I’ve seen and read a number of inspiring and emotional accounts of those difficult moments which follow the diagnosis of type 1 diabetes. Your life is flipped upside down, forever. The life you led before is now a distant memory and a lifetime of injections and constant concern for your own wellbeing is now the norm.
However for anyone who knows me well the following sentence won’t come as a surprise.
I was diagnosed on a Monday afternoon at 8 years old and on the Friday evening of that same week I was back out on the pitch playing again.
It epitomises everything about my approach since my diagnosis. I didn’t let it stand in my way in week 1 of being a diabetic and I haven’t let it stop me in any other week since!
Despite this attitude that I adopted very early on, there’s no doubt that it tests your resolve both mentally and physically. Never more so than in that first game post diagnosis.
I remember that game really well. After a 3 night stay in hospital I had one day at home before a Friday night friendly for my club Kingfisher Colts. I remember thinking to myself there’s no way on this planet I’m not playing. It took a lot of persuasion over those 24 hours to convince both my diabetes nurse and parents that this was the right thing to do, but in my mind there was no question that I was getting out on the pitch.
In 1999, the treatment methods weren’t quite what they are today. I was placed on 2 injections a day, which can cause you to lead a more rigid lifestyle as well as a more difficult one around sport. But this was diabetes care in the late nineties, so I just got on with it and lived like this for 4/5 years. For this first game we were really just guessing and hoping everything would go well!
As you can imagine, that Friday was full of emotion. I honestly didn’t know how to feel. I was an 8 year old who had just found out that he had to live the rest of his life on daily injections. I was drained physically and emotionally. However, the overriding feeling I felt as I left for the game was one of defiance. No matter how the condition was going to test me over the rest of my life, I knew in that moment I wasn’t going to give up, or stop playing football regardless of the trials and tribulations I faced.
As I arrived at the game with my Mom and Dad there was tension in the air. We were all stepping into the unknown and despite my defiance; I was frightened, anxious and scared. “Would my team mates look at me differently? Would they treat me differently? Would I be as good as I was before? Am I going to collapse whilst I’m running around? Can I still do this?” These were the questions I was posing to myself as I met the squad and my manager out on the pitch.
I think through the fear of the unknown and the prior planning to the game, I avoided doing the warm up that day. As a family, and with my coach’s input, we had agreed that I should come off the bench for the last 20 minutes of the game. The only problem with this plan was that I had 40 minutes to stew and worry about going onto the pitch. Watching on was torturous, knowing that usually I would start the game. This was alien to me but I understood that the world was different now. I just wanted to prove more than anything that I could still do it.
As the game reached half time, and as we had become accustomed to, my team were winning comfortably. I played for one of the most successful kid’s teams at my age group in the south Birmingham area so this was absolutely no surprise and it took the pressure off my performance, as the boys were already doing the job. This didn’t stop me feeling really nervous, as the moment I was expecting to come on was creeping up on me quickly.
My Dad tested my blood glucose levels and they were in range, so I began to warm up. The normal excitement and nerves for a game came rushing back. We were 3-0 up and surely this was going to be business as usual? I was feeling pumped up and those feelings and thoughts of defiance were right at the forefront of my mind. I ran up and down for a few minutes, stretched off & got a couple of touches of the ball. I was ready.
Nick Reddish (My Coach, whom I owe a lot to!), called for the substitution and there I was stood on the touchline waiting to shake my teammates hand as I replaced him. I can’t even imagine what my Mom and Dad were feeling watching, I was emotional enough as it was. Then it happened, I ran onto the pitch and the euphoria of being able to play again after the most frightening week of my short 8 years hit me. I ran into my position and nearly broke down as it meant that much to be back out there. I didn’t. Instead I quickly forgot the emotions and why it meant so much and got down to playing. In reality the 20 minutes I was involved in were never going to be that meaningful as it was a friendly and we were already 3-0 up, but it took on another meaning to me which no one else could see or feel.
After all of the build up, I played 20 minutes of football where nothing much happened and we saw the game out comfortably. Most importantly for me, that first experience back out on the pitch went without a hiccup and I took a lot of confidence from that. Obviously many hiccups followed in the future as we got to grips with controlling my blood glucose levels around my football, but after that scary first week there was a ray of light at the end of it. It didn’t stop me. I didn’t collapse. I didn’t play badly.
The emotional and psychological build up for this match was incredibly draining, far more so than the actual playing itself. As a family we built on that game, one day at a time and one game at a time, to learn and improve my control to the point where it rarely impacted my performance.
I strongly believe that more needs to be done to support people who live with chronic conditions such as Diabetes in mainstream sport but this is a discussion for another post….
For me this was the first day of my defiance, which I’ve followed with another 17 years of that same defiance. Diabetes will never make it easy but if you want it badly enough you’ll find a way of making it work for you.
“Never stop playing because it’s tough, stop playing when your legs give up!”
Thank you for reading this post. I found it extremely difficult to write as it took me back to some difficult memories that I haven’t visited for a long time.