Debunking The Myths About Type 1 Diabetes
The summer of 2015 changed my life forever. I was very ill. And for some reason, I became more and more sick every single day. I furiously Googled my symptoms, only to end up with the same results: diabetes. That had to be wrong, as I obviously did not have it.
To me, Type 1 was a disease that little kids got. So at 21 years old, there was no way that I could have Type 1 Diabetes. However, I did end up mentioning my search history to my doctor, who replied, “You don’t have diabetes, we would have know by now.” So, that was my confirmation! There was just no way.
By Natalie McMillan
Cut to two weeks later. I’m in the hospital, surrounded by confused-looking doctors, telling me that I was being moved to the ICU. Spoiler alert: I did have Type 1 and was heading for a diabetic coma.
This is why Diabetes Awareness Month (which is November) is so important. If someone had said, “Hey Nat, you should get your blood sugar checked,” I would have been diagnosed a lot earlier and wouldn’t have had to suffer for so long. Even though I had heard about Type 1 Diabetes, I had no idea what it was. I thought it had something to do with juice boxes and pricking your fingers. Beyond that, I knew nothing about the disease. So… let’s go back and break it down!
First of all, the symptoms I experienced before diagnosis were tell tale signs of diabetes: extreme thirst (we’re talking gallons of water a day and still thirsty), rapid weight loss, weakness/tiredness, blurred vision, nausea, rapid heart rate, low blood pressure, and low body temperature. Also, I was getting severe leg cramps from dehydration, even though I was drinking so much water. When your blood sugar is high, your body begins to dehydrate while trying to flush out the sugar, which is why extreme thirst is a major red flag.
The next important aspect when talking about diabetes is to know that there are several types: the most common being Type 1 and Type 2. They both result in having high blood sugar, but the causes are different. Type 2 diabetes is actually very common, and is generally caught early and prevented with diet, exercise, and oral medication. Type 2 diabetes is linked to obesity, poor diet and lack of activity. Type 2 diabetics get high blood sugar because their body doesn’t use insulin well. Type 1, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disease that is not preventable, nor curable, and is not linked to diet or exercise. So to clarify, you can’t get Type 1 from eating too much candy. Because Type 1 is relatively rare, there are still a lot of unknowns. We don’t know the exact cause, but what we do know is that the body’s immune system misfires and mistakes the pancreas as a virus and shuts it down. While Type 2’s don’t use their insulin well, Type 1’s don't make insulin at all - which is why a Type 1 diabetic has to have insulin injections or an insulin pump to survive. Without insulin, a Type 1 Diabetic can die within a matter of days.
While this is all really heavy and serious, it’s not all bad! When I was first diagnosed, there weren’t many celebrities or public figures that spoke out about having Type 1 (besides our Patron Saint of T1D, Nick Jonas), and it felt like I was really alone. Everything I was reading was grim and made me feel helpless, anxious, and afraid for my future. But now, with a couple hashtag searches on Instagram, you can find hundreds of bloggers and influencers that share how they’re living normal, healthy lives with diabetes. Beyond that, the technology is getting better every year, making it easier to manage. If you have diabetes, or any other chronic or invisible illness, know you aren’t alone. And if you know someone that deals with an illness, know how much your support means to them! My advice to anyone (with diabetes, an autoimmune disease, or nothing at all) is to keep taking it day-by-day, reach out to friends when you need a pick me up, and count the rest of the amazing blessings that you have in your life!