World Diabetes Day 2017

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Chris’ Message

On one of the most important days in the calendar for people with Diabetes, I wanted to share a small snippet of my story represented by these 2 photos. I was at very different stages of my life with Type 1 Diabetes in both images and they both really help me reflect on what it’s been like to live with a chronic medical condition.

The photo on the left: A scared kid (10 years old) one year after diagnosis still struggling to find his feet with it all, who was battling away to play football and compete with the other kids. Still doing well and holding trophies aloft but the management, the hypos and the worries of adjusting to this new way of life were dreadful…. My potential in what I could do in school and with my football was hindered and I remember being upset numerous times asking “Why me? Why has this happened to me?” It led me to years of never openly talking about it through fear of judgement and lack of understanding. Kids can be cruel, and at times they were, so I tried to keep my head down and didn’t tell people about it until I absolutely had to. Ultimately I didn’t really accept who I was and what I had properly….

Fast forward that to the photo on the right: 16 years later, and this is where I proved myself wrong. I think it took me until the moments when I played for my country at futsal for me to truly believe type 1 Diabetes wouldn’t hold me back. Something you battle with 24/7 will always be carried around with you like a chip on your shoulder, which I used to fuel the fire of my motivation. I put in the hard work, learning and dedication to managing my diabetes to help achieve what I had set my heart on within my sport. I’m by no means the best footballer, futsal player or example of type 1 diabetic control, but I learnt from my mistakes, persevered and never gave up believing in goals I set myself. By achieving those goals it gave me the confidence to open up about my condition and I now don’t shy away from sharing the trials and tribulations of what I live with, to help educate and advocate for greater awareness.

I’m just a normal 27 year old, who’s worked extremely hard to get the things done in my life that others may take for granted or might not think are that impressive. When you’re type 1 diabetic just going through a day without having a hypo is impressive!!!

I try to ensure I’m driving the car of my life and my chronic medical disability sits on the backseat where I know where it is, but it doesn’t affect the direction of where I’m heading.

So what’s my lasting message for World Diabetes Day ?

Don’t let it define you… be open and talk to others about what you’re going through. It changed my life opening up about it and I’ve now got better control of my condition than ever before. Be brave, be determined and use Diabetes to power your motivation to keep moving forward. Yes it can be tough, but with the right attitude it’s just an extra hurdle to jump, not a mountain to climb.

Let’s talk, educate and raise awareness this world Diabetes day.

Chris

My 18th Diaversary

The 6th of September 1999. A normal Monday for most, but a day I’ll never forget. At the age of 8, this was the day I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

18 years on I’m writing my reflections on living with type 1 Diabetes for all that time. For one, I’m still here, so I must be doing something right! On my 18th birthday I remember going out and partying with my friends, but I’m not sure I’m too keen on throwing my Diabetes a party… However there are a few things that I will thank Diabetes for on this occasion.

It’s not an easy existence having diabetes but it certainly doesn’t have to stop you doing a lot in life and I’ve tried to make sure this is a philosophy I live by.  

Having lived with the condition for all this time I can definitely appreciate that it’s made my life harder, which to my friends and peers hasn’t always been apparent. A lot of the struggles are behind
closed doors and are unseen by many. It’s a condition which means you never switch off from it and never get a break. A 24/7 battle that most of the people you come into contact with don’t know is happening. 

However with this being an 18th diaversary, I feel like it should be a celebration rather than talking about the hardships.

So what positives has it brought to my life?  

Without doubt it’s made me mentally stronger. Overcoming a condition which tests your ability to live on a daily basis has made value the positivity in my life and made me far more resilient. Most importantly it’s made me more determined and motivated to overcome it, to compete and surpass my peers. Having something which is set up to hold you back can often be the thing that drives you forward. It has with me!

One thing I can’t ignore are the Friends I’ve made through the Diabetes Online Community (#DOC), whom I never would have met had it not been for this illness. The commonality we share in living with this condition is a bond I’ve never been able to share with anyone. Who else knows what it’s like to wake up 4 times in one week at 4:30 am because you’re struggling with your insulin dose which is leading to nocturnal hypoglycaemia? Finding and adding these people to my life has helped me accept the condition fully, which even after the previous 17 years with it, I’m not sure I’d found myself. They have helped me do that and for that I will always be grateful.  

And then there is TDFC. When I contemplate its existence and impact since creation it fills me with immense pride and happiness. I only wish I’d had the idea & the confidence to do it sooner. I’m so pleased with how it continues to develop and the projects we’ve got coming up are so exciting. Helping to support a community of people who have welcomed me with such open arms is an absolute pleasure and I’m hoping my own introduction and that of TDFC has been a positive addition which we will grow!

The last thing to say is Happy Diaversary to my Diabetes! The condition I wish I didn’t have, but have so much to thank for.

The Psychology of a Diabetic Footballer

Having been involved in a number of conversations regarding the psychological support, and the need for more of it, I wanted to put my own spin on it around Football.

It’s never an easy conversation to have, within an extremely masculine setting of the changing room or a football club, but times have changed and the emphasis on mental health has never been more important.

Well where do you start with Diabetes?

I don’t think I’ll be able to cover or adequately portray the full effects of the condition on my mental well being and approach to my life and sport, but I’ll try and deliver a snapshot which I feel is most poignant to Football.

I wasn’t born with type 1 Diabetes.

You’re probably wondering why I’ve made that statement stand alone? The significance of it is because I remember life without having the condition. Until the age of 8 I wandered through life without a care in the world, blissfully unaware of what was to come. My only focus at that age was how quickly could I get home from school and get a football out!

Then in the September of 1999, I was catapulted into a world of worry and anxiety. That care free life that I lived prior to my diagnosis was a distant memory. Diabetes teaches you to worry very quickly. What if I forget my injection? What if my glucose levels go too low? What if they go too high? What happens if I play football? What happens if I eat this meal?

That extra worry is definitely a burden I’ve had to carry growing up.  I’m not sure you can properly shake it; you just learn to deal with it and adapt.

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 Just imagine what it’s like when you’ve “learnt” to worry more than usual and you’re greeted with a situation where you’re different to every other child in the changing room as you pull out your blood glucose monitor and insulin. When all you want to do as a child is “fit in”, this immediate difference can make it quite difficult. Most kids try to avoid situations like this where they feel alone or slightly outcast, but when you’re a diabetic in mainstream sport you have to just embrace it, otherwise you won’t do it. It takes guts.

Throw into that, those difficult teenage years and the “banter” of 16 boys at the age of 15 and you can only imagine how uncomfortable you can feel. Not to forget that if you’re trialling for a new team, or trying to make a step up or play for a representative side and you don’t know anyone in the dressing room. The levels of anxiety go through the roof! It’s an added stress trying to fit in, so hopefully with some of the work I’m doing with TDFC we can encourage diabetics to embrace their condition in this environment, and give those people who don’t have the condition some guidance on how to support children who may find this a barrier.

All of this worry and I haven’t even referred to trying to get glucose levels in range to be able to get out there and play.  Without them in a good place you immediately know you’re on the back foot. I don’t hide from the fact that during the warm up and team talk prior to a game I’m very rarely concerned with the tactics of the team (as I really should know them already!), as I concentrate all of my efforts on making sure the body is loose and the glucose levels are in a good place to play! Again it adds more pressure and anxiety to your preparation but when you’ve learnt to deal with that the playing part is a breeze!

This anxiety about getting levels right leads me very nicely into the frustration and anger it generates when it does go wrong.  I will not be the only one that has experienced their glucose levels going wrong in the moments when you need them to be stable the most.  I remember vividly my levels “playing up” when I had trials at pro clubs and in cup finals. Emotions always run high and invariably cause you a problem which no planning can foresee! However it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow when you’re out there struggling to perform when you know what you’re capable of. My parents and coach of my junior team felt this frustration for a long time, as they watched my ability succumb to the diabetes and it often left me infuriated.  Sometimes it’s out of your control and the best way to respond is to chalk it off and go again next week. You’ll learn from what happened and try and put it right next time. It never makes the anger and frustration easier to accept, it just means you don’t give up because of it.

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But what about the fear of Hypos? A topic often referred to when Diabetics refer to exercise. Anyone who’s experienced a mild Hypo (when you’ve been able to treat yourself) knows that it can be a pretty nasty feeling and pretty scary, but what about the people who have experienced one which they couldn’t treat themselves? The courage and bravery it can take to then put yourself in a situation with exercise, where they’re more likely to occur, is huge. I’ve only suffered one severe hypo like this in my lifetime and can only describe it as one of the most frightening things I’ve been put through. I think the fact I was only 13 at the time helped me respond to it. As a child you’re pretty fearless so I didn’t build up too much of a mental barrier to hypos despite experiencing that. Regardless of how I dealt with that I know situations where others have really struggled to come back from it and it can be a significant barrier I want TDFC to address. I want to ensure that no diabetic feels unable to participate in Football as a result of fearing hypos. The organisation will be campaigning hard to improve the support in Football for diabetic participants as well as the people who deliver the game that need greater awareness of the condition.

With all of the negatives it CAN have….. There is one really really big psychological benefit that I believe it’s given me. I carry Diabetes around as the “chip on my shoulder” and the one thing that makes me work harder, more determined and more passionate about defying the odds of living with a chronic medical condition. I’ve been let down by it from time to time but for the most part I honestly believe Diabetes helped me find my strength. I used it to power my motivation and to achieve my goals. It made me who I am as a person and my achievements can be attributed to the resilience it added to my character. I’ve never let it stop me and nor will I let it in the future.

I have a favourite quote which I often refer to which I think reflects the way I feel about its affect on me and my sport.

“The best view comes after the hardest climb”

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When you achieve the goals you’ve set yourself, knowing all of the difficulties and setbacks you’ve gone through to get there as a result of your Diabetes, the appreciation of that peak is that much greater.

As much as I believe Diabetes has had its negative impact on my psychological welfare, there’s no doubt I’ve used it positively to power my motivation and strength. Diabetes drives my determination to defy all of the physiological effects it can have, to compete and surpass my peers who don’t have the condition.

I firmly believe that “we cannot change the cards we’re dealt, just how we play the hand.” I’ve learnt to play mine the best way I can.

My Story

I always viewed my diabetes as an extra hurdle to jump rather than a mountain to climb! I’ve worked incredibly hard all my life to achieve the things I have and I believe it’s time I tried to share some of my experience with people who go through the same struggles, or may go through those struggles in the future.

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1999 (at the age of 8) and upon diagnosis my very first question was “can I still play football?” Luckily I had an exceptional diabetes nurse who gave the answer I wanted, being “yes”, but she readied me to ensure I knew how hard it would be to live out the dreams of playing football at the highest level. I’m sure I’m not alone in this first question, as in that incredibly scary moment when you know your life is changed forever, you just want reassurance that you can still live out those childhood dreams. I think healthcare professionals need to ensure they know how important these first words to a Child are when diagnosed with a life changing medical condition. They can quite literally be life determining. 

From that moment I had choice, I could crumble and let the daily worry, testing and sport related hypos destroy my resolve or I could come out fighting. I did the latter!

As a child, I found it difficult to manage my football on 2 injections a day on mixture insulins, they created all sorts of peaks and troths with my glucose levels which made it extremely difficult to predict where they would be when you needed them to be stable for sport. My family and I went through lots of trial and error and learning from my mistakes but I was still battling away and achieving things but probably not to my capability as I believe it was holding me back slightly.  I still managed to captain my school football team and captain my district team. I need an improvement in my management to help me kick on a gear.

Things then changed hugely when at around 14/15 years of age I changed to the basal / bolus regime. The flexibility to adapt my life more easily around my diabetes whilst making me feel more energetic took me onto the next level in my sport. It was a huge development for my control at a difficult time as a teenager but it really enhanced my control of the condition and supported my development within my sport as I broke into county squads and showed promising signs at a club level.

I then left school had trials with professional football teams, which never quite worked out, as injuries and diabetes found a way of scuppering me, but I honestly don’t think I was quite ready either. This then led me into the semi professional game with Bromsgrove Rovers where I got the opportunity to play at Step 4 of the non league structure, whilst during the same period of time I played for the Worcestershire FA u18s county side, travelling around the country playing for them. My performance in this time had kicked up a gear due to the regime change in controlling my diabetes and my commitment to defy the odds and enjoy football never slipped. I didn’t want to let anything stop me achieving and continued to test myself to see what level I could reach.

A big step in many young people’s lives is going to University but it’s probably even bigger when you try and tackle it with something like Diabetes. A testing time on blood glucose control, as the lifestyle of a student is somewhat erratic! Combining that with football games being at different times of the day, which challenges the routine you have set up for matches, it added even more complexity to an already testing time in life.

I went to Worcester University to study my degree in sport, which I loved every second of. I was even lucky enough to write my dissertation about the effects of exercise on blood glucose levels in type 1 diabetics and non diabetics!! It was another life changing experience which I look upon so fondly and representing the university’s 1st team and winning a league title in my final year was the icing on the cake.  

However it doesn’t stop there, as with anything I do, I never stop pushing myself! 

I continued as I left university to play for semi professional football clubs in my local area (Bromsgrove Sporting FC, Pershore Town FC, Southam United FC, Earlswood Town FC) and enjoyed some great cup finals playing at the Ricoh arena (Coventry City FC stadium) and playing at the bescot (Walsall FC stadium).  I then had an opportunity to take up Futsal through a friend of mine who was playing for one of the football clubs I was at. He’d thought it would suit the way I played football and suggested it would be a good idea. 

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In my first full season at the highest level in England (2014/15) I won player of the year at my club (Birmingham Tigers Futsal club) and scored 15 goals in 15 games. I was hooked and enjoying it. However it did throw up some difficulties with my blood glucose levels as the intensity was very different to football (faster, shorter bursts)! I learnt a lot about blood glucose control for Futsal in those first 18 months and it clearly didn’t affect my performance. Following my amazing first season I was called up to train with the Wales national team. An amazing honour! 

I then trained throughout the summer of 2015 with the squad on and off until disaster struck and I tore my groin the last session before selection. I was devastated.

However I was patient and optimistic in my approach and I received the opportunity again to train with the squad during the summer /autumn 2016. This time the opportunity didn’t pass me by! I trained well and was called up for the first time to the squad to play Latvia! I won my first cap for Wales on November 1st 2016. I was then also part of the first home nations Wales Futsal squad in December. We won the inaugural championships to! Bitter sweet as I broke my foot during one of the games though! 

Despite the injury heartache, it’s something I’m so so so proud of and having had diabetes it’s made the journey harder but as they say, “the best view at the top, always comes after the hardest climb”! My god have I had a climb to get to what I have done, but when I say that the view was incredible, it really was and it continues to be! Only my nearest and dearest see what I go through on a daily basis, everyone else just sees the smile and positive attitude that drives me to achieve. It’s an invisible condition which can be so devastating without the right attitude, correct management and the support of the people around you. My unsung heroes in all of it continue to be my family and anyone growing up with a medical condition like Diabetes would be lucky to have one like mine, who encouraged me to live life like a normal person, whilst ensuring I looked after my condition.

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This is why the Diabetes Football Community has been introduced. I want to be able to support people wanting to play, and that are interested in football, who suffer with diabetes. I’m hoping it will fill the void which I felt was missing when I was growing up. It’s somewhere to turn to for reassurance, for advice and guidance and a firsthand experience of combining diabetes with football, one of the UK’s biggest diseases with the UK’s biggest sport.

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It’s a huge honour to be doing something like this and in some ways my biggest challenge yet. I’m hoping I can put something back into the community and raise awareness of the condition to ensure diabetics can feel an extra level of support when combining the condition with football.

Chris Bright

You can find me on my social media accounts :

brighty08 on instagram

@chrisbrighty on twitter 

Or if you want to check out “The Diabetes Football Community” it’s on Facebook : @thediabetesfootballcommunity or on Twitter: @TDFCdiabetes