A young person's guide to life with diabetes

Written by: 
Monica Lalanda, an Emergency Medicine doctor. Monica is also a medical writer and illustrator

Diabetes coping with needles cartoon 3

Life seems to turn upside-down when you are first diagnosed with diabetes. Adolescence is a tough time for everybody and having the burden of a demanding illness piles on a lot of extra pressure.

Even if it seems difficult to believe now, if you control your diabetes well, it will not stop you from achieving just about anything you want to achieve. You are exactly the same person before and after the diabetes. You just have to learn how to live with it and that will take some adjusting.

But if you dream of climbing mountains, being a surgeon, winning an Oscar or a Nobel Prize, diabetes is a lousy excuse not to get there!

Some tips on coping with diabetes

  • Try to get involved in your own care as soon as possible: learn how to test your sugar level and inject yourself with insulinA hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas that acts to lower blood glucose levels.. Initially it might only be choosing the area to inject into or deciding how many units you need, but your final aim is to manage your diabetes completely independently. Take your time, do it at your own pace. Your parents will be able to supervise and help, but once you feel ready for it, make sure you let them know. Your parents might sometimes seem a bit overprotective, but they are only trying to help
  • Expect the whole family to become a bit stressed about the new situation. Diabetes affects everyone around you, but it is only a matter of time before life will seem 'normal' again. Brothers and sisters sometimes get jealous about the extra attention you're getting or scared that they are going to get diabetes too - or they may simply be worried about you.
  • It's better to tell your friends soon. Diabetes is nothing to be ashamed of or something that you have to hide. You might be worried that they won't want to be your friends any more or that you won't fit in your group again. That is very unlikely to happen. Remember:  you are still the same person. Explain what diabetes is about to your friends. The more information they have, the sooner they'll understand. If you feel you are being bullied at school because of the diabetes, tell your parents or teachers. A charity based in the UK has produced a video that aims to help on the issue of bullying - see it here (link opens a new window; video hosted at the BBC website).
  • Controlling your sugar level might be difficult sometimes. Your body is producing a special hormoneA substance produced by a gland in one part of the body and carried by the blood to the organs or tissues where it has an effect. called growth hormoneA substance produced by a gland in one part of the body and carried by the blood to the organs or tissues where it has an effect. (GH) that stimulates growth of your bones and muscles during puberty. But GH has an anti-insulinA hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas that acts to lower blood glucose levels. effect and it can cause a rebound impact. The result is that your sugar levels may swing from too low to too high. Remember: it's not your fault. Try not to get too frustrated; things will get under control with time.
  • You'll now need more planning and self-discipline to do your normal activities. You don't have to stop doing the things that you enjoy, such as sports, parties, trips or sleepovers, but you'll need to make sure that you carry with you extra snacks, your sugar meter and your insulinA hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas that acts to lower blood glucose levels. set. Your parents will need to make sure that any responsible adult knows about diabetes and particularly how to recognise and treat a hypoPrefix suggesting a deficiency, lack of, or small size.. Leaving them a contact number is a good idea.
  • Try to see the insulinA hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas that acts to lower blood glucose levels. injections as your allies rather than your enemies. The diabetes will not go away but your life will carry on pretty much the same thanks to them. (Go to Coping with needles for some practical advice).
  • If you have the chance, get involved in a diabetes support group or a diabetes camp, where you'll have the chance to meet other young people who share the same anxieties. It helps to know that you are not alone.