My journey with Type 1 diabetes

My journey with Type 1 diabetes

Josephine Njoroge, a journalist at Nation Media battling diabetes.

Photo credit: Pool

“Before I was diagnosed, I didn’t even know there was such a condition known as diabetes. This explains why I couldn’t tell the signs and symptoms for almost a year whilst they were worsening overtime. It was only when my life was threatened that I was taken to hospital.

I was 15-years-old and even the nurse at my former high school couldn’t tell what was wrong with me. Excessive thirst, hunger, dehydration, urination, extreme fatigue, sunken eyes —  these were some of the things I was experiencing in 2013 while in Form One, second term.

Before diagnosis, life in school was a living hell for with every passing day that I didn’t know what was wrong with my body, the worse things got. I would get in so much trouble with my teachers because I wasn’t performing well as before.

I was sleeping a lot, eating more than usual but still growing thin, which my friends and I used to laugh about because we couldn’t figure out where the food I was eating was going —  and by eating I mean I would gobble down big portions of ugali even though there was nothing else to eat it with. I would always stand by the dining hall door just to get leftovers. It wasn’t a good scenario, but all I could think of was food and water.

Days in school became more frustrating, and getting good sleep became a fantasy. I would wake up almost three times in a five-hour sleep routine, only to get up feeling like I had been run over by a truck.

My grades started dropping, my concentration in class slowly deteriorated, and tardiness became a part of my daily routine.

Fun fact about diabetes is that you will not feel any physical pain, apart from headaches triggered by high blood glucose levels. Other than that, I was just always hungry. With time, my uniform couldn’t fit anymore since I grew thinner with each passing day.

French teacher

I couldn’t go for an hour without visiting the ladies’ room. It became overwhelming, and life in school became a nightmare. On one occasion, I collided with my then French teacher, who denied me permission to go to the loo, and then chased me out of her class for insisting. Eventually, I ended up dropping French, a subject I loved and excelled at.

I would constantly visit the school dispensary but all I ever got were painkillers for headaches. But there was still a looming darkness that wasn’t addressed. A monster yet to be battled.

Fortunately, half term came and I went home. When my mum set her eyes on me, I could see tears forming in her eyes. She couldn’t recognise her own daughter.

I was pale and had grown so thin. She and my dad got extremely worried that they booked a hospital appointment the following day, and it turned out that I inherited diabetes from my late maternal grandfather. I was admitted for three days, and everything changed. What I wasn’t sure of was if it changed for better or for worse.

I stayed at home for one month after the diagnosis for further analysis, and when I went back to school half way through third term, life was never the same. I was now injecting myself four times a day, and testing my blood sugar levels almost six times a day, every day.

Managing my diet in boarding school wasn’t a walk in the park either. Insulin essentially makes one add weight, so I gradually gained weight and slipped into depression. In a bid to help me cope, my chemistry teacher, who was also my then ‘‘school father’, helped me start my own club in school through which we created awareness about diabetes, it’s control and prevention, and turns out many students were deeply interested as they had friends or family members who either had it or were on the verge of getting it.

Blood sugar

However, every time someone asks me how my high school life was, for in as much as there were good days and great memories, my answer is always; ‘it was one of the worst times of my life’, because most of what I remember from my high school was surviving. Constantly thinking about my next injection, my next meal, the portions, the types, testing my sugars, recording, getting hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), treating both hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia, all while still going through the same school routine as every other student.

It’s been seven years now.

After high school, I went to campus and pursued my diploma in journalism, and graduated. Back then, peer pressure was at its all-time high and I didn’t want to let my peers know I was diabetic; and that’s why I couldn’t drink at parties, at least not as much, or eat certain types of food.

Many a time I have caved into peer pressure and risked my life, because I wanted to live a ‘normal’ life and do all the things ‘normal’ people do. I wasn’t willing to accept that there were some things I wasn’t supposed to do. Life in campus proved to be difficult, and I constantly had a sense of cognitive dissonance. But I was lucky enough to have supportive friends and family who helped me cope.

I have come to realise that living with type 1 diabetes is a journey and not a destination because I still struggle to balance my sugar levels, and of course, sometimes I deal with a few complications like swollen feet due to high blood sugar, and extreme weakness and mood changes because of low blood sugar.

I still inject myself four times a day, which I find hard to do most of the time because of work, which ultimately leads to mild complications caused by either low or high blood sugars. I believe I am still learning how to navigate life with diabetes and accepting it fully by making adjustments based on different circumstances that life presents.

However, diabetes has never been a hindrance for me not to achieve what I set my mind to. I have achieved a lot and still continue to chase my goals with so much vigour, show up where need be, and I am currently pursuing my passion in journalism.  It has truly been God’s favour.

The writer is a journalist at Nation Media Group