I believe that, in almost every instance, diabetes is actually something that creeps up on you. In a way this almost betrays the seriousness of it as a condition. Looking back, I think I was possibly pre-diabetic, and diabetic pre-diagnosis, for up to a year but I had a perfect storm of combinations that led to me not getting checked out for quite a while.
There is A LOT of literature out there on the internet already about how to tell if you have diabetes and things to look out for but what I want to do is run you through exactly what happened to me, specifically signs I should’ve noticed but didn’t. This is in the hope you go away with something slightly more real and actionable on finding out if you have diabetes. If it means even just 1 person reads this page and decides to go and get themselves tested, I will feel like it has done its job.
So, I will do my best to run through my symptoms as and when they appeared to the best of my memory to give you a sort of timeline of the development of my diabetes.
How To Find Out If You Have Diabetes
1. Thirst. In the run-up to my diagnosis I became unbelievably thirsty. I had a litre Chilis bottle *cough* or the cheap Amazon alternative *cough* and during the day, while at work, I must have been drinking at least three.
I would also wake up in the morning incredibly thirsty, reaching for a pint of water that I put next to my bed before I fell asleep. By the time I’d got ready for work and I was downstairs having breakfast I’d be thirsty again. I was getting to the point where I couldn’t even go on a 20 minute car journey into town without taking my water bottle with me for fear of becoming parched.
This went on for quite some time, longer than it should’ve done, and I don’t really know why I let it. I guess that, because it was a gradual change, I was working out a lot of the time and you’re constantly bombarded by messages saying you should be drinking more, it didn’t raise any red flags for quite some time.
2. Urination (loads). As you can imagine when you drink a lot you piss a lot and just as the frequency of my drinking increased so did the frequency of me going to the toilet. I was at the point where I was getting up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet and while I was there grabbing a quick drink from the bathroom sink.
This was after having got into bed, then having to get back up to go to the toilet before actually falling asleep. I would then be desperate for a slash as soon as I woke up in the morning as well.
At work I think it was as bad as me going to the toilet at least every 45 minutes. It wasn’t just to the toilet either, I’m talking holding on as long as I could and unleashing a torrent when I made it to the bowl. Again, this went on for longer than it should’ve done without me really thinking much of it. I think in my head it went hand-in-hand with drinking more so didn’t cause me too much concern.
Looking back, these two signs when combined, are probably the two clearest for me to know that I had type 1 diabetes.
3. Weight loss/difficulty in gaining weight. At the time of my diagnosis I was going to the gym a lot, not long before I was diagnosed I was even going a couple of times a day in some instances. My main aim of this exercise regime was to get bigger, to build muscle mass. To help achieve this I was counting my calories, and even working on my macros for a bit (which was painfully boring). Unfortunately, despite eating around 4,500 calories a day at the peak of me trying to gain weight, and ensuring I had good macros, I wasn’t gaining anything at all.
The biggest change that did occur was that I stripped a big amount of fat. Now, there was an interim period where I felt this actually looked good. I’ve always been heavy set and stockily built and I was putting so much work in down the gym, such as just having completed the Insanity Workout (Shaun T you evil man) it felt good to me that my fat levels and my muscle definition was improving. However, after a while it went too far the other way.
I ended up at the point where I believe I started to lose some muscle mass and I plateaued at a weight of 75KG, this was going from a weight of just over 100KG…
I look back now at pictures of how I used to be during this time and it’s ridiculous that I actually let myself get that way. After being at 75KG for some time, and still eating 4,500 calories, this was one of the main deciding factors in me going to see my GP.
4. Infections. This is, without a doubt, the most personal of the symptoms I experienced which led me to my diagnosis. It’s not one I’ve ever really spoken about with more people than I can count on one hand. However, I feel it’s important I outline it here because it’s not one I really read about at all and may have led to me getting diagnosed earlier if I had. It’s also one that had an impact on my quality of life.
I’m talking about thrush. Now, before I got it I thought thrush was something only women got. However, men can have it too (and I’m sure for reasons other than just the one I am mentioning here). The doctors told me I got it because the sugar content of my urine was so high, due to my body being unable to convert the carbs, that I basically had sugar dick. This meant that when I went for a piss, sugar was getting left around my bellend and my foreskin and it was creating a perfect environment for bacteria to breed.
Now, the side-effects of thrush are really killer. I won’t go into too much detail because it’s pretty disgusting but the worst part for me was the split foreskin. The usual cycle would be that I would get thrush with all the symptoms including an extremely tight foreskin and a red and sore bellend. No matter what I tried my foreskin would eventually split in a few places and I’d be left in severe pain for a week at a time. I would do my best to clean it, look after it and moisturise it and it would be fine again for around a month and then it would happen all over again.
The worst part of it was I was too embarrassed to go to the doctors and treated it with creams and tablets I ordered online (thank you as always for your extremely discreet packaging Amazon!) This was a very bad idea and I should have gone straight to the doctors as I’m guessing they would have asked me a few questions that would have led to them recommending a blood test that would have resulted in me getting a diagnosis much sooner than I did!
But hey, hindsight is a brilliant thing and a big reason for why I’m writing this is the hope someone doesn’t make the same mistake as me. In addition to that I also had a number of eye infections. The last one of these was actually the straw that broke the camel’s back, as I got a new one right after one infection had cleared up, and made me go to my GP.
5. Tiredness and lethargy. This was more of a significant issue in the immediate run up to my diagnosis. At its worst my tiredness was leading to me almost passing out where I sat or stood and waking up again, however long later, a bit confused about what happened.
There was one time when I was at a family lunch, sat down on the floor after a big meal and then woke up probably half an hour later flat on my face. There was another time when I got home from the gym, managed to walk upstairs into my room, and then fell asleep on my bedroom floor before making it to my bed. Initially, I chalked it up to being so busy and also because I spent so much of my time working out. However, as one of the last symptoms I experienced it was part of the reason I decided to go and see my GP.
You may be surprised to hear that, all of these things combined led to me getting a type 1 diabetes diagnosis.
How To Get A Diagnosis To Know If You Have Type 1 Diabetes
I realise that the above may be another question that is on your mind so I will tell you how I did it. I am incredibly lucky to live in the UK where healthcare is free at the point of use (and I hope and pray it continues to be) so this process may look a bit different for you but I’m sure the principles are the same.
Thursday Lunchtime: I called my local GP to book a blood test. The receptionist asked me a few questions, agreed that I should come in for a blood test and booked me one for the following Friday (the earliest they could do outside of work hours)
The Following Friday – 5.50pm: I arrive at the GP’s after work and get called in to see the doctor almost immediately. He asks me a few questions, does a few checks such as my blood pressure, tells me that my symptoms sound like diabetes but to look at me he would say it wasn’t and that I was actually quite healthy. He takes some blood and tells me that I will hear quickly if there is any bad news.
Saturday Morning – 11am: I am down the gym working out. It’s definitely playing on my mind that I had the blood test last night and could get a call or message soon. I don’t have any signal in the gym though. When I leave the gym I suddenly pickup 5 missed calls, 4 from a number I don’t recognise and one from my dad, and 2 voicemails. I get in my car and listen to the voicemails. The first one is from a doctor saying that he knows that I had a blood test yesterday and I need to call the hospital straight away.
The second is from my dad saying that the doctor has called the house wanting to talk to me but couldn’t say anything to him other than that I needed to call them back. My heart sinks like a stone. I pluck up the courage to call the hospital where I am quickly transferred to a consultant.
The consultant doesn’t waste any time in telling me he believes I have diabetes. He asks me a few questions, when I mention I’m down the gym he asks me specifically if I take steroids. This is because steroids can have an affect on your liver and its ability to filter your blood. The answer to that question is no. He then instructs me to come into the outpatients department in Frimley Park Hospital immediately.
Saturday Morning – 12.30am: The consultant has told me I can’t possibly drive myself, so my dad comes with me. Once at Frimley Park, I arrive at outpatients and I’m sat there for no more than 10-15 minutes before I am seen. I’m asked a few more questions, receive my first blood glucose check and also take the first of many pisses in a pot so I can be checked for ketones. Although it’s not an official diagnosis at this point the consultant tells me that all signs point to me having type one diabetes.
I then spend the rest of the day at the hospital. Throughout that time I had my bloods taken regularly while having insulin injected incrementally and ketones also frequently tested for. My dad stays there with me the whole day, and my mum and sister join in the evening. For a while the doctors toyed with the idea of keeping me in for the night but I was pretty insistent I wanted to go home.
Saturday Evening – 7.30pm: Thankfully, they agreed with me and I was allowed to leave that evening.
In all honesty it wasn’t until I made it home, and had a chance to really think about what I had just gone through, that I realised the enormity of the day I had experienced. I can honestly say that, for the whole day at the hospital I didn’t actually feel too worried or upset. The staff were very reassuring and my family were a great comfort to me as well. I think that, once I was home and had 5 minutes to myself, everything hit me like a tonne of bricks. That night I cried to my mum and dad and then went to bed.
Sounds pretty mundane really, especially in comparison to some other people’s stories, but that’s really how it went down. So, there you have it, a very real, blow by blow account of my journey to diagnosis. I appreciate that everyone’s will be different but I hope this gives you some insight and some understanding into what to expect or even just what someone else’s diabetic journey was like.