For 23 year old Shane, going through transition - moving on from school - proved a pretty hard and crazy time. He did get through it . This is his story below.
“When I turned 18, I left school and didn’t know what to do with my life so I became a tradesman like all my friends at the time. I was an average 18 year old immature cheeky teenager who would go out with my mates and girlfriend (at the time) and have a good time! The only problem was that a good time with my mates involved cigarettes, way too much alcohol and later on when I was about 19-20, drug use.
For a diabetic none of these things are good. For roughly three years I partied every weekend and smoked without a care in the world oblivious to what could have happened to me because of what I was doing.
This period in my life was really crazy. I didn’t even think about the diabetic complications and some of them I’d never even heard about until recently. I had good control during the week but not on the weekend, all that control went out the window as soon as the first drink for the weekend had been drunk.
In my 20’s I also had a bit of a drug problem. The drugs allowed me to keep the good times going later into the night, made me feel good about myself even though only for a short period of time and I didn’t want to feel like I wasn’t part of the group.
Looking back I know I was making the wrong choices but when I was doing it, it didn’t seem that way at all because everyone I socialised with also did it.
I was also suffering depression at the time due to the diabetes and the drugs helped me get over it, if only for a couple of hours.
I think it was just a response to having been made to follow such a strict regimen from such an early age - drugs and drinking offered me a form of escape and I took it without a second thought.
I wanted to drink and smoke and forget about the fact I was a diabetic I just wanted to “fit in” and it worked for a little while. I fell through the gaps in regards to transitional care and didn’t really go to any of my endocrinologist's appointments for about three to four years. I just got my insulin from the GP and didn’t tell anyone about what I was doing.
I’m pretty sure my friends didn’t even know how to pull me out of a hypoglycaemic coma as I never told them how and I didn’t want them to worry about me so I just didn’t tell them anything at all in regards to my diabetes.
Because I went to my GP he never really questioned me about my diabetes and didn’t really teach me anything or help me with my diabetes management because he obviously thought I’d be getting all that from my endocrinologist appointments.
At the time I thought I was getting away with it but really I was just (excuse the bad joke) shooting myself in the foot.
Then when I turned 21, I went on a holiday with my friends and it was basically an alcohol fuelled 24/7 party that lasted two weeks. At around day three I had been drinking solid for the entire time I had been there and my body just couldn’t handle the alcohol and I had a massive low. The worst part though was that I was floating in the hotel’s pool with a beer and a cigarette in hand when it struck.
My friends saw exactly what happened, they said I just stopped breathing, closed my eyes, went limp and sank like a rock to the bottom of the pool (beer and ciggie still in hand in under five seconds flat).
If my mates hadn’t have been there to pull me out straight away and call for a doctor I’d either be dead or have brain damage. This was definitely the turning point for me. After this trip I also ended up in hospital fighting off a leg infection I also received during my holiday. Once I was released from hospital I realised I was lucky and I had to change otherwise if I didn’t the next time I was hospitalised like that I’d probably only get out of there in a wheelchair.
During my transition I wasn’t offered any counselling and I didn’t like the doctor I was originally allocated at the adolescent clinic (the appointment was just made when I was 17) so I didn’t want to go back and because I was 17/18 and looking after myself I didn’t have to.
I didn’t realise you could change doctors so easily and also because I had just become an apprentice trying to get to a doctor during the week who I didn’t like and didn’t want to see was just too difficult for me to even bother.
I think families and healthcare workers need to appreciate that if you have a child on a strict regimen from almost the start of their life and then release them in one swift move, it’s pretty hard not to expect them to go off the rails.
I really think we need to prepare young people with diabetes for the real world and help teach them that it’s OK to seek counselling and that it’s OK to be diabetic. There are so many people out there who don’t drink and don’t smoke and don’t take drugs who also don’t have diabetes. I think it’s important to teach them they’re not the only ones if they choose not to do any of these things.
The change between parent and child management needs to happen slowly and carefully but most importantly without excessive parental interference. Parents need to be supportive and pay attention to their child and recognise the signs and see if they are not managing the condition well.
They also need to allow their child to be educated about everything - ignorance might be bliss for some but causes more harm than good when it comes to not knowing about diabetic complications.
I think if I had known I might loose my toes if I had smoked I would have never have lit up a cigarette.
It’s easy for the parents to think it’s the doctor’s responsibility to educate the child and the doctors already told the parents about the complications associated with diabetes and think the parents must have told their child! This is what happened to me anyway.
In my case my diabetes had always been managed by my mother so there was no re-training. You need to teach the child first. There is a big emphasis on teaching the parents and then they pass this on to the child, but I think you need to teach children directly and re-train them at the transition stage. Ongoing individual education is the only way to make sure all the issues have been addressed.
I have quit smoking now and don’t drink nearly as much nor do I take drugs anymore.
I wish I attended my appointments so I knew exactly what was going on with my diabetes so that way I probably would never have done half the things I've done and also would have always been in control. The support given by most doctors is invaluable, you just have to find the right one for you and keep working together. I now go to all my appointments and have reconciled with the medical system.
This is Shane's personal experience of managing type 1 diabetes and is not intended to be representative of the experience of all people with diabetes.