The Importance of your Support Network

Before beginning this blog post I want to dedicate it to my own support network. I’d like to give a special mention to my Mom, Dad & sister whom have had to live with Type 1 Diabetes almost as much as I have.

So I don’t think you can start talking about a support network, without saying “Thank you!”

Without the people who have been involved in managing my Diabetes with me there’s absolutely no doubt that I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy my life and my sport in the way I have.

These people are the unsung heroes of managing Diabetes. However for this blog post their impact will be celebrated!

So let’s start with probably the most pivotal people in any young Diabetic’s life, your Parents. Not only are they instrumental in understanding the condition and treatment, they will be the people who influence your mental approach to the condition, to tackle everyday life.  My Mom and Dad need to take every plaudit I write about them in this post, as without them, I really don’t think I’d have been able to put myself into the position to have ticked off the life goals I have alongside the Diabetes. They’re ordinary, down to earth people that are extraordinary to me.

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I’ll start by talking about the “normal” parenting required to support someone like me, crazy about my sport. I’m sure any parents reading this will know exactly what’s coming but it should never be overlooked. The trips to take me to football matches with my club, training sessions, school trips, round to friends to play football, buying my football boots & kit (ensuring you had the latest trend to!), paying to watch the team I supported and all of the moral support it requires to support children in sport. None of that is easy and that’s just the parenting around the sport!

But what about all the other things they didn’t expect to have to do with their child as a result of Diabetes? Those middle of the night hypo treatments, those regular prescription collections, giving me injections, checking my blood glucose levels, the continual worry of whether I would run into a hypo or hyper, the packing and preparation for any holidays or football matches, the hospital appointments, the diet and regime management, the list goes on… But despite all of that, they rarely let it impinge on my ability to do anything in life. In fact they probably made sure I tried things as much as possible to ensure I didn’t build up any fear towards the condition. They’re incredible people and what they’ve done for me over the years I won’t ever be able to adequately put into words, but thank you Mom and Dad for everything.

The physical support and attitude my parents forged in me, from their own approach to the condition is the single biggest contributing factor to anything I went and achieved as I moved from a teenager to becoming an adult. Having parents like mine, I believe, can really make the difference in the way a young diabetic approaches their condition and sport.

I also have a younger sister, who obviously didn’t help with the management of my condition or my attitude towards it but she helped in ways she probably doesn’t realise and maybe won’t, until she reads this! She’s an incredibly talented person, who I believe is naturally more intelligent than myself, which is good, because she pushed me to try harder in the things I was good at. Having that sibling rivalry in a household can be really healthy and can bring out the best in both children, who are fighting for the praise of their parents. Whilst I also have to thank her for putting up with Mom & Dad dragging her out in the cold as a child to come and watch me play. She didn’t ask for that life and she didn’t really enjoy it (it’s put her off football for life!), however by not kicking up a major fuss and allowing Mom & Dad to support me in the way they did, she has had a massive part to play in where I am now. Me and my sister have a pretty good relationship now as Adults, we talk all the time and we both support each other on our different paths in life. She lived around my Diabetes long enough to know when it’s going right or wrong instinctively and I think your siblings and parents will always be able to spot it. A huge thank you to my sister. Had she not been so understanding, I may not have had the opportunities to enhance my control with the support of my parents.

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But what about those who haven’t lived with Diabetes around them 24/7? The people that find themselves in your inner circle, but not quite as close as your family. I think your closest friends are the people that help you normalise Diabetes and often tackle those insecurities around testing, injecting and generally showing your condition to the world. I even had friends of mine who would pinch my leg so I could inject when I was much younger (in the days when you were told to pinch the injection site!), which definitely immersed them in Diabetes with me. They bring normality into my life which sometimes allows me to forget my Diabetes, even if it’s only for 5 minutes, but it’s so important to feel like you can get some rest bite from it. My friends go some way to understanding the condition, i.e knowing what to do when it goes wrong, but I’m quite glad they don’t know much more than that as their lack of understanding definitely helps me take a break from it when I’m in their company.  

As with anyone who’s ever played in a sports team, it’s important to have a coach who supports and understands you. This is even more important for a type 1 diabetic. My coach Nick was instrumental in those early years following diagnosis. Sure, he got as frustrated as I did when it let me down and affected my ability to play the game, but importantly, he understood that I wasn’t going to get it right 100% of the time but he continued to play me regardless of this fact. Yes, I’m sure it helped that I was a capable player who helped the team win trophies but my lack of consistency must’ve been difficult for any coach to watch… I can only thank him for his patience in those difficult early teenage years. I believe having a coach who can empathise in this way with your situation is so important as you learn and grow into yourself and the game throughout your adolescence. As an adult I’ve not required that level of support, but being up front with my coaches about what the condition is capable of doing to my performance is something I’ve only really talked about recently. Until this point, I concealed the true effect of Diabetes as I wanted people to judge me on my ability and not my condition. I’m sure I won’t be the only one who’s taken this approach but having a supportive coach will definitely alleviate some of this worry.

I can’t undersell the importance of a passionate healthcare professional, who just knows the right words to use when Diabetes is far from your friend. Fortunately for me the nurse that looked after me upon diagnosis and throughout my life in paediatrics was Diane Cluley. Her positive outlook for me and my life with the condition was imperative in those early years whilst adjusting to this new world. Her knowledge and empathy towards my lifestyle, condition and mindset is without doubt the biggest impact anyone from the NHS has had on me.  People within the healthcare profession can really make or break lives with their attitude towards the people they care for. Had I been supported by a nurse with a strict “textbook” attitude to Diabetes, I’m not sure where I would’ve ended up with my football.

I also wanted to mention the latest addition to my support network. The Diabetes online community (#DOC) has become a big part of my life in the last year and what a group of people they are. There’s an instantaneous connection that can’t be replicated easily with people who don’t have diabetes. The members of the #DOC understand your hardships, your middle of the night hypo concerns and the small battles you face on a daily basis. I’ve made some great friends already and with the level of support they offer I’m really not sure how I managed the condition without them! I’d advise any Diabetic to get involved in the community and speak to other peers about their Diabetes. I find sharing my experience and talking to others about theirs almost like therapy! I couldn’t recommend it highly enough!

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A diabetic’s support network can really be the difference between succeeding alongside the condition or finding it a tough existence. Luckily for me, I’ve had the most amazing parents, family and close friends who have never once made it “difficult” for me to manage it. Sure I’ve had people come and go in my life who haven’t helped or caused problems around the condition, but the “core” has always been there and without them I honestly think TDFC wouldn’t exist! Everyone needs support to grow and develop but those with Diabetes really do need it more than most to enable them to fulfil their potential in life and in sport.

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