Type II diabetes – I was only 16, I didn’t think it was actually about me

Before the year 2,000 there were no reported cases of type II diabetes in children under the age of 18 in the UK. By 2016 there were almost 600 children* with the disease. Hollie was one of them. As an overweight teen, Hollie knew that people would point fingers and say she’d done it to herself. But no one blames Hollie more than she does herself. This is her story.

“All the women on my mum’s side of the family are overweight. Growing up, we used to eat lots of home-cooked meals like pies and things. We’d have massive platefuls. I was eating veggies but I was just eating too much food. It was comfortable, that was just how my family was.

“When I started working at a supermarket and I had my own money and staff discount I bought chocolate, sweets and fizzy drinks to have on the way home. I also suffered from depression and eating chocolate and sweets was a big part of that. I’d simply just eat and eat, not caring. I put on even more weight.

“My doctor told me a couple of times that I was at risk of diabetes if I didn’t lose weight. But it didn’t mean much to me. I thought he was just saying it because he had to. I’d seen the leaflets and stuff on the telly, but I was only 16, I didn’t think it was actually about me.

“About a year later I started to feel really poorly. I can’t even explain how bad I was feeling. I was so thirsty. My mouth was really dry and I couldn’t stop drinking.  I was going to the toilet every 10 minutes.

“My mum has diabetes, and so does my aunty and my nan. I knew enough about the symptoms that I started to secretly worry that I might actually have it. But I didn’t tell anyone, I hid it. I was scared, not because I thought it was serious, but because people would say it was my fault because I was overweight. I couldn’t face being the overweight girl and have diabetes as well.

“Then something weird happened, I lost loads of weight without trying. I was still feeling really awful and eating junk food and drinking sugary drinks, but I lost about three and a half stone really quickly. People were complimenting me and I liked it. I also thought that if I lost weight, then if it was diabetes, it would just go away by itself.

“It was a couple of days after Christmas and I’d been feeling ill for about six months. Mum was shocked to find that all of the drinks she’d bought in for Christmas were gone. I’d drunk 100 cans of diet cola in less than a week. She sat me down and tested my blood sugar level – it was 35 (normal range is n 4.0 to 6.0 mmol/L). Mum took me straight to hospital. I still didn’t tell her my fears, I didn’t want to disappoint her.

“When the nurse took my blood I remember thinking that it looked like red syrup – it came out really slow and sticky.

“I was terrified when they did an ECG to check whether I’d damaged my heart. I’d only ever thought about the symptoms of diabetes; being thirsty and needing to go to the toilet. I’d never thought diabetes could be damaging my organs. Luckily my heart was fine, but later on when I had an eye test they found that there were early signs of changes in the back of my eyes.

“The thing I remember most is how relieved I was when they said it was type I diabetes – I knew that was the one people got through no fault of their own. No one could blame me. So I was devastated when a few months later they diagnosed me with type II diabetes. It really was my fault and what was worse, I could have stopped it.

“I didn’t want any of my friends to know. I didn’t want them looking at me and thinking ‘You’ve done that to yourself.’ I already knew it was my fault. It was only when my closest friend asked what I’d got for Christmas that I said: ‘I got diabetes for Christmas.’

“I was having to inject myself with insulin before every meal and taking tablets daily. I believed I’d done this to myself and now I was stuck with it. All these terrible things were going to happen like losing my limbs and damaging my heart and eyes, and it was something I could have prevented.

“But the diabetic team told me that I could change it. The dietician got me to keep a food diary and told me that just a few changes could make a big difference.

“I immediately cut out sweets and chocolate. I swapped sugary drinks for water and I thought more about portion sizes and the amount of carbohydrate I was eating. I was amazed that within a year I was able to stop using insulin. It was possible to control diabetes by being careful with my diet and tablets. I started to feel hopeful.

“Today, two years after being diagnosed my blood sugar average is 6.0 mmol/L – that’s within the pre-diabetic range. My doctor says that if it reduces even more then I will be able to come off the medication and control it with diet alone. I am working really hard to control diabetes after that I’ll focus on getting my weight even further down.

“If I knew then what I know now I would never have been so casual about my health and my diet. I would have understood how serious diabetes is and I would have done everything in my power to have avoided getting it.

“People my age need to stop and think what they’re doing. They don’t want to be like me. And I certainly wouldn’t wish this on Sam or the children he represents.”

*Diabetes UK State of the Nation 2016