ON Friday, June 13, 1997, I was diagnosed as a type 1 diabetic – a year after working for the Canadian Diabetes Association.

Suddenly understanding irony better than fellow Canadian and singer Alanis Morissette, I penned an article for the local paper on the irony and that’s what ultimately led me to journalism, Scotland, and everything that’s happened here since.

So 13 is a lucky number – quite apart from the fact I’d be dead if I hadn’t been diagnosed just before I turned 19.

Now, 20 years on and during Diabetes Week across the UK, I wanted to ask other diabetics about their experiences of living with the disease.

Diabetes is a defining part of our lives, something we’re reminded of at each meal time and the repeated pricking of your fingers to test blood sugars.

By my own estimate, I would have checked my blood a minimum of 22,000 times in 20 years and kept myself alive with at least three litres of insulin. That might not sound like much, but a little goes a long way when you’re trying to tell you body there are carbs ready to be converted to energy.

Before I was diagnosed, I lost 30lbs in three weeks.

Robin Russell lost even more before he discovered the problem, falling from 13.5 stone to under 10.

Doctors didn’t test for diabetes until a parent at the Scouts group where he was a leader suggested there was something wrong and got him a referral to Stobhill Hospital, aged 35.

Now 83, Robin has been living with type 1 for 48 years and runs Gartnavel Hospital’s Diabetes Scotland Group.

The diagnosing doctor at the time told Robin: “No matter what anyone else says, you’re a diabetic – like it or lump it.”

“It was not a very pleasant experience at that time,” Robin admitted. But the amount of energy he had once he got out of hospital made a tremendous difference.

Though diabetics have to inject insulin to make the body run, the idea is to mimic nature as much as possible to avoid complications.

And health challenges can be potentially fatal. As an auto-immune disease, the body is attacking itself and can lead to amputations, blindness, kidney problems and is like smoking for your heart.

Every diabetic is aware of those risks but there are always times when we rebel. Sometimes we just want to eat our cake – without worrying about how many units of insulin will be needed.

Theresa Cassidy was three when she was diagnosed and is 28 now, having rebelled against diabetes for about two years when she was 17.

She said: “I don’t remember ever not having it, I was so young. Don’t get me wrong I totally rebelled at the age of 17 and decided I didn’t want to be diabetic – I refused to do my jags and go to the hospital. My nurse said everyone goes through that though.

“It was my mum and my nurse that got me back on track – without their support I don’t know how I would have done it. It’s never going to go away so I may as well look after it; it only causes your body more damage by not looking after it.”

Stephen Caldwell got diabetes when he was in third year of high school in Clydebank, aged 14. Oblivious to what he was doing, he was drinking “gallons” of Coke and IrnBru to sate unquenchable thirst and sleeping all the time.

“Eventually my dad took me to the health centre where I passed out on the bus,” said the 24-year-old, “and only briefly remember the doctor that saw me. All I remember him saying was ‘I’m going to call for an emergency ambulance’ and then waking in a hospital bed.

“It was a scary time and it took me a long time to get over my fear of needles but I have managed to cope with it now.

“The risks don’t worry me much anymore – I take very good care of my diabetes. I never miss my insulin shots and I recognise signs of hypos [low blood sugar] early.”

Ruari Duffy, who was six when he was diagnosed and is now 30, said diabetes wasn’t very well explained to him at that young age.

“I was frightened by this when I was getting blood taken and kicked the nurse who went flying across my parents sitting room,” he told me.

“It affected my childhood at that age but I never rebelled from it as I understood how ill I could become if I never took my insulin and how ill this could make me.

“It’s never been a burden on me as I’ve learned to cope with having to self inject three time a day and be able to take my own blood sugar levels. My father has also got diabetes so I have learnt from him over the years.

“And I know it’s positive as I know this keeps me alive and well. My parents, brothers and husband help me through tough times – I know I have the support there to get me through it.”

For three-year-old Millie Mcdowall, she relies on the support of her mum Tammy to live with diabetes.

Diagnosed aged just two, her mum knew nothing about diabetes at the time. Millie has an insulin pump acting as an almost external pancreas and a continuous glucose metre that measures her blood sugars every five minutes.

“I couldn’t believe the work involved – being a single parent I found it very challenging,” said Tammy, 25.

“My daughter can take her own bloods, which I am extremely proud of – she is so strong and brave with it all. I couldn’t do what I do if she wasn’t so great with it. The injections were challenging but we did get there.”

Initially doctors told Tammy to keep giving Millie fluids and was even told it was just a virus.

But once diagnosed, they admitted Millie would have been in a diabetic coma from high blood sugars within 24 hours.

Type 1 diabetes can appear at almost any age and affects more than 6,000 people across the Greater Glasgow and Clyde region and 30,000 in Scotland, about 10 per cent of the 285,000 Scots with diabetes.

To look back at 20 years of something that has defined my life, and to interview others who talk so comfortably about it, is affecting. Diabetes is inescapable, but it does not hold us back.

I asked others what advice they could have given their younger selves.

“I would give my younger self the advice of learning about diabetes and learning the symptoms and signs of someone having a hypo and what to do and how to help,” said Stephen.

Theresa said: “I’m normal – whatever that is – but I fight a different battle every day with my diabetes. I think people need to understand that although you can’t see it, every day is a different battle.”

“To go out you bag is pretty much full: I need to take out Lucozade, two bottles now because they have reduced the sugar content; my metre; my sticks; a finger pricker; my insulin pen; insulin; my purse; my medical card in case I do pass out; and then whatever else I need that day.

“I need to be able to stop for food at certain times and remember to check my sugars. Sometimes going out is just to much hassle and people look at me and say, ‘Aw she’s normal’ because you can’t see anything.”

Tammy, who lives in Faifley, said: “There is nothing I could have really said to reassure myself as it’s so over whelming, scary and there is so much to learn.

“However, iIt does get easier as they get older and begin to have a understanding. And the support is there for you.

“That was a big worry for myself – making errors at the start, thinking the hospital would be thinking I couldn’t look after my daughter. But they were the ones reassuring me how it would take time and they themselves were learning new things every day and not to be so hard on myself.”

I remember my grandmother coming into my hospital room 20 years ago and, when I started crying, being told it would be okay.

And two decades on, that’s what I’d tell younger self. “It will be okay – and you’ll do amazing things thanks to diabetes.”

Contact: Diabetes Scotland Gartnavel Local Group at scotland@diabetes.org.uk, 0141 245 6380.