It’s funny how some moments in life change things forever.
You can be going along quite contentedly, then suddenly something happens and you realise life will never be the same afterwards.
One of these moments occurred for me when I was diagnosed as a diabetic.
Up until that point, I’d never really thought about diabetes, it was just another disease, after all. As we know, diseases are things that ‘other people’ get. I think we all live in that state of denial about matters of health, it makes things easier, until it happens to us. I walked into the hospital a ‘healthy’ person with some bad test results and a permanently dry mouth. I walked out with a medical condition, some syringes of insulin, a blood glucose monitor and a seriously diminished sense of self-confidence.
In the time leading up to my diagnosis my cycling was at the best it had ever been. I was an increasingly lean (I’d lost around fives stones) riding machine. I’d found that my legs were giving me power that I’d never experienced before. I had reserves that seemed to belong to someone else. For about a month before I got the results, I felt a real sense of unity with me and my bike, I was in ‘the zone’.
You can imagine my disappointment when I was told that I should avoid cycling until I’d become used to the new medication I was prescribed. As an insulin dependent diabetic, I run the risk of becoming hypoglycaemic – essentially when the glucose in my blood drops to a level that is problematic. When this happens I can become unsteady, disorientated, slurring in my speech and can even pass out. So you can see why my doctors advised I didn’t cycle in the short term. ‘Hypo’s, as they’re known, are treated with the consumption of sugar – I’m never without a bag of jelly babies these days. ‘The Bonk’, that cyclists experience after over-exerting themselves, is also hypoglycaemia – the difference being that for a diabetic cyclist (using insulin) the effects could happen at any moment.
After some time, I got into a rhythm with my medication and became able to read the signs of an impending ‘hypo’. It did, however, take a long time to get back on my bike. I won’t hide it from you, I was scared.
Cycling had been a liberation for me. It allowed me to go off where I wanted, when I wanted and just be at one with the road. Suddenly, with my diagnosis, I was in a position where I could become quite seriously ill on a ride, if I didn’t read the signs carefully. This really knocked my confidence. The last thing I wanted was to need the assistance of a passer-by, or worst still become disorientated and fall into the road.
I was scared to get back on my bike, but I also knew that if I was to manage my diabetes effectively, cycling was going to be crucial. Diabetics are urged to exercise in order to maintain their health and manage their blood glucose levels. So that’s what I did. I got back on my bike and took a ride.
How was it?
I’ll not lie, it was frustrating. It took getting back on my bike to realise how much fitness I’d lost during my period of inactivity. My legs just weren’t providing me with the power they once did. I also had a few ‘wobbly’ moments, where I needed to top up my sugar intake. It all felt a bit weird.
But then, feeling a bit weird is all part of being a cyclist, isn’t it?
I’ve been back on my bike for some time now. It feels less weird every time I head out. My confidence is back, I know if I’m sensible and take precautions I should have a great ride, diabetes or no diabetes.
Am I back to my previous self, in ‘the zone’? Not yet.
Will I get there?
Of course I will!
Chris McGuire is a Westcountry-based writer, follow him on Twitter @McGuireski
For information about diabetes, visit www.diabetes.org.uk