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Adventures with Type 1 diabetes| Diabetic South Africans

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Kirsten De Klerk is a Type 1 diabetic, founding member of Bete It and one of the top 20 South African voices for diabetes. Her Instagram profile, everydayisdiabetesday, offers practical, honest advice on how she’s living well with diabetes.

When were you diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes?

I was diagnosed in July 2010 at the age of 16, just after the Soccer World Cup was hosted in South Africa. I remember, because I had a bunch of friends sleep over to watch the game. One of the girls had the flu at the time and I ended up catching it. It went from bad to worse and soon I was at the doctor diagnosed with bronchitis and sent home with antibiotics. Two weeks later, I still wasn’t better and I’d lost 10kg. We went back to the doctor who told my mother that he suspected anorexia: she was told to watch me when I ate. 

My mom knew this wasn’t the case and eventually when I ended up semi-comatose on a weekend away, she took me back to the doctor and told him to do whatever blood tests he needed to figure out what was wrong with me. That evening we got a call back with the results: my blood sugar level was around 24. I was told to go straight to a specialist and took my first insulin shot that night. The rest is history.

What’s been your biggest struggle with diabetes?

The thing I struggle most with this condition is managing my blood sugar levels. You can play out the exact same day twice and the results will never be the same. Most people think it’s as easy as taking your medication, exercising and eating a healthy diet. There are so many other factors to consider on a daily basis that directly affect your sugar levels, like the weather or stress.

When did you decide to start posting about your life with diabetes on social media?

I started posting about my life with diabetes on social media in September 2019. After 3 years of diabetes burnout, I finally decided it was time to face diabetes head on rather than playing victim to this condition. I immersed myself in the online community, signed up to volunteer for an event for National Diabetes Month and posted my first post on social media. I was and am still blown away by the diabetes community. All along, I was going at it alone. Now, all of a sudden, I have this huge community supporting me through all the highs and lows, from all corners of the world.

Do you find it helps to follow other people with diabetes online?

Very much so. I have learnt more from other diabetics experiences online than I have in 10 years from my endocrinologist. In South Africa, we don’t have affordable access to diabetes educators and our endocrinologists can’t hold our hand every step of the way as much as they want to. 

Connecting online with other diabetics has afforded me a wealth of knowledge and years of diabetes experience. Of course when learning from other diabetics experiences, it is always important to remember to consult your doctor before making any medication or lifestyle changes. It’s also important to keep in mind that what works for one diabetic might not work for another.

You’ve posted about lipohypertrophy before – what have you learnt about injecting insulin?

I started off injecting my short-acting insulin into my stomach and my long-acting insulin into my thighs. I started developing bruising around my stomach area and feeling insecure about it in the summer months, when I would spend the day in a bikini on the beach. So I switched both injections to my thighs: it hurt less and there was more space to play around with. 

The truth is that every diabetic has a favourite site to inject. I became lazy and stopped rotating as much and started injecting through my clothing. After 8 years of injecting into my thighs I started noticing these lumps under my skin (lipohypertrophy). Most people wouldn’t notice it but I do because I know that they are there. I’ve learnt how important it is to change your needles regularly, rotate your injection site and not inject through your clothing (still working on this one). I rotate more frequently now. I’m hoping that by giving my favourite spot a rest, the lumps will start to fade.

What would you say to a diabetic who is struggling?

During my diabetes burnout phase, my weakness was that I tried to flip a switch overnight and tackle everything in one go. Rome was not built in a day! I learnt that I failed to get back on track all those times because I was trying to do it all. Eat a balanced diet, start an exercise regime, test my sugar levels and monitor my new insulin dosage amounts all in one go. My advice would be to take it one step at a time. Celebrate those small wins – they are paving the way to the big win.

What makes your life sweet?

The outdoors and escaping to the simple free things in life that nature has to offer. Every and any dog. My family and friends. Travel and new experiences. And of course that naughty treat that I eat because YES, I am allowed to eat that!

Follow Kirsten on Instagram: everydayisdiabetesday

This article was brought to you by BD. Find out more from BD about a common mistake while injecting insulin, the importance of rotating injection sites, why you need to change your needles and what to do with used needles.

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