Daily life with Diabetes

Aggregated content by Emma Olson, NewNetNebraska

For Kristi Britten it’s a disease that she can’t prevent. Britten knows there is no cure right now. Britten requires drug dependence to live each day. Britten didn’t choose this disease, it chose her.

Britten is a Type 1 Diabetic just like 29.1 million other Americans.

According to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, type one diabetes, “Is an autoimmune disease that occurs when a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin, the hormone that controls blood-sugar levels.” The disease develops when the immune system attacks the insulin producing cells.

Being diagnosed

Drowsiness and lethargy. Fruity Breath. Extreme Thirst and Frequent Urination.

That’s the sign that led Kristi Britten’s mom to take her to the doctor.

When she was little, Britten would wake up her mom in the middle of the night to help her to the bathroom.  After nights of six to seven bathroom visits,they made an appointment.

Finding out she had type one diabetes at age seven, meant growing up counting carbs and checking her blood sugar. Type one diabetics use their carbohydrate intake to decided the amount of insulin their body will need to digest the food without spiking their blood sugar level.

“Most of the time it doesn’t make me feel different from people,” Britten said. “Because I forget that I have it so I don’t feel different from everybody else.”

Britten said she has only ever felt secluded by her disease when she was a teen.

“I did go through a phase in high school where I would try to hide the fact that I had diabetes so I didn’t stand out because I didn’t want to be different from everybody else,” Britten said.

Drew Barkel had a similar experience when he was diagnosed.

“Going into the hospital was a scary experience,” Barkel said. “All I knew was that I was sick and I didn’t understand why.”

His diabetes made him feel different from other kids in his class because he had to leave to test his blood sugar throughout the day while other kids stayed in class.

Lifestyle changes

“Because I got [diagnosed] with diabetes when I was so young, I don’t really remember much about life without having it,” Britten said.

Although Type 1 can be diagnosed at any age, it is also called juvenile diabetes because many people are diagnosed as children.

Britten has become accustomed to finger pricks, insulin shots and watching her diet in her over thirteen years with the disease.

“I would say my daily life changed because I had to focus more on what I was eating and I constantly have to be in tune with my body and how I’m feeling so I can respond to changes in my blood sugar before they become serious,” Britten said.

The JDRF says diabetics should aim to test their blood sugar close to six times a day.

Growing up with the requirements of testing every time she ate forced her to create good habits and Britten said she doesn’t see the disease as a burden.

“If I were to get diagnosed later in life, like in high school, I think it would have a completely different effect on me,” Britten said.

Barkel said the biggest struggle with diabetes came during high school when he began to gain more independence.

“I became more focused on the social aspect of everything and kind of ignored my responsibilities as a diabetic,”Barkel said. “This caused me to fall out of the good habits I’d formed.”

A support group

Ansley Alberts decided to found a club to help diabetics come together to support each other.

The College Diabetes Network at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has three goals: build a community, spread awareness and raise funds for a cure.

“There was no club or community on campus for these individuals and the transition from high school to college can be scary and intense for many individuals,” Alberts said.

The club currently has 19 members and meets twice a month to have regular meetings as well as take part in events to raise money or awareness for the disease.

“It is important that our members do not feel alone in their daily ups and downs with Type 1,” Alberts said. “Living with diabetes in college is no easy and it takes a strong support group to be able to get through the journey.”

The group also welcomes non-diabetics to join. Alberts said it’s a necessary part of the group to show Diabetics that you don’t just have to have to disease to be affected by it.

Day to day life

Diabetes hasn’t prevented her from living a normal life, Britten said.

Planning ahead to have accommodations for diabetes can be stressful and cause headaches but has never prevented Britten from doing anything in her life.

Type 1 diabetics are insulin dependent so leaving the house for an extended period of time or planning a vacation requires taking enough insulin, either needles to give shots or new sites for the pump, snacks in case of low blood sugar and a tester to check sugar.

Britten said she attended a camp for diabetic kids every summer as a child.  During her week at camp, Britten remembers swimming, archery, art projects, horseback riding and other typical camp activities.

However, this camp helped the kids understand their disease and how to manage it through daily life.

“Everything was the same as a normal summer camp except that most of the counselors were diabetic and there were nurses and dietitians on hand to help with carb counting,”Britten said. “This program really helped emphasize the fact that we can still do everything we liked before we had [the disease].”

Raphael Ovenlen, a registered dietician at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Health Center, said his first step when meeting with a newly diagnose diabetic is to let them know their life is not over. Ovenlen then sends his patients to diabetic class to learn about carbohydrates and how they correlate to the amount of insulin needed.

“We look at what your standard [meals] are and create a plan to teach you how to eat a healthy amount for your diet,” Ovenlen said.

Diabetes management requires monitoring what works and doesn’t work for each individual’s body. In his private practice, Ovenlen has his patients use an app to record what they eat and how much insulin they give themselves. He then can interact with them via the app to show where the changes need to be made to maintain a healthy lifestyle with diabetes.

Handling the disease

Diabetics can struggle with the stigma that comes with their disease. Barkel said a common stereotype is that people think a better diet or exercise will make the disease go away.

However, even those people close to diabetics can cause stress.

“I think it’s a lot easier to see what could be changed from an outside perspective and to say that you would make those changes to keep yourself healthy, but when you’re living it everyday it’s harder than that,” Britten said.

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