A shocking diagnosis of type 1 diabetes brought Kimberley close to breaking point – until she drew inspiration from the love and compassion of her friends and family
"The results from your blood test are back. I’m sorry to tell you over the phone, but you’ve got diabetes, and you need to get yourself to A&E straight away.”
When I heard my GP say these words, I thought she must be mistaken. I’d been feeling ill for weeks, and as someone who suffers from health anxiety, and who Googles every little symptom, I knew that what I’d been experiencing was typical of type 1 diabetes. Yet when the GP confirmed it, I couldn’t quite believe it.
My diagnosis came during the coronavirus pandemic, at a time when the anxiety I’ve lived with for as long as I can remember was becoming increasingly difficult to manage. When I started losing weight and feeling increasingly tired, I attributed this to my anxiety, as it had caused these symptoms in the past. I told myself that I was just stressed about coronavirus and missing my parents.
Luckily, being the hypochondriac that I am, I phoned the GP just to be sure. She referred me for a blood test, but reassured me that as an otherwise healthy 28-year-old, I probably didn’t have anything to worry about. Unfortunately, I was right to worry this time.
After the call from my GP, my husband, Amit, drove me to our local hospital where we were told that I would have to go in alone due to the pandemic. Once inside, I sat in the waiting room and cried my eyes out. I was in total shock, but the worst part was having to go through it on my own. I continued to sob as I changed into a hospital gown and was hooked up to various monitors and drips. I was convinced that I was going to die without any of the people I loved around me.
I was kept in the hospital overnight while they tried to bring my blood sugar back under control. My anxiety manifests itself in ‘worst case scenario’ thinking, so I convinced myself that if I fell asleep, I would not wake up again. I was also racked with guilt because I thought I’d caused my diabetes by eating too much sugar.
By the next morning, when the diabetes specialist nurse came to see me, I felt absolutely broken. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and desperate to go home. The nurse told me about type 1 diabetes, and explained that as it’s an autoimmune condition, there was nothing I could’ve done to prevent it.
She also told me there was no cure, and that I’d live with it for the rest of my life. I tried to absorb the information, and to pay attention when she showed me how to test my blood sugar and inject insulin. But I couldn’t take any of it in. So, when they discharged me, I didn’t really know what I was doing.
Over the following days, Amit and I struggled to come to terms with my diagnosis, and how to manage it. I was terrified of my blood sugar going too high or too low, and having to inject insulin four times a day felt surreal. I couldn’t believe that I was going to have to do this for the rest of my life, and felt angry that this had happened to me.
I felt I was slipping into depression – although looking back, I think I was going through the various stages of grief as I mourned for my health. Every day felt like a battle, as I tried to learn how to keep my blood sugar under control, but after a couple of weeks, I started to feel I was getting the hang of it.
That’s when I had my first episode of hypoglycaemia, or a ‘hypo’, where your blood sugar drops too low. For me, the symptoms are similar to an anxiety attack, as I start to shake, my heart beats faster, and I feel confused. I started to become increasingly anxious about this happening, because I had read that low blood sugar can cause you to lose consciousness, so I was terrified that I would end up back in hospital – or worse.
Over the next few weeks, I had hypos during a Teams meeting at work, on a walk to the pharmacy, before I went to bed, during the night, when I got up in the morning. With each episode my anxiety grew, until it reached almost unmanageable levels. My family and friends would describe me as a control freak, so not being able to control my blood sugar became a stick to beat myself with, and I constantly felt guilty for not being a ‘good’ diabetic.
"I felt I was slipping into depression – although looking back, I think I was going through the various stages of grief as I mourned for my health"
At this point, I think I would’ve given up if it hadn’t been for the huge amount of support I received. I’m really close to my parents, but hadn’t seen them for a couple of months due to lockdown. I usually turn to my mum for everything, so not being able to see her, and have her give me a hug and tell me that everything was going to be all right, was really difficult.
Despite not being able to see me in person, my parents were still the constant source of strength and support that they always have been. My wider family and friends also made sure I didn’t feel alone by sending me messages, cards, flowers, and gifts.
The turning point came when I looked at all the cards I’d received. Up until then, I’d been reflecting on how unlucky I was to have type 1 diabetes – only 400,000 people in the UK have it – and how unfair it was that I was going to have it forever. But seeing how many people cared made me realise that actually I am incredibly lucky. I walked out of hospital at a time when, sadly, many people didn’t.
Shortly after leaving hospital, I read a book called The Power in You, by Henry Fraser. Henry suffered a devastating injury which left him paralysed from the neck down, but has gone on to become a public speaker and artist. His book was filled with so much positivity that it inspired me to refocus my mind, and view my diabetes and my anxiety as things that make me stronger.
I know that my anxiety will probably never go away, but without it, maybe I wouldn’t have phoned the doctor and got the treatment I needed? I still worry about the effect that diabetes will have on my future, but I definitely know that with the support of Amit, and my family and friends, I will be able to handle anything that comes my way.
I can’t wait to see them all when the coronavirus restrictions are lifted, so I can tell them how much their support has meant to me. More than anything else though, I can’t wait to hug my mum.
Graeme Orr | MBACP (Accred) counsellor says:
Newly diagnosed and alone in hospital, Kimberley received treatment for her diabetes, but struggled to control her anxiety. She mourned for her old life, with her new life feeling like a frightening, unknown place. Covid-19 restrictions may protect our safety, but emotionally made things tougher, as Kimberley felt she was facing these new challenges alone and was anxious to manage it all perfectly. Fortunately, messages of support from friends and family helped her to cope. Often, as many of us will have found, we can give or receive support in the simplest ways when we need it most.
To connect with a counsellor to discuss health anxiety or feelings of guilt, visit counselling-directory.org.uk