptoms: the earlier someone is diagnosed, the better the chances of treating the disease. Meet Clair, STR Group’s Communications Manager…
I was diagnosed a week before my 12th birthday. I’d been on 1st year camp with my school, and I was eating, drinking and sleeping more than everyone else, but tinier too. I’d actually lost weight over that year and I remember a month or so prior to this my Grandma tsking at me (in a worried, affectionate way) as she took in my school skirts. On the final day of camp, at breakfast time, I went back to my tent in the morning to grab a spoon and didn’t come back. I’d passed out! I came to as I was being carried to the med tent and my tutor made me a cup of tea. I never had sugar in my tea but for some reason, I said yes when she asked me if I wanted some. I realise now of course that I’d been hypoing and my body was desperate for some glucose. My parents were called and they took me straight to hospital.
At A&E, I was swiftly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. All the consultant did was smell my breath (diabetics famously smell of pear drops due to the un-processed sugar in their system). It was then confirmed via a simple blood test. Little did I know, that would be the first of thousands! I have to admit, I’d never even heard of diabetes before.
As I mentioned, I had been losing weight for a while even though I was eating loads. I also needed the loo a lot more (I got up 6 times one night on that camp!). The symptom I remember most vividly though is the raging, unquenchable thirst. I just couldn’t drink enough water. I was in the bath once just glugging straight from the cold tap, but as soon as I stopped, I felt thirsty again.
On diagnosis, I became one of the 0.1% of people in the world with type 1 diabetes, so that makes me pretty special! I know my family has worried constantly about me ever since and I sometimes feel very guilty about that. The major change for me was the regular injections and blood tests. The injections really aren’t a problem, especially now the needles are so tiny and we have ‘pens’ or pumps rather than having to faff around with bottles of insulin and syringes. The finger pricks (to test your blood sugar levels) are a real pain though; your fingertips get bruised and sore, which is incredibly unhelpful when you type for a living.
I’d never had a particularly sweet tooth, so I wasn’t too worried from a diet point of view and I didn’t miss puddings (I’d much rather have cheese!). My only weakness was, and still is, chocolate. But there were diabetic alternatives available, if only in Boots. Nowadays, everyone is a lot more conscious of how bad sugar is for you generally, so there’s much more choice for diabetics, available almost everywhere. We don’t need ‘diabetic alternatives’, just low or zero sugar options.
My parents had to learn how to manage my diabetes and make sure I understood too. Our holidays revolved around ensuring I was eating at regular times, and that I was eating healthily, which could be a challenge. Shout-out to Diet Coke as that was pretty much the only soft drink available for diabetics in the early 90s! Fibre is very good for us as it helps to slow the absorption of sugar, so my parents found a way to add it to almost every meal. I remember some recipes didn’t work out particularly well, and we all agreed to drop that idea after a while!
I also had to make sure I had a little sugar-boost before I did anything active; fun size Mars bars were favourite. It’s very easy to hypo after even a small amount of exercise and you have to test your sugar levels regularly. In fact, just getting hot can make your sugars drop, so I really admire athletes, dancers and those with very physical jobs who also successfully manage their diabetes.
I’ve never felt the need to hide my diabetes from anyone. In fact, it’s best to let as many people as possible know so that they can give you a hand if you need it when your sugars drop and you start to hypo. My family, friends and colleagues are all adept at spotting the signs of a hypo – going pale(r), shaky hands, confusion and being short-tempered.
I suppose the only way I ‘hide’ it sometimes is by disappearing into the loos to inject, as some people are phobic of needles or blood, and I don’t want to upset anyone. Having said that, sometimes if I have to inject in public, I can see people looking at me, clearly wondering if I’m shooting up! Always gives me a little chuckle.
On diagnosis, the doctors explained to me the things that I wouldn’t be able to do as an insulin user, such as become an astronaut (I was a little gutted about that as a child), drive an HGV or join the armed forces or fire/ambulance/prison service. Apart from these types of roles (completely fair, in my opinion), there’s nothing you can’t do. People sometimes have a tendency to treat me as if I was very delicate, which isn’t always necessary, but I know it comes from a good place and I’m grateful for it.
One little-known side-effect of diabetes is developing problems with your joints. I’ve already had one hip realignment and am due to have my shoulder operated on as it dislocates easily. This is very painful and does limit me physically. I also worry about the long-term toll that diabetes takes on the body. I had a bout of pancreatitis earlier this year (followed immediately by another shoulder dislocation – fun!) and blood vessels are prone to burst in the backs of the eyes due to excess sugar in your system, which can effect vision. The NHS takes good care of me though, with regular tests and check-ups.
Most of all though, I hate the worry the diabetes puts on my family. I’ve been in hospital twice, once due to very low sugars and once with very high sugars, and it just puts you at a higher risk of everything.
Upsides, I always joke that I’m lucky that my medicine is chocolate; there are definitely worse treatments. I also get free prescriptions and priority for a lot of NHS services.
An employer needs to understand that diabetics need to break away for 30 seconds now and again to perform blood tests or inject. They also need to eat regularly and often, which may not fit standard breaks or lunchtimes.
If they have a bad hypo, they may be late or have to work from home (as it’s not safe to drive), and if they hypo at work, they need to take time away from their desk or station to recover. Although they should have their own dextrose tablets or Lucozade with them, it’s reassuring if an employer keeps a stock of sugary food nearby that they can access. Line managers and team members should also be aware of the signs of low blood sugar, so they can intervene.
Most of my employers have embodied all the above, but the most understanding and adaptable company from the day I started was STR! I could see my manager really cared about my health and wellbeing from day 1, and he reassured me I was welcome to eat whenever I wanted to, even though the policy at the time was no eating outside of specific times, and he quickly learned to spot the signs of a low sugars, rather than just telling me off for appearing to be grumpy and unreasonable! He maintains that part of this was down to self-preservation.
If you notice that you are drinking a lot more, peeing more frequently and are always tired, you could have diabetes. The sooner you go to your GP to get it confirmed, the sooner treatment can begin, and the more positive long-term health outcomes will be. You may not have to inject; it could be controlled by tablets and diet or even just diet, so all you have to do is make a few lifestyle adjustments and you’ll quickly feel so much better.
These are the best websites for guidance, but you will need to see your doctor as soon as possible:
Finally, if you are diagnosed with diabetes, make sure you tell your employer. They can’t look after you properly otherwise, and it’s illegal to discriminate on the grounds of diabetes as it is classed as a disability under the Equal Opportunities Act, so you are fully protected.
Do you want to work for a company that genuinely considers your health and wellbeing, and is happy to make adjustments to accommodate your needs? Contact our Talent Acquisition team today to find out what opportunities are currently available.