We speak to the trailblazing pair who are opening up the conversation around the condition
In the UK, more than 4.9 million people have diabetes, with type 1 making up 8% of these diagnoses. Each year, Diabetes Week, which takes place in June, aims to raise awareness, and we want to help by making people sit up and take notice of a condition that affects so many of us.
So, who better to speak to than 22-year-old BFFs Ellen Watson and Beth McDaniel aka The Diabetic Duo. Chances are you’re already familiar with them – in the past year, the pair have taken social media by storm, sharing their day-to-day lives dealing with type 1 diabetes and garnering thousands of followers along the way. From the inevitable struggles that they’ve dealt with to the empowering advice they share when it comes to type 1 diabetes management, these two are pretty damn impressive.
Here are their stories about living with type 1 diabetes.
I felt isolated and awkward as a teenager
‘I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at seven years old,’ says Ellen. ‘Put simply, this means my body can’t produce its own insulin, making my blood sugar levels too high. I had to start taking insulin to level things, and have done so ever since. I’d say that I struggled with my mental health between the ages of 13 and 15. This was such an influential age for me and I didn’t want to feel different from everyone else. At this point, I had a difficult relationship with carbohydrate counting, or carb counting. For people with type 1 diabetes, this is an effective way of managing your blood sugar levels, and means your insulin dose can be individually matched to the amount of carbohydrate you eat and drink, ultimately bettering blood sugar control. Focusing on carbs is vital, but at that age I was linking eating carbs to weight gain as opposed to thinking about health. As a result, I felt like my diabetes took over and my early teens were an isolated, awkward period for me. I felt insecure.’
Beth’s diagnosis came much later, when she was 20 years old.
‘Being diagnosed at 20 was a massive adjustment,’ she says. ‘It really was such a change. I was finally becoming an adult only to be faced with this huge, life-changing situation. It’s fair to say that I had the same experience as Ellen did in her teens – I was pretty overwhelmed.’
Type 1 diabetes affects every element of our lives
‘When it comes to dealing with our diabetes, we have to consider absolutely everything,’ explains Ellen. ‘Whether it’s being careful of what exercise we’re doing, anticipating when our time of the month might be, or monitoring stress levels, everything needs to be taken into account. Often, people don’t realise the power of emotions. Stress can knock our blood sugar levels out of whack, so trying to stay on an even keel is always a priority when it comes to keeping healthy.’
And Beth agrees.
‘It really has been life changing,’ she says. ‘On average, I’d say we both inject ourselves eight times a day, which can feel like a lot.’
Stigma is still a big thing
‘Stigma and misconceptions surrounding diabetes are so prevalent,’ says Ellen. ‘But at the same time, I appreciate that if we didn’t have diabetes, we might feel the same. A lot of people aren’t aware of the basics. There’s two types of diabetes for a start, and even then there are rarer types again.’
‘There’s no cause or cure,’ continues Beth. ‘It’s not always to do with how fat or thin you are. That’s why we post our videos. We like to show everyone that diabetes doesn’t have some preconceived “face”. It can happen to anyone. It’s also why we show off our continuous glucose monitoring devices, which are visible often on our bellies and our arms. We think it’s important that people see this as our reality, so that they can become more aware and realise it’s normal to wear one.’
Having each other is such a blessing
‘Dealing with our diabetes can be stressful, but we have a great support system around us,’ says Ellen. `We're blessed to have mums who are both nurses in the NHS. As you can imagine, this is a great help for more doubtful moments. Our friends and our boyfriends are so supportive, too. Ultimately, it’s having each other that’s the best though. We’ve been inseparable since we met at our first retail job. We love to laugh and always joke that while some friends share clothes, we share a chronic illness!’
We’ve come to realise we can do anything we want
Despite dealing with misconceptions, stigma and many tough times, having diabetes hasn’t held Beth and Ellen back – far from it.
`We can’t pretend that diabetes hasn’t had a hold over our lives,’ says Ellen. ‘However, as we’ve got older, we’ve realised we can still do absolutely everything we want to achieve. Whether it’s learning to drive, getting a great education or smashing our career goals – as a person with diabetes you’ll never be limited as long as you’re looking after yourself.’
Don’t panic, take every day as it comes
Dealing with a recent diagnosis or know someone who is? Beth and Ellen have the ultimate takeaway: ‘You’ll have good days and bad days – that’s a fact. Our advice would be to not panic and take every day as it comes. And don’t be afraid to talk. Reach out to the diabetic community on TikTok and Instagram. They’re so helpful at providing emotional support, and emotional support is everything. You’ve got this!’
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