I was unaware that I had diabetes for a long while; I knew there was something going on but I just thought I was tired or that work was taking its toll. And because my symptoms developed in such a slow and gradual way, I didn’t really think twice about it being something more serious.
I’ve always been quite a large guy, at one point I was around 19 and a half stone, and so I decided then that it was time to lose some weight. I went on a little bit of a diet and started to lose some of it, so I thought ‘ok, this is working’.
But within six months, my weight had dropped to 11 stone 5 pounds. It’s hard to explain, because at the time I didn’t really notice what was happening. Looking back, I know I should have - but when you’re living in the moment, it’s really difficult.
It was only when I woke up one morning and couldn’t see properly that I decided to go to the doctors. They tested my blood glucose (sugar) levels and sent me straight to A&E. That’s when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, at the age of 50.
"My diagnosis really played with my mind, and it’s taken me two years to get the point where I’m starting to feel like I’m in control. I’m certainly in a better place now."
Coming to terms with my diagnosis
It was a very surreal and frightening experience, and although my diabetes nurse was a great source of support - coming out of hospital and having to accept that your life has changed was difficult. I remember getting home, looking in the food cupboards and thinking, ‘what do I eat?’.
In the first few months following my diagnosis, I went through so many different stages. I experienced depression about not being able to eat this and eat that, and I felt insecure and embarrassed about having diabetes. Then I went through denial where I refused to take my insulin because I thought I didn’t need it, or refused to eat so I didn’t need to take as much insulin.
The hospital gave me two leaflets when I was diagnosed, and at the bottom of one was the Diabetes UK website. I visited it online, and from there - that sort of changed my life. Everything I needed to know was there, from support to recipes and information about managing my condition.
Thanks to making changes to my lifestyle, and what and how I eat, I’ve been able to manage my weight and reduce my insulin dose by about 75%. I’ve worked really hard at it, and I’ve grabbed life by the horns. I still have my bad days like everyone else, but overall - I feel much more in control.
I wasn’t a cyclist before UK Wide Cycle Ride; the only exercise I used to do was either wrestling with someone during my job as a security officer, or jumping in my car! But after I started developing problems with my toes, and my diabetes nurse pushed me to move, I took the first step to becoming more active and bought myself an Oxygen e-bike.
I had tried my normal bike before that, but I could hardly get to the end of the road on it. So, rather than give up, I got an e-bike and it changed my life. I was going to be the first person to ride one in RideLondon last year, but unfortunately that got cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Then I saw UK Wide Cycle Ride online and thought I had to give it a go. It’s virtual, I could do it in my own time, I didn’t have to travel or book hotels to take part.. I just thought, ‘let’s do it!’.
"The way I look at it is if I can make these changes, even though I never thought I could, then so can so many people out there."
My UK Wide Cycle Ride experience
The September 2020 ride was a great experience and I thoroughly enjoyed it; I felt motivated throughout the entire month and the community was like one big team - it was really special. I managed to do the full 950 miles, which was a huge goal for me. I had never cycled that far in my life so I have to admit, I did find it hard - but hitting the target felt incredible.
Nowadays, I can’t wait to get on my bike. I’ve given up driving and tend to cycle everywhere - I built my strength up on the e-bike and now I can take the mountain bike out for 20 to 23 miles at a time. It has been custom sprayed with the Diabetes UK logo because I want to promote the charity and raise awareness; I want to make people stop and stare and ask questions.
When I went into the April 2021 challenge, I really wanted to hit 950 miles again - but this time in three weeks. I managed it and it felt amazing, and I kept going to hit over 1000 miles which was an added bonus too. It felt a lot easier than the first challenge I did, and the team I was part of - Team Oxygen Bicycles - ended up first on the 950+ miles leaderboard!
When I do it again in September this year, I want to nail 950 miles in under three weeks. We’ll see how we get on with that, but I’m excited to start training with that new goal in mind. The way I look at it is if I can make these changes, even though I never thought I could, then so can so many people out there.
UK Wide Cycle Ride isn’t a race, it’s a ride - it’s a ride to show people that just because we have diabetes, it doesn’t stop us from living a normal life. Yes, we may have more to think about, or more to consider, but that won’t stop us.
Check out another story from Brian on the Diabetes UK website