On… Commuting

Early on in my career, I realised that half of the battle in staying happy in life is learning to enjoy your commute. If you find peace during that 45 minute journey, where you’re sat in stand-still traffic or pressed up against the inside of a train door, then you can do anything else in life with vigor. It is the key to inner happiness. When we think of Monks, we assume that it is their connection to their God and their studious nature which brings them inner peace. Although this is a nice theory, I believe it may be wrong. Monks spend their lives in monasteries, where commuting is a dystopian concept. It isn’t a coincidence. They’re probably unaware of the entire concept of ‘dystopian’ with all that peace and tranquility. To some of us, a monastery seems like a concept reserved for dystopia, but I’m sure everyone agrees that the lack of commuting is anything but. Perhaps I should become a Monk, come to think of it. Na. I like buying things too much.

‘Commuting’ is an elastic word. Although it is commonly used to refer to the regular act of leaving one’s home to get to one’s place of work, it could, in theory, refer to any journey that is made regularly. If I had regular piano lessons, and I travelled there every Saturday at 08:00 to arrive at 09:00, could I refer to this as my ‘commute’ to my piano lesson? I might. It might even be acceptable to describe it as such. It is certainly acceptable according to the Wikipedia page for commuting, where the following is stated:

Commuting is periodically recurring travel between one’s place of residence and place of work or study, where the traveler, referred to as a commuter, leaves the boundary of their home community. By extension, it can sometimes be any regular or often repeated travel between locations, even when not work-related.

Notice the use of the word ‘even’ in that paragraph? “…EVEN when not work related.” What exciting lives we lead in the modern world. It makes me think of the interview with then british Prime Minister Theresa May, where a reporter asked her what the naughtiest thing she had ever done was, with the slightest hint of sarcasm in her tone, but still said very professionally. Theresa May responded in a babbling fashion, trying to buy herself time to think of a realistic yet relatable answer – “Oh goodness me…. Erm, well I supposed the… Gosh… I’m not sure… No one’s ever perfect are they… Well, I have to confess, when me and my friends would, sort of, run through the fields of wheat…well, the farmers weren’t too pleased about that.” You can’t watch it without covering your eyes and cringing. I think Theresa May might have written the Wikipedia page on commuting, based on her response that day. I’m surprised it didn’t come up after that question was put to her.

Reporter: “So, Theresa, what is the naughtiest thing you have ever done?”

Theresa May: “Well, erm, I guess I’ve, erm, been a little aloof with my siblings in the past. I EVEN described my journey to my brother’s house for Sunday dinner as a ‘commute’ because I was doing it every week. He didn’t appreciate that.”

After she said it, you could sense the world collectively groan back at through their TV screens, before immediately changing the channel. It would have actually gone down better than what she said – at least it would have hinted at the fact that she had a sense of humour.

But I am not talking about the type of commute where you frequently make some nondescript journey. I’m talking about that forced journey that you make at the worst time of the day, during rush hour. When everyone in the world looks miserable because they got out of bed earlier than they wanted to, to go to a place where they’re constantly scrutinised on their ‘performance’, whilst making someone else a lot of money, which they only receive a small percentage of in return. That morning slog to your place of work.

If you’re driving a car and you’re unfortunate enough to meet another person’s glance as you’re sitting in traffic, you see the same misery that is painted over your face in theirs. You both quietly acknowledge it, before quickly looking away and pretending that you aren’t still wondering if they’re looking at you. What else are you going to do? Think about work? Gaup at another car? There’s nothing better to do. Just stare forward and try to think of nothing.

In London, on the underground, making eye contact with someone is considered assault during rush hour, and it is to be avoided at all costs. There are reports of people actually turning to stone upon making eye contact with each other on the tube in rush hour. I haven’t seen it happen myself, but I’m not willing to find out if the stories are true or not. Here is a little run down of my daily commute on the tube…

As soon as I enter the train carriage in the morning, I run for the only seat that is still available and throw myself on it. Then, I take out my book from my bag, ensuring that the only place I look is down, before opening it up at any page at all (I don’t care where, so long as I am too busy to engage with anyone around me), and that is where my gaze stays until it is my stop. Then, I put the book in my bag, immediately produce my phone from my pocket, check my emails quickly as the train pulls into the station and, when it stops, I finally look up, stand up, and leave the train. A sigh of relief involuntarily leaves my mouth, and I start to shake the hands of every person around me whilst staring them straight in the eye, like a politician, congratulating them for successfully making it through another commute. Then I realise that I have a 20 minute walk to my office from the station, which means that my commute is technically not over yet. Horrified at this realisation, I repent to the commuting Gods and ask that they forgive me for my transgressions, for daring to look another commuter in the eye. Then I nervously run to my office, purposefully barging into people in the street to make sure that they know that I am a commuter and I will damn well act like one, with my eyes fixed on the pavement in front of me and a total disregard for anyone or any thing that isn’t me. Later, when I get a notification from my bank telling me that London Underground have charged me for the journey, I am reminded that I actually pay to do all of this, and the indignation weighs heavy on me for a while. Then I get the tube home and forget about the whole thing. Same again tomorrow, I guess.

Commuting seems to drive people clinically insane. When I used to get the tube from London Bridge, in central London, to Canary Wharf, I would always take the Jubilee line. If it is running to schedule, there is a train every 2 or 3 minutes. It is quite impressive. Despite this, sometimes I would be walking towards the platform, where a train would be sitting with people alighting from it, and I’d accept in my head that I’ll just get the next one, as there are too many people around to allow me to sprint at it, and there will be another train in 2 minutes anyway, so why would I? Next thing I know, Tom in the Blue Suit is bursting past me from behind, as if this train was the last train to heaven and if he didn’t catch it, he would immediately be damned to the train to hell and nowhere else. I’m sure in his head he has a scene from an action film playing, and as he dives towards the train doors, the bell ringing out to signify that the train is going to leave and doors are closing, he thinks he has made a fantastic decision. Then, as he dives through the closing gap, the entire world probably goes into slow-motion a la Matrix style, as he narrowly slips through the gap, the door closing on the heel of his back foot. “Please do not obstruct the doors,” says the train driver through the tannoy, in a frustrated tone. Tom pulls his shoe from the gap with great effort as the doors angrily clap together behind him. He then smiles to the hordes of people crammed into the train, some of which he has just shoulder barged on his way in, then continues to look down and assume his position as unassuming commuter #235987245897349683045892034729845938460395863. Well done, Tom, you saved yourself 2 minutes. Enjoy getting to work earlier you absolute moron.

Of course, the recent wave of Working from Home has seen a decline in commuting. Whether working from home (stylised as ‘WfH’ or ‘WFH’) is a positive thing or not seems to split opinion. I feel like most people that I know are in favour of working from home, but I know a few people who are ardently against it too. In my experience, the answer seems to be in balance. Covid-19 presented us with a rare opportunity where we were forced to stay in our homes, and work from them all of the time. We had to do everything from them. I even had to do my family Christmas from my own home, via Skype, because Boris Johnson announced another lockdown about 2 minutes before I was leaving to get the train home for the holiday. Bah humbug.

Commuting became an ideal of the past, a distant memory of a world not plagued by… plague. One where it was common to see groups of young professionals outside the pub at 18:00 on a Wednesday, armed in suits and drinking beers, and where it was a given that we’d all be travelling into work the next morning, assuming it was a week day, but we all thought nothing of it. We all had more stamina then, and going out for mid-week drinks was part of the job. How life has changed.

Working from home was a benefit that I had experienced at my old job, but it was something that you had to beg for, and have a ruddy good reason for asking. Then, the pandemic happened, and all of a sudden the world required everyone to WfH all of the time, or risk death. We all started judging each other on how willingly we wore masks in supermarkets. I remember someone pointing out that all of the youths that used to love wearing masks in public were now refusing to wear them in an act of defiance, an apt observation which I thought of every time I saw a group of bustling teenagers in a shop, not wearing masks and staring you out for daring look in their direction.

I now go into the office twice a week and I have to say, it is quite enjoyable! It is nice getting out of the house, putting on some nice-ish clothes, and seeing people face to face. The whole thing feels quite novel. Yet, now there is more of an expectation on us to do so, the office is the worst thing ever again. There are no winners. Humans are destined to be unhappy – that is my takeaway from it all. If there is something to be dissatisfied with, we’ll find it and we’ll milk it dry. When we were working from home, we wanted more money to cover the extra heating bills, but now we’re back in the office, we begrudge having to pay the money to commute.

But I have lots of positive things to say about the pandemic AND about post-pandemic life. The pandemic actually presented me with a few rare opportunities, of which I will forever be grateful. I was living in central London when it hit. During my long runs on a Saturday, I’d run along the Thames path right next to the river, through central London and around Southbank. There was a time that I was running over the Millenium Bridge, the bridge which crosses the river next to The Globe theatre and leads you straight to St Paul’s Cathedral, and I couldn’t see a single person anywhere. It felt like I was in a zombie film. No tourists, no commuters, no street performers. Just me, the Thames, and an eerie sense that the world was ending. The world wasn’t ending. In fact, there were images of fish in the canals in Venice, and wild animals venturing into the towns in Wales… the world was actually doing better and we were the problem all along – who knew? But it was a peaceful time, and I’ve never experienced a London like it in all my time of living here.

So, I’ve tried to make something of my commute, as it is the only thing standing in my way of enjoying my 2 days in the office… I try and use it to do something useful. I’ve been reading through all of Patrick Radden Keefe’s books, an investigative journalist who writes incredible non-fiction, but has such a smooth writing style and finds such interesting topics to talk about, that makes you wish that the commute would never end. I’ve started writing on my commute on my phone too, or I’ll respond to a bunch of texts that I’ve been sitting on (apparently, a side effect of having had cancer is that you get really bad at doing life admin). I feel like it is reforming my opinion of commuting. It does help that where I live now is a little quieter on the commute, and I usually get a seat… I wouldn’t be spinning a positive ending on this if I still lived in London Bridge, that’s for sure. And I stand by what I said at the start of this – if you can find a way to enjoy your commute, you will probably be a much happier person overall. I feel like I’m moving past a notional concept of enjoying my commute, though, which is what I used to have, and am actually starting to enjoy it for real. If I see Tom in the Blue Suit, though, I’m going to trip him up and laugh to high heaven as his train departs the station without him!

Cancer: When “Young” Doesn’t Equate to “Fun”

At My Best Friend’s Wedding – 08.04.23

I originally wrote this with the intention of sending it to a few media outlets, but I never did and it has been sat in my drafts for a while, so I thought I’d just post it. Enjoy!

The English language has some interesting colloquialisms, especially around the concept of being young. Many of them aim to bestow wisdom upon the subject, such as the popular idiom “youth is wasted on the young”. Personally, I find the risqué ones more engaging, like “young, dumb and full of…”. I won’t finish it off, no pun intended.

I feel strange describing myself as young. Not because I don’t feel young, or even that I don’t consider myself to be young, but because I’ve heard so many nurses, doctors and oncologists use the word to describe me, that I have started to associate it with my diagnosis. It is usually said in a tone of pity with accompanying wide-eyed sympathy. People are nice, and I’m grateful for that, but I’m still an adult who craves a more complex response than wide-eyed pity. For I was diagnosed with stage 3 pancreatic cancer at the ripe old age of 28, placing me firmly in the Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) category of cancer sufferers.

To qualify for this coterie, you must be between the ages of 15 and 35, and you must, of course, have cancer. We don’t let cancer muggles sit at the table with us, just like we don’t let grey-haired sufferers of the malady have a piece of the pie either. It is our way of establishing exclusivity in a club that no one would ever voluntarily join. Previous cancer sufferers are welcome too, seeing as they can contribute to the woes of emotional turmoil that come with a cancer diagnosis in your youth, but that is it. Ok, perhaps those bereaved due to an AYA person dying of cancer can also come along. Perhaps they can invite their parents too. And their dog, who probably misses them dearly. But that’s it – period.

How it works if your age is borderline, or if you cross the bracket during your treatment, I’m not entirely sure. Let’s say that I was 37 years old – would I be turned away from the focus groups? Would my submissions to the AYA magazines be printed off by the editor, only to be scrunched up and thrown into the bin? I’d hope not. Lucky for me, I qualify, being the ripe age of 30 now, and I have a few years left before I must consider my maturity into the next category of cancer sufferers, whatever that is.

I’ve been navigating the world of being ‘young’ with cancer for over a year now. Things have turned out relatively well for me. The first seven months of chemotherapy showed positive results, shrinking my tumour by about a third. Despite this, I was told that the progress was unlikely to be enough for my tumour to be removed in surgery. Due to my age and health, the oncology team still passed my case over to the specialist surgeons for review, in hope that something could be done, even if a full removal was not possible.

The universe had other plans. I woke up following my surgery to the news that my tumour had remarkably been fully removed, but that they had to also take out the entirety of my pancreas. If that wasn’t enough to process, a few other things were removed too – over half of my large intestine, gallbladder, spleen, bile duct, some of my stomach and, for good measure, some of my liver. Two major arteries were also reconstructed, a sentence which still doesn’t mean a lot to me; it conjures up images of a surgeon laden in green overalls but with a yellow hard hat on and a hammer in hand, which emphasises how immature my understanding of surgical procedures is. I wish to keep it that way.

The recovery was harrowing. I wondered if I’d ever feel normal again, especially now that I am insulin dependent (AKA Diabetic). Nearly a year on from the operation, I do feel much better than I thought I would, but everything is very different. My life is punctuated by random abdominal pain and when I walk, I feel tension in the area around the scar, which intricately snakes across my abdomen. It feels strained. Most of the time I manage to forget about it, but it does bother me from time to time.

Sometimes, after meals, the skin around the scar bulges out, making my stomach look malformed. It can feel particularly uncomfortable when this happens, and it is the primary reason that I am slowly adjusting my diet, eating less of the foods which seem to make this happen. Of course, it is mainly carbohydrates, which is easily the best food group, but as I am diabetic, I already view them with suspicion, so it is probably for the best. Carbohydrates are, after all, trying to kill me. As the body breaks them down, they cause the blood sugar levels to increase. When I eat them in the evening, I find my diabetic alarm going off more frequently on my phone throughout the night. It is a sharp alarm noise and it is awful to wake up to. I’m essentially flipping the Pavlovian method on its head and treating myself to not eat carbohydrates in the evening by being woken up by a piercing alarm sound all night. It is slowly working, but carbohydrates are a hard habit to kick. Don’t even get me started on not eating chocolate in the evening.

One advantage of the scar is that getting it out has become my new party trick. It used to be my ability to put the entirety of my fist into my mouth, but I’ve retired that move. I was once at a party where someone did a backflip in front of a room of onlookers, who all burst out into cheers and applause as his feet landed safely back on the ground. “That’s a real party trick,” I thought to myself. I like to think that these days I’d give backflip guy a run for his money. A scar as big as mine is adaptable – one day I was hit by a double decker bus, the next I was attacked by a shark. The scar is all the proof I need. It probably wouldn’t erupt a room into jeers, though. It is more in the ‘interesting’ category as opposed to ‘enthralling’. Doing a backflip is interesting and enthralling… It really is the ultimate move. I don’t attend parties anymore, so I guess it doesn’t matter.

Of the things I’ve learnt from going through a cancer diagnosis, the most prominent lesson has been that people change in life. I found myself having to mould aspects of my personality into a different shape to better accommodate the challenges that I was now faced with. The treatment is gruelling; I constantly surprised myself with how much I could withstand. Chemotherapy, surgery, the feeling that death was always just a few steps behind me. I found a way through it all, but the journey wasn’t smooth. Support from friends and family is essential, but even that wasn’t always enough.

It is difficult to unload your true fears and compulsions onto people so close to you. They are going through it too. In some ways, it is harder for them, as they have no control over the situation. Sometimes, they are pedestrians, standing idle on the side line whilst you face obstacle after obstacle – the pain, fear and devastation which you become accustomed to, but that they never quite understand the extent of. The unknown can be more dangerous to the individual as it presents an inexhaustible amount of horror; friends and family can be locked in limbo, whilst you travel the length of your mental capacity, in search of something to keep you going, no matter how bad things get.

This is why the AYA community serves as such an important tool for people like me. Something that you are commonly told when you are young with cancer is that it “should not be happening to you.” Why wouldn’t it be happening to me? Why not now? Sometimes we draw the short straw, and there is no reason as to why. When I was first diagnosed, I wondered what I did to deserve this. Those thoughts do little to comfort you, and when you must deal with the reality of having cancer every minute of every day, you don’t benefit from having a victim complex about the situation. Stuff happens in life and sometimes, that stuff happens to suck for you in particular. It isn’t easy to keep that level of clarity all of the time, but it is a helpful tool to lean on when going through a hard time, whether that is physically, mentally, or both.

Conversely, there are still people that meet the news with a strange callousness that I don’t understand. The people who hear that you have cancer, and respond by saying “you’re young and healthy, you’ll be fine.” I’m just glad that these people don’t tend to be oncologists, because I think the death rate among AYA cancer sufferers would be far higher if the consensus was that anyone young is invincible and, thus, will be fine. One of the first things I read after being diagnosed with my cancer was that people who are diagnosed with it seldom live to the 5 year mark from diagnosis. No one can prepare themselves for something like that, and to fall back on the notion that age guarantees survival would be careless. Optimism is a powerful tool, but naivety can be destructive. Sometimes, facing up to the reality of the fight at hand helps an individual to push their limit further.

AYA charities provide a space where young people with cancer can speak and relate to each other. In my experience of joining support groups of all ages, where many attendees were over 60, I left feeling more isolated. It reinforced a feeling that what was happening to me was unjust. AYA reminds you that you are rather unremarkable and that there are others experiencing very similar feelings to you. It makes a huge difference.

Further to this, many cancer charities are set up to support a traditional person with cancer, but not anyone else. I commonly find opening hours of charities to be Monday – Friday, 09:00 – 17:00. Although I understand why this is, it isn’t helpful having a workshop or support group in the middle of the day. I’m not retired, and I can’t afford to be signed off work forever. The AYA charities are better equipped for this, and I have attended many evening sessions with them, where I am not so constrained, and having to beg for time off in the middle of the day to attend an event.

Despite all of this benefit to young cancer sufferers, AYA charities go relatively unnoticed. Because of this, I wanted to write a piece on how much I appreciate their existence, and how they have helped me through some tough situations. In the UK, I have attended a few Shine events, and am looking to join their summer meet up in London now I am living back here, and in the US, I have had multiple pieces printed in Elephant & Tea’s magazines, as well as joining some very interesting events which they run; some of the stories I have read in their magazines have really resonated with me, and I find myself going back to read them frequently.

So, although you may not be an AYA cancer sufferer, I’m sure you have experienced the negative effects that cancer can have on an individual, whether they fall within the AYA category or not, and on the people around them too. In future, if you are looking to raise money for a charity, consider seeking out one of these smaller AYA charities and doing it for them. I know that they’ll really appreciate it, and you’ll be contributing to a service which makes a huge difference to people like me.

Diabetes for Dummies

The ‘for dummies’ brand is a series of books which aims to make a plethora of topics more accessible for the average Joe. They present information in a logical format, breaking it down into meaningful parts which build on each other. For example, in my old job, I had to learn the database querying language SQL. I got myself a copy of SQL for Dummies, and found it very helpful in learning the basics of the language, and it is the closest that I have ever been to being proficient in another language. It’s a shame that the only thing it allowed me to communicate with was a database, rather than people from other countries. I didn’t achieve a level of proficiency where I was dreaming in SQL either, so I don’t think I ever crossed the threshold into being considered a ‘native’ speaker. Damn, did I query some databases, though.

I haven’t directly discussed diabetes too much in the blog so far. As I sat flirting with the idea of doing so, the thought came to me about the ‘for dummies’ book series, and how it would be fun to write one for diabetes. Well, lo and behold, they’ve already got several books on diabetes, including – ‘Type 1 Diabetes for Dummies’, ‘Diabetes for Dummies’ and even ‘Diabetes Meal Planning & Nutrition for Dummies’. They are prolific. If you are looking for a truly informative experience, I would highly recommend going for one of the official books. If you would like the Dan-ified, ‘woe is me, I had pancreatic cancer’ version, however, you’ve come to the right place. Pull up your socks, grab a drink of sugar-free water and let’s begin.

It’s always nice to start discussing a topic with a little anecdote, so let’s start there. Having diabetes could have won me some money, if I was a betting man. When I was younger, a few of my good friends decided to host a wager. All of them were eating a lot of chocolate and drinking a lot of sugary drinks at the time. In this coterie were two of my best friends, Luke and Dave. For example, Luke enjoyed buying 2 bottles of Lucozade at lunch (they were 2 for £1.50, or something like that) every day, and using that fluorescent orange liquid to help digest a Boost bar, which might be the sugariest chocolate snack on the market. This common habit of consuming an eye-watering amount of sugar every day led to a disagreement in the group. None of them could decide who was going to get diabetes first. To settle it, they all decided to pledge £20 each, and whoever got diabetes first would win all of the money.

If you’re now thinking that this isn’t very much money and it sounds a little stupid, you are correct. It is very stupid. I opted out, as I actually wanted to keep my money and not get diabetes. I hoped that any bad eating habits I had at that time were me living out my young years to the fullest before I was forced to follow a stricter diet due to my metabolism starting to give way to my age. Well, look how that turned out for me. I was indeed the first to get diabetes, and it was totally out of my control. The jury is still out on who is going to win their competition, but I’ll be the first to laugh when it does finally conclude. They’ll have to give the winnings straight to me to get an early edition of my book, ‘Living with Diabetes for Idiots Who Bet Against Their Own Health’, which I will be holding back on releasing until after their contest is concluded, so I can charge the winner an excessive price. It won’t be winning any Nobel Peace prizes, so I may as well hold onto it until then.

Let’s start with the basics… Insulin is a hormone which is produced in the pancreas by pancreatic beta cells. Easy, right? No, you’re right, I don’t really understand what that means either. Basically – cells in the pancreas create, store and release insulin. When the body detects that the level of glucose in the blood is increasing, the beta cells release insulin, which causes glucose to transfer from the blood to the cells in the body. The body’s cells need glucose for energy. If the glucose levels in the blood are too low, the subject experiences symptoms such as light-headedness, sweats and ‘jelly-legs’. If the glucose levels in the blood are too high, the effects are less severe in the short-term, but especially high glucose levels can lead to symptoms such as headaches, excessive thirst and even vomiting. In the long term, consistently having high blood-glucose levels can cause severe issues, though, such as blindness, and can result in limbs needing to be removed… Not fun.

Consuming carbohydrates causes blood glucose levels to increase, necessitating the release of hormones such as insulin, which then encourages the glucose to transfer from the blood and to the cells. How on earth healthy bodies manage to do this so seamlessly is totally beyond me. Only when you are manually managing your blood glucose levels do you realise what an absolute pain in the arse this process is. Nearly everything changes how the body processes carbohydrate – the temperature, how stressed you are, the amount of exercise you have been doing, whether you are ill, how many goals your favourite football team scored last night (that last one may be a joke, but if it increases the level of stress you are feeling, it might actually be applicable). Yet, healthy bodies just sort it out. I, however, am left trying to account for a million factors that I do not understand, whilst also trying to eat as much dessert as possible, and feeling forty times more bad about doing so because I know that it is just going to make my night harder, as my blood sugar peaks and troughs, causing the alarm to go off repeatedly on my phone, and waking me up every few hours. I’m complaining again, aren’t I? Sorry, back to the hard hitting facts (which are under-researched and prone to error).

Type 1 diabetics are reliant on insulin to moderate the glucose levels in their blood. Type 2 diabetics are not, but have to adjust their diet to help control it. There is also a little-known third category of diabetic who walk this earth – Type 3c. The NHS do not recognise this as a distinct category, so they are commonly lumped in with Type 1s, because both are reliant upon injecting insulin, due to the body not being able to naturally create it. The politically correct term for a person who relies on injecting insulin is ‘Insulin dependent’; this avoids offending anyone. I am actually a Type 3c diabetic myself, so I know how it feels to be part of this stigmatised community who are not recognised by the NHS, and who have no rights under The Geneva Convention of diabetes.

The difference between type 1 and type 3c diabetes is the following. Type 1 diabetes usually occurs due to an autoimmune reaction where the body identifies the insulin-creating cells in the pancreas as the enemy, and proceeds to attack them until they’re mostly dead, leaving the subject unable to create, store and release the hormone anymore. See all that praise I gave to the healthy body earlier for being able to regulate blood glucose levels so effectively? Well, guess how much praise the immune system is getting? Nada. Do your job and do it properly!

Type 3c diabetes, however, is caused by damage to the pancreas. In my case, that damage was done by removing the pancreas entirely, so I would say that the definition doesn’t really go far enough to cover what occurred; sort of like an individual claiming that they will paint your walls, but then proceeding to plant explosives in cans of paint all around your house, and detonating them all at once, ensuring that paint did indeed go on the walls, but failing to mention that those walls would no longer be standing. You feel a little hard-done by re-reading the definition, and you wonder if it does justice to the events. Anyway, I digress.

If you’re wondering what Type 3 diabetes is (without the ‘c’), I truly have no idea. I’ve tried to read about it before, but it seems to be touted as an early sign of alzheimer’s, although I’m not sure if that is proven or just a theory. None of it makes much sense to me. Does it mean that I am likely to develop alzheimer’s disease at a statistically early age? I have no idea. Let’s hope not. This blog has already shown my proclivity to focus on the negative, so I could do with less things to worry about if possible, not more. Thanks.

So, what does it mean, having to regulate the body’s blood glucose levels yourself? These days, there is some pretty incredible technology around to help. I have a circular device in my arm called a Dexcom which monitors my blood glucose levels. This type of system is called a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) system, as it continuously sends readings to an app on your smart device. If my blood glucose levels are going too high or too low, it sends out an alarming (and sometimes embarrassing) noise to warn me, allowing me to correct it by either injecting insulin (if it is too high) or consuming sugar (if it is too low). Sugary drinks are the best way to get the blood sugar up again, as it reaches the bloodstream quicker in this form. Sweets like jelly babies and fruit pastels are good too. Anything that only contains sugar is best, as if it also contains a lot of protein and/or fat, it will take longer to break down and extract the sugar. The same applies to starchy carbohydrates, like potatoes and bread. Although these things contain sugar in the form of carbohydrate, it is processed in a different way to less complex carbohydrates, as the sugar is mostly extracted in the small intestine, rather than during digestion in the stomach.

The game of keeping your blood sugar in the correct zone is akin to playing the old game Flappy Bird on your iPhone. If you don’t know, Flappy Bird was a game released on the App Store in 2014. It took the world by storm, and everyone was obsessed with it. The objective was simple – you are a bird, and when you tap the screen you flap your wings, causing you to rise slightly. If you didn’t tap, you fell again. In the game, you were flying along horizontally, and there were various green pipes that would appear from the top and bottom of the screen, so you would have to either tap the screen the right amount of times to fly over the pipes, or moderate your tapping to dip below them, depending on which part of the screen they were appearing in. Well, with your CGM, you are essentially doing this, but instead of it being a fun game, it is integral to your health (it is a little bit fun in a strange way, though).

The Diabetic’s ‘Flappy Bird’ – Screenshot from the Dexcom Application

Keeping your glucose levels between 4 and 7 is considered ‘perfect’ control, if you can keep it there. My 90 day average, according to my Dexcom app, is 7.7, which I’m very happy with. I’ve heard some people say that they strive for an average of around 10, and others who try to keep it in the ‘perfect’ range. I believe if your average is as high as 12, that is where you may face problems in the medium-long term. I try not to read about it too often, but I believe it is in this region where blindness can become an issue, as the blood vessels in the eyes are very delicate, and having high levels of glucose in the blood can damage them.

My 90 Day Averages

Different people feel the lows at slightly different numbers. Personally, I don’t start actually feeling any effects until I’m as low as 3. Some people are quite sensitive to them I believe, and will feel off as soon as it hits 4. On the few occasions that I’ve not had a CGM device in, and I’ve had to test my finger to manage my insulin levels, I would start feeling light-headed, prick my finger and wipe the blood on the testing strip in the small glucose-reading device then, to my horror, find out my glucose level is at 2.7. It has shocked me a little bit, as I rarely see my levels go that low, and I start getting paranoid that any second I’ll pass out. But I’ve never had an event where I’ve gone unconscious, and will aim to keep it that way for as long as possible, if not for my entire life.

Low blood sugar is particularly dangerous, as it leads to the patient passing out far easier than the blood levels being high, as far as I am aware. This occurs due to the cells in the body not having enough energy. The opposite, where your blood sugar is very high, can also lead to the subject going unconscious, which I didn’t even realise until recently; I thought you could only go unconscious from low levels, but apparently if it gets very high, you can pass out from dehydration. The more you know, the more you wish you didn’t have to…

It is worth knowing the symptoms of low or high blood sugar, as it may help you save someone’s life. Low blood sugar can lead an individual to seem drunk – they will appear drowsy, shaky, weak, sweating, and may struggle to speak. High blood sugar is a little different and probably harder to tell from any external physical symptoms – the patient may feel the need to drink a lot, feel tired, get headaches, experience nausea and vomiting, and develop stomach pains. Quick action is essential if someone falls into a diabetic coma, or is on the verge of falling into one. That is why you should take it seriously if you see someone who looks visibly impaired in public, and not simply dismiss them as a drunken idiot. Pay attention to their wrist and see if they have any sort of medical band on, which identifies them as having diabetes. Falling into a diabetic coma is very dangerous for someone with diabetes, and will result in death if it is not urgently treated. Knowing these things can save someone’s life. If they are still awake enough, encourage them to drink something sugary, like fruit juice or Coke. Make them drink about 100 – 150ml of the liquid, that should be sufficient. If they are already unconscious, call an ambulance immediately.

Anyway, back to the less serious stuff. My new favourite pastime since becoming a Danabetic is finding low sugar drinks that I can enjoy, that are not full of total crap. When you look on the side of a Coke Zero can and it claims that it has 0 of anything in it, you have a right to be suspicious. Trip is a good brand, and has the added benefit of containing CBD. The Elderflower Mint flavour is amazing, but I cannot taste an iota of elderflower in it; it is all mint, which is fine with me. Another good brand is Punchy, who do a Blood Orange, Bitters and Cardamom flavour which is TO DIE FOR. Blood orange is so underrated as a flavour.

I also enjoy Kombucha drinks, and they are usually very low sugar too, but I’d say it is a more controversial flavour, and one that some people really despise. I used to despise it, but then my life got flipped-turned upside down a la Prince of Bel-Air, and low sugar drinks became more of a prerogative to me, so I forced myself to try it more. Lo Bro’s Passionfruit flavour is a good one, if you are looking to get into kombucha. It is quite vinegary, which doesn’t sound appealing, I know, but it’s very good for you, and the perfect drink if you are northern and want an excuse to drink vinegar.

None of these drinks are particularly cheap, I know, but considering I hardly drink alcohol anymore, and they are all low sugar, I think it is worth it. If you are trying to reduce the amount of alcohol you are drinking, or just want some exotic drinks to dive into in the evening, I’d recommend all of the above. Now, one last point, then I’ll wrap this up.

Since being diabetic, I have felt more of an affiliation with mothers who have to breastfeed in public. Stay with me… On the tube, I occasionally have to inject insulin due to my blood sugar going high. I’ve done this a few times on the way into work, when the train is absolutely rammed and I barely have enough room to maneuver the pen into my stomach. Usually, as I pull the pen out of my bag and attach a needle to it, I see people inquisically trying to watch, whilst also trying not to seem rude. Sometimes, they don’t care about seeming rude at all, and they just stare at me, trying to figure out what I am doing. One time, a little girl who was sitting next to me asked me what I was doing. I told her that I was diabetic, and that I had to inject insulin to keep me alive. Her dad then apologised to me and told her to leave me be, but I actually found the whole interaction quite sweet.

It makes me think of mothers having to breastfeed in public, and how they also probably monitor the reaction of those around them. I am also aware it isn’t actually akin to the experience, and that the act of breastfeeding your child is a far more intimate act than shoving a needle into your belly, but you know, I am one step closer to knowing what it feels like. I stand with you, breastfeeding mothers in public, and know exactly what you go through every day. We should link up and start an advocacy group – I don’t mind being president and mansplaining our grieves to anyone who will listen. Consider this my application.

So, there is volume one of Diabetes for Dummies. Hopefully you’ve learnt something and, if not, well done, you know a lot about diabetes already, and probably listened much more attentively in Science than I did. I’m coming up to my 1 year anniversary since being diagnosed, and feel like I’ve come a long way in that time. Initially, I found it all really hard and scary to get to grips with, but it does start to get much easier. You become more confident in your decisions, and more in control of the overall situation. I could write another 400 posts about the lack of support for those first few months, but I’ll save that for my next release, ‘Fighting Diabetic Authority for Dummies’.

Know Yourself

I am sitting writing this at 2:00am on Monday December 20th. My sleeping pattern is a bit unusual these days as I frequently feel tired (or just generally bad) throughout the day, so I spend a lot of time resting at unorthodox hours.

I’ve received so many amazing comments on the blog so far and I feel so much gratitude for everyone who is taking the time to read it. “A problem shared is a problem halved,” I said to my friend Finch on Saturday; admittedly, I was talking about him coming over at the same time as our other friend Benedict who was also planning on visiting me. But the saying is very applicable to the blog and knowing that people are finding themselves invested in the journey makes me feel so supported and happy.

It is going to come with some growing pains, and I am still establishing exactly what I want to do with the blog overall. The posts so far have been very cancer heavy, which is to be expected. It is my life right now, and it takes a lot of my time and energy to stay on top of the battle. But cancer isn’t my life, and I like to think there is more that I can write about that is worth the interest of you, my dear readers. All these thoughts have led me to contemplate a lot of things about myself, and the unusual hours I find myself awake and active gives me plenty of time to do just that. So, I am challenging myself to write a single article a week where I am not allowed to use the ‘C’ word or discuss the ‘C’ word. This is my first attempt at doing so, and this paragraph is the only place that you will find the naughty word mentioned.

I’ve always found myself to be a person that spends a lot of time reflecting on the past. A ‘worrier’ is probably the not-so-technical term. It is something about myself that I have always found very frustrating, as historically it has led to me obsessively criticising myself and how I’ve behaved in the past, with no beneficial light to shed on the situation. When people use phrases like ‘know yourself’, it can feel like quite a vapid thing to say. In my experience though, it is extremely important to spend time trying to know yourself and what drives you in life, as it constantly seems to change and at a pace that can be hard to keep up with.

I am only realising this recently, and it is making me appreciate the time I spend reflecting on the past more. It allows me to discover things about myself and better identify some of my drivers, whilst trying to learn things from past situations. If you can learn something from what you perceive to be a bad situation, it makes that negative mean something to you. That gives it a value that it may not have otherwise had, and it should help change the way you cope with a similar situation in the future. I can think of a particular example from my experience that I hope demonstrates my point well.

When I was a teenager, I used to have a bad habit of binge drinking. Of course, this isn’t an unusual or undocumented part of British culture. I always knew that I didn’t like it about myself though. I would frequently drink to the point that I would completely blackout, I’d spend a lot of money that I didn’t have and then I’d feel sick and anxious for days afterwards. Despite this, I continued doing it for years, from about 16 until I was probably around 25, although it was less frequent as I got a full-time job after university. I guess it’s called being a ‘weekender’ really, and I’m sure many people genuinely enjoy this lifestyle in a way that I didn’t. For me, I always felt like I did it because I just did. What else was there to do on the weekend? How else would I remain relevant in my friendship group? It was this final point that bothered me the more I reflected on it.

Over time, I realised that getting absolutely blind drunk had become my main character attribute in my mind. I think now that it was a deep insecurity of mine manifesting itself from when I was young. I’m the guy that is always willing to get ridiculously drunk and make an idiot of himself, what else do I have to offer a group of people? Wasn’t that the only reason I had friends? I always felt a bit confused why people liked me when I was younger, and I’d regularly think people were talking about me or plotting against me for some reason. Every time I agreed to go on a night out at short notice or was one of the last people to go to bed, it felt like a tick in my social book. But I had a real personal interest in fitness by the time I was in my 20s and my favourite time of day was the morning, both aren’t compatible with a lifestyle revolving around heavy drinking. I was also getting much more anxious during hangovers after university, and the whole thing was starting to feel like a form of self-abuse.

Eventually I challenged myself to have more confidence in what my company offered people. If I lost friends because I left the pub after having 2 pints, then I decided that they weren’t the type of friends I wanted anyway. For a while I had to adopt various strategies for managing the problem. I would only drink shandy if I was drinking beer, or I’d suggest going for coffee instead of a pub when someone asked me if I wanted to meet up. The most effective strategy for me though, was finally committing myself to running. I always enjoyed running, but it would take a backseat in my priorities because I didn’t want to miss social events. I saw the 2 things as mutually exclusive because when I went out, I had to drink a lot and make sure I was keeping up my role in the group, the drunken buffoon.

By starting to enter marathons and ultra-marathons, I was starting to commit myself to a lifestyle that was the antithesis of the one I was trying to move on from. It gave me a motive to change that negative behaviour which had far more meaning and which communicated with the values and behaviours I wanted to see in myself. When I finished my first marathon in 2019, I knew I was really changing myself for the better. I had done it; I’d committed to training for something and made it all the way to the end. That same year, me and my brother Greg completed our first 100km ultra race together in the Peak District. I needed more.

In 2020 Greg and I were due to attempt our first 100-mile ultra-marathon – the GB Ultra Scotland. The event was cancelled days before it was due to take place. We had our accommodation booked and had trained ruthlessly all year. Instead of letting our fitness go to waste, we travelled up with our parents in support of us and set out to do the first 100km of the route; we decided it was too dangerous to attempt a 100-mile race unaided, around a course that we had never set foot on. It was an extremely challenging day. It took us 13 hours, 29 minutes and 44 seconds, and we climbed a total of 9754 ft (the equivalent of climbing Snowdon just under 3 times).

I was surprised at how much more confident I was feeling in myself. I’d have the occasional night where I’d get a bit carried away, but they were few and far between, and I didn’t feel like I was doing it for the same negative reasons that I had historically. I was just having fun and didn’t feel like stopping early that night. For the first time in my life, I felt that I understood my relationship with alcohol and wasn’t so reliant on it. It made my connections with my friends better, and they felt more genuine to me. It did also alienate me from other friends, but that was part of the challenge to myself. The point of all this is that by spending some time getting to know myself better, I made a change in my life that has made me so much happier. Try to learn something about yourself and see what challenges you can overcome. It pays dividends when it works.