A new online support group has been set up to provide friendship, reassurance and advice for people living with Type 1 Diabetes.
#TypeOneWest - which currently operates on Facebook - came about following an event run by charity Diabetes UK which encouraged young people to make use of social media to feel less isolated as they manage their condition.
One of the young people who has been involved with the group since its inception is 21-years-old Lauren Friel from Glenabbey.
Lauren, an Occupational Therapy student at the University of Ulster, Jordanstown, was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes ten years ago - when she was finishing her primary seven year.
“I had all the typical symptoms,” she said. “I lost a lot of weight, was really thirsty all the time and was running to the toilet a lot. My mum went away for the weekend and when she came back, she noticed a huge difference in my weight - and that rang alarm bells.”
It was Lauren’s auntie who suggested testing her blood sugars, having some awareness of the condition as Lauren’s granny had Type 2 diabetes.
A simple finger prick blood test was all it took to confirm that 11-year-old Lauren’s blood sugars were at a dangerously high level. A normal blood sugar level should be between 3.5 and 8.5mmol - Lauren’s were sitting at 24.
“I wasn’t really sure what was going on,” Lauren said. “Everyone around me was crying, and hugging me and telling me that I would be okay - but because I didn’t actually feel sick then I didn’t know what the fuss was about.”
She was taken to the Out of Hours doctors who sent her immediately to the Children’s Ward, where she spent a week as an inpatient coming to terms with the changes to her life.
“We all had to learn, me, mum, dad. We had to learn to give injections, to monitor my blood sugars, to get used to a controlled diet.”
Like many young people, Lauren adapted to the dramatic changes in her lifestyle relatively easily. But also, like many young people once her adolescent years hit she rebelled against the condition and what it meant for her.
“It all went downhill,” she said. “I didn’t about to know about diabetes. I didn’t want to talk about it, to think about it. I didn’t care about insulin. I didn’t want to give injections.”
The result of her poor management of her condition was that she spent a considerable amount of time in and out of hospital. It was, she admits, a difficult time for her, and everyone around her.
“I had my mum and dad’s hearts broken,” she said.
“I put them through a lot but it was something that I struggled with. And because I struggled I felt like the worst diabetic in the world - as if everyone else was doing it right and I was the only person who wasn’t.”
In fact studies have shown it is not uncommon for adolescents - especially those who have been diagnosed later in childhood - to experiences feelings of resistance and rebellion towards their condition.
“What I felt was that people just didn’t get it. To them it was simple - you ate what you were supposed to eat, you did your blood tests and did your injections. To them it was the easiest thing in the world - but it didn’t feel like that to me.
“Every relationship I had with everyone focused on diabetes. It seemed to become a bigger and bigger deal.”
And Lauren admits that she found herself battling diabulemia - the name given to the disorder where a diabetic will mess around with their insulin in an attempt to try and control their weight.
“I never thought about the long term implications - I thought I was invincible, the way teenagers do.”
It is something that Lauren knows she may well have to face up to the future - even though she now has her condition well under control.
“Something did click in me in the last few years and I came back in control of my condition. I got an insulin pump - which makes life so much easier. I don’t have to give myself mutiple injections each day and that makes life easier. It’s less conspicuous.”
Lauren is also confident that recent advances in medical technology mean that life will continue to be more manageable for diabetics.
“I don’t see any reason why I won’t go on to live a completely normal life,” she said. “I’m studying to be an Occupational Therapist and I love it.
“I finally feel in control and in a good place about my diabetes.”
If she could make any changes to the care offered to type one diabetics, it would be to offer more emotional and social support - which is exactly why she thinks groups such as #TypeOneWest are important.
“There is power in feeling less alone,” she said.