Type 1 Diabetes: Career, Workplace, and Travel

Daron shares the little things he does to help keep his blood sugars under control, while maintaining his university workload to avoid burnout. Nurse Joanna Naylor talks about the importance of informing your employers and co-workers about your condition, and of having a job you’re passionate about. Finally, Daron offers tips for diabetes management while travelling.

This episode is part of a 5-part series focusing on a different aspects of managing life with type 1 or type 2 diabetes and is kindly supported by Diabetes New Zealand and sponsored by Sanofi New Zealand.

Disclaimer: These episodes are intended for a non-US audience. Units of measurement for blood glucose are referred to in mmol/L rather than the standard US mg/dL.

June 5, 2019

Rebecca: Hi there and welcome to In My Words, Jumo’s podcast series that brings the experiences of real patients directly to you. At Jumo we provide resources for children and families to understand, manage, and own their health.

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Daron: In my words, going to university and having a successful career with type 1 diabetes means knowing how to maintain your diabetes in a healthy way.

Lee: Hi there! This is Lee in Auckland, New Zealand. We’re here for our fifth and final episode on diabetes with Daron McCarthy. Today’s show is about university, work, travel, and diabetes. We’ll be hearing from Daron about his life at university and work, and  diabetes nurse, Joanna Naylor, who will talk about managing diabetes while transitioning to adulthood.

To start, we asked Joanna about some of the biggest struggles for young people with type 1 diabetes.

Joanna: It's the same as the struggles that anybody at that age range is coping with really; so it's gaining independence and struggling with learning to drive and doing exams and flatting and managing money. And then on top of that you've got your diabetes to manage, as well.

Lee: During adolescence, responsibilities start mounting. This is also an age when people tend to take more risks and behave at odds with their diabetes.  

Joanna: So they like risky behaviour and diabetes really is a bit of a pain in the neck because it likes structure, and it doesn't like you to be doing things off the hoof, really. So the two things kind of clash heads a little bit, and a lot of young people kind of bury their heads in the sand about their diabetes and they just really don't want to deal with it. And I'd say that's common and it's normal, but it's just something that you just have to kind of understand is normal, but you've still got to do your diabetes cause your diabetes isn't going to go away.

Lee: Another big change that happens in the lives of many young adults is starting university. Daron is studying a Bachelor of Science at the moment and hoping to major in nutrition. The transition from high school to university can be a big one, and it can present new challenges.

Daron: I can say that uni is completely different to high school. Workload is way more and they don't care about you anymore. So when you go to uni you're just another ant in the humongous pile, and it's up to you to kind of manage your time, and to have diabetes amongst that I've found it's probably one of the harder things I've had to deal with my diagnosis, actually, mainly because the urgency isn't there. There's no one hounding you to get that work done.

It's real close with type 1 diabetes as well because if you want, you can have that same mentality of, “I don't have to do my diabetes today. I can sleep in. I can pretend like it doesn't exist”. But again, you can't do that. You've got a responsibility. You've got uni work to do, you've got your diabetes to handle. So, again, it's getting that attitude off the getgo really, really good and healthy so you don't fall off the beaten track.

Lee: Starting university could mean leaving home. Joanna weighed in on managing diabetes when away from home for the first time.

Joanna: I think that the difficult things to manage when you have type 1 diabetes and you're away from home for the first time is that you've got to make the decisions for yourself, and you don't have the sounding board of your parents anymore. So just make sure that you're comfortable with the different situations that you might come across with your diabetes and certainly in the health board that I work we run a week long self-management course, and we recommend that all our young patients to attend this course if they can do. So, it teaches you how to manage your type 1 diabetes in many different situations. So, make sure that you are well educated and have good knowledge and knowledge is power, really, in managing your diabetes.

Lee: This is worth repeating: knowledge is power in managing your diabetes. The more we educate ourselves and learn about type 1 diabetes, the better we will get at understanding what we need to do to manage it well and live a healthy life.  

We asked Daron how he keeps his diabetes under control so that he can focus on his university and work.

Daron: I make sure that my diabetes doesn't get in the way of my work, and the way that I do that is just handling it super tightly and well before I head out the house. So I make sure that I've taken my insulin for my breakfast in the morning, like, as close as I can to the amount of carbs that I've eaten so that it doesn't, kind of, creep up on me later on in the day. I always bring my tester with me to work. Even between classes I'll have a juice or something if I need it. So I'm just doing these, little things that don't seem like anything at the time, but can actually help you really well. I think it's just important to sort your day out before it actually happens, because if anything goes wrong then you've got your diabetes as well to deal with and you want to minimize your stress. So, I think, deal with it first before anything blows up in your face, again.  

Lee: Daron has a positive attitude when it comes to his diabetes: the better you control it, the less it is going to interfere with your life. This doesn’t mean Daron doesn’t get stressed out. He does.

Daron: All the time I feel really stressed about uni. But again when I'm really stressed with uni or work I don't find diabetes as an excuse. So, like, if you're having a bad day you can't just be like “It's because I have diabetes, I think” that, off the bat, is the worst attitude you can have. Try to think calmly about why you're stressed. Figure out what's causing your stress and if it is diabetes, again, always go back; rethink what you've done. Diabetes, it very rarely throws curveballs in and so if you're having a low, nine times out of 10 it will be because you've done something before that, that's led you there. So I think you can minimize the amount of stress that diabetes contributes just by being a little bit more careful of how you take your diabetes, and if you do that you'll be fine.

Lee: If you’re feeling stressed, it’s important to figure out what is causing it. Stress and burnout from managing your diabetes is not the same thing as burnout from your work or school.

Joanna: There's something called diabetes distress where you can feel burnt out with your diabetes management, but you could have good diabetes control and be burnt out or stressed about school or work.

Try and work out what it is that's causing the stress and then address that and talk to your employer or counsellor at school about it. It’s the same for diabetes, as well; if you don't understand how to control your diabetes or you’re just sick of it, then talk to somebody about it. You're the same as everybody else. You can get just as burnt out with school work and work as anybody else. It's just realizing that it's okay to feel burnt out and to, you know, just talk to somebody about it. Don't try and bottle it all in.

Lee: University can be particularly stressful around exam time. If your blood sugar level is too high or too low, you may find it difficult to concentrate and perform your best. Stress itself may also affect your blood sugar levels. Getting really good at managing your stress and diabetes can help you stay on track at university.

Joanna:  Many, many young people go to university in different areas of the country with diabetes and they have a great time. So just carry on with life, take your diabetes with you, and just know how to manage it well.

Lee: In our last episode, we talked about being open and honest about your diabetes and making sure you always have someone around who knows you’re diabetic. This, of course, goes for your workplace, too.

Joanna: So when speaking to your employers about your diabetes, I think just be upfront. Always tell them you've got diabetes. Tell them that hopefully it’s well managed, how you manage your diabetes, and also the kind of things that they might come across and how they can help you if that happens.

Lee: And this is exactly what Daron does.

Daron: I've told all my co-workers about my diabetes the same as I would of anyone else, really. I've just told them on maybe the first day. If you don't tell them on the first day, maybe the first week or so. Just pull them aside and just say, “Hey, I'm type 1 diabetic”, exactly what we've talked about before. Just run them along of, maybe, just what it is, and how you can manage it, and what you need to do if anything goes wrong. That's the main thing.

Just make sure everyone in your work environment is aware that you're diabetic because it could literally save your life if you need it one day.

Lee: When it comes to choosing a job or career with type 1 diabetes, it’s important to be realistic about what jobs are safe for you and the people around you, but to also follow your heart.

Joanna: I think when choosing a job or career with diabetes I talk to many patients and I think some of them change their career choice because of their type 1 diabetes. I think generally they're always a little bit resentful that they didn't follow their hearts. I think some jobs you can't do because it's more difficult. I think the things like being an airline pilot or some of those jobs where you need to be on the ball all the time and having a “hypo” or high blood sugars might affect how you concentrate. But I would say do a job that you are passionate about and that you love. Obviously, taking your diabetes into consideration is important, but manage your diabetes around a chosen profession and follow that dream as much as you can. And in some situations, you know, you can't be a deep sea diver on oil rigs for example because you can't be under the water and have a “hypo” and treat it effectively. So you've got to be quite realistic.

Lee: For adolescents and young adults, travel is something you may like to do for adventure or need to do for work or university. From planning your trip to adjusting to a new city or country, there’s plenty to think about when it comes to travelling. When you have diabetes, there’s even more to think about, such as getting your medical documents in order, carrying more supplies than you think you’ll need, and carefully watching what you eat and drink while travelling. Wherever you travel, your diabetes will follow, so make staying safe and healthy your top priority. Daron shared his advice for our listeners with type 1 diabetes who are thinking of travelling.

Daron: I would say anyone who is planning on going to another city to maybe study overseas, or just travelling in general just again treat it as if you've just been diagnosed. So you're not going to know as many people as you do know here, so let people know. Find out who you see every day, who becomes familiar to you, and let them know that you're diabetic, for one. And that'll really help you with managing, because it's going to be stressful for you. If you're moving out and you're in a new place, you're going to be stressed. You're going to have that diabetes—again that's never going away—to deal with. Even if you take one of those reset weeks, the first week that you're in your new place, if you just go back to the books, write down all your bloods, all your insulins that you need, maybe the food that you eat might be different, the place that you're at might offer different types of food... Just have a week where you are trying different things and learning and writing them down is the most important because you're going to go back to them and think, “Okay, this doesn't agree with me so I got to take more insulin for that” - stuff like that, I think.

Lee: No matter your reasons for travelling, plan as much as you can in advance, and remember to take care of your needs while away. For more tips on travelling with diabetes, check out the Diabetes New Zealand website.

We’ve talked about university, work, and travel in this episode. All of these can bring about big changes in your life. You may be excited about an upcoming change or you may be terrified at the thought of it, but know that changes in your life are inescapable and with them, you grow. And the better you handle your diabetes, the more you’ll be able to embrace your life and all it has to offer.  

Daron: Be prepared for a lot of stress with your new job or new environment, but also know in the back of your mind that diabetes is not going to change at all. So even with your new lifestyle if it's all stressful, maintenance and having that regime of doing the same thing every day (even though your options of your day are going to change a lot), having that kind of backbone of diabetes and that regime to always kind of fall back to, I think, is really important in keeping you on track with your diabetes. And it's important to remember the better you manage your diabetes, the healthier you're going to feel, the less burnt out you're going to feel, and the better you can tackle your jobs or your new job that you're having. So, the main thing to remember with diabetes is that the better that you control it, the less it’s going to interfere with everything in your life.

Lee: If you have diabetes, it will always be a part of who you are. Take care of your diabetes first and foremost, manage it in a healthy way, then let the rest of your journey inspire you to be your best self and bring about positive change in all you do.

Thank you, Daron, for giving us a glimpse into your life with type 1 diabetes and for your practical advice on managing it. Thank you Joanna, for your valuable clinical insight on what it means to live with type 1 diabetes while transitioning to adulthood. Finally, we’d like to thank our listeners for tuning into this In My Words podcast on diabetes. Until next time!

This episode was created using excerpts from our interviews with Daron McCarthy and Joanna Naylor.

This episode has kindly been supported by Diabetes New Zealand and sponsored by Sanofi New Zealand.

Rebecca: Thanks for listening! Interested in hearing something special - or want us to help share your story? Reach out to us, we’d love to hear from you! See you next time!

The health information contained in this Podcast is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace discussions with a health care provider.

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