In 2008 I finally got up the courage to go travelling – I had always let my diabetes stop me from doing things like that. It was a massive step for me to leave home for that length of time with a rucksack half full of clothes and half full of needles, insulin and test strips. It wasn’t easy, and there were days when I couldn’t get out of bed due to my sugars being through the roof. However, I dealt with it, sometimes with 10 injections a day!!, and ended up having the most amazing 3 months exploring South America during which I white water rafted, skied down a volcano, trekked to Macchu Picchu and sky-dived.
However, the adventure ended rather abruptly when I got home and had put on about 3 stone – I was so miserable within myself that I was willing to try anything to lose weight as quickly as possible. And then one day the answer was handed to me on a plate, by a nurse.
I’d lost 4kg since my last check in and the words, “You’re not skipping your insulin are you?” just came out of her mouth. Fast forward 3 months and I was skipping 5-6 injections a week but still holding on to my long acting insulin at night. At that point I was still testing the waters and figuring out how much I could get away with. I didn’t really commit to it until I went to university in September 2009. I had lost a fair amount of weight and was actually very happy with the way I looked at 9st 10lbs. However, this was now 5 months in and the thought of going back to injecting for every carb I ate filled me with dread…. “What if i put the weight back on? What if my new uni friends don’t like me as much if I’m bigger? What will everyone say if I put weight on? blah blah blah” MAJOR head games and this was still relatively soon in the process of me becoming unwell.
Fresher’s was one of the best experiences of my life - I partied hard and made some lifelong friends. I also took on some lifelong problems though. My hair was falling out, my skin was horrendous, I was constantly cold and I was slipping in and out of comas every few days. None of my uni friends new the danger I was putting myself in, but why should they? I could hide what was happening from my family and with noone to tell me to go to my check ups not even the doctors new how unwell I was - I don’t think I really grasped the concept either.
I didn’t even know what I was doing had a name until a few months down the line. Without insulin, glucose levels build up in the blood and so Hyperglycaemia occurs. This leads to polyuria (needing the bathroom a lot) and means that any calories taken in by eating are passed straight through and out of the body in the urine. As a result, the calories are not used and the body is starved of its source of energy - energy that’s needed for every organ to function.
If hyperglycaemia remains untreated, it develops into life-threatening DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis). In DKA the body starts to break itself down in the hunt for energy. Your body literally starts digesting itself, hence the weight loss and other complications.
At it’s worst I was going 5 days without a single shot of insulin, going through 4, maybe 5, litres of ‘whatever was wet’ a day, and eating maybe once every 3 days if I could drag myself out of bed. I didn’t dare test my blood sugar, instead I would just give myself a massive boost of short acting insulin all in one go - 25 units sometimes! and hope that the excruciating tummy pains, the never ending thirst, the exhaustion and the blurriness of my vision would start to lessen. I was in a very bad place, in fact I was killing myself, but I felt I had nowhere to turn to.
By the time Uni broke up for Christmas at the beginning of December I had lost nearly 4 stone and was in dire need of help. I was physically scared of my insulin and thought I was injecting pure fat into my body.
My sister was living in Leicester at the time and within 4 hours of me being in the Midlands with her it all came out. I told her everything and bless her heart she took it all on her shoulders without a single word of judgement or anger towards me. I then did the unthinkable and asked her not to tell my parents - something I will never ever forgive myself for. In all credit to her though she didn't tell them herself, she just got someone else to.
To say the thought of getting over this and getting better was overwhelming is an understatement. Even after the doctor said to mum “I’m surprised your daughter is still alive” , I struggled massively to just test my sugars each day, let alone inject myself. What I learnt though was that talking about it was the best thing I could have ever done - to my family especially. The more I talked the more they understood where I was coming from and so the more help they could give me. Yes they were furious to begin with but at the end of the day they were just terrified and worried for my health.
I began the process of recovery with baby steps - I didn’t have to get over it in a day and there’s no way I would have been able to. This was 9 months in the making but everyday was a small step in the right direction.
I think with any goal that seems far too big to reach, you just need to break it down into small manageable chunks, i.e.
- I want to test my blood sugar before at least 2 meals today
- then the next dayI want to test my blood sugar before every meal today,
- then the next day I want to test my blood sugar before every meal today and inject for carbohydrates in at least one meal”
If you know or suspect of anyone that is going through this, or if you yourself are going through this, then please reach out to someone. I managed to save myself before the worst happened but I know that this isn't always the case. It breaks my heart to think that someone may be feeling how I felt and experiencing what I did. I’ve popped a couple of links below that can guide you in the right direction.
I now live a very active and healthy life (ignoring the current broken hip situation!) and have a relationship with my diabetes that is the healthiest it has ever been - I’ve finally accepted it and am learning to work with it not against it.
Recovering from diabulimia was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. It’s a slow, tedious, often embarrassing process but ultimately I had a choice - do I want to die or do I want to get better?
The easiest decision I’ve ever made!
Love George x