We're back with another edition of our Global Diabetes series, in which we're "traveling the globe" to bring you stories of people living with diabetes in various parts of the world. This month, we're hosting Khadija Alarayedh, a 21-year-old woman who's been living with type 1 diabetes for 9 years.
Khadija lives on the small island country of Bahrain near the western shores of the Persian Gulf, and she's a rising advocate in the global diabetes community with multiple leadership roles; she's not only a medical student studying to someday become a diabetes doctor, but also serves as president of the Bahrain Diabetes Youth Committee and is part of the International Diabetes Federation's Young Leaders Program. She's also the founder and leader of a grassroots program called TeamD, which is about a year old and aimed at filling in not only the communication gaps in Bahrain's diabetes community, but the psychosocial gaps that exist for people living in that country.
Here is what Khadija has to say about her D-experiences in that part of the world...
A Guest Post by Khadija Alarayedh
I have come a very long way since my diabetes diagnosis nine years ago, when I was 13.
At that age, I was anorexic, had frequent bathroom visits, excessive thirst, weakness to the point where I was always asleep, non-focused, and very far behind on my studies due to lack of concentration and strength. Of course, being a teenager and due to lack of awareness and education on the subject I never visited a hospital to get checked. In my family's eyes, it was a normal life of a teenager who drank excess fluids therefore had to go to the bathroom very often, didn't eat much because simply I didn't want to gain weight, and was just in a phase -- that I was supposed to wake up from after a period of time. Unfortunately, that did not happen... DIABETES happened!
I was on my way to the store one afternoon after school with my friends when I collapsed in the middle of the road. It's a miracle I am even alive today, only because of the car that had stopped right in front of me. It was all just a blurry day, and all I remember was going back home and blaming that incident on a sun stroke.
But it was never a sun stroke at all. My aunt who is a pharmacist had suggested that I visit the local hospital just for a check up. I remember having my blood sugar checked and the machine popping the word, "HI." My parents thought it was the greeting message. No, it wasn't. My sugar was too high to even have a number. The doctor came in and said, "Khadija ..... You have diabetes."
My parents: "How do we cure it?"
Doctor — looking at me: " There is no cure for it yet, you will have to take multiple injections daily to manage it."
As a 13-year-old I had no idea what he was talking about! I didn't know what he was saying; I didn't even know if it was in a language that I understand! All I knew was that I wasn't normal, I was sick and I wanted to get better. I didn't want diabetes, I wanted my life back, I wanted chocolate, sugar and no injections.
At first I was in denial and shock. I saw diabetes as the end of the world and no one really cared that it was to me. My parents were in denial, they were confused, restless and sad and so was I. For the first few years, I lived in a bubble and told no one about my diabetes. I ran to the bathroom to get injected before my meals, and restricted myself from all the sugar in the world. While I did that, my parents were busy finding "a cure," because they loved me so much they couldn't stand the fact that their first-born child has a disease that they could not remove. At one point I remember drinking herbal medicine that tasted yucky, but I drank it in hopes that it was the cure my parents wanted for me and the cure I wanted deep inside. When it didn't work, I was back in my bubble living my secret life with diabetes.
But eventually, getting involved in the Diabetes Community helped me change my attitude. Two years after the herbal medicine, I was asked to join the Bahrain Diabetes Camp for Children With Diabetes. I hesitated, but after all the struggling and lost hope with my parents' "cure" they encouraged me to go. There, I met children my age with diabetes of all ages! I was amazed! At that point, I realized I wasn't alone, and that instead of living in a bubble doing nothing about it, I could actually help prevent people from feeling the way I did for years. I could prevent the hopelessness, the loneliness... I didn't know exactly how, but I knew I had to do something. That's when my bubble burst, and I started telling people about my diabetes, my story, my heartache.
Bursting My Bubble
And then it hit me: I wanted to become a doctor, just like the doctor who ran after me and chased me after I ran away from him when being told about injections. He knew how I felt, knew that the first four words he said were going to change my life forever. I started going to camps, first as a patient and then as a leader, joining camps in Bahrain and in Qatar, volunteering at the diabetes clinic, and doing children's activities.
In 2011, I joined the IDF Young Leaders Program, which paved the road I always wanted to take. Sixty individuals from around the world joined this program that strengthened our leadership skills and confidence and gave us the push we always needed in order to achieve and reach our goals as leaders. Each individual was given the freedom to choose a project and proceed with it in their home country. My project was to create a team that could fill in the gaps created by the system in my country, "TeamD" with the D standing for Diabetes!
In Bahrain, receiving medication isn't the problem because healthcare provides all citizens with free access to it. The problem is lack of support, confidence, guidance, awareness, education and excess fear and loneliness. So, that was the goal of TeamD -- to help fill in that void so that no one shall ever feel the way I once felt. Bahrain is ranked 9th in the world for diabetes, with 23% of our population living with diabetes and 26% undiagnosed. There is a lot of awareness and support needed for diabetes here.
TeamD consists currently of 10 members that include diabetics, doctors, nurses, and volunteers who have their heart set on helping with diabetes. It's been a year since it was established, and great success has been made since. One of the major things the members have accomplished was being able to create the first online portal diabetes website in Bahrain, and more recently we've created an infographic (left) showing the way our system works here in Bahrain and how it needs to do better. That was for the World Summit Congress in Sri Lanka, in the middle of October. I am proud of my team members and the work we have accomplished, and everything that is yet to come.
Looking back on the past several years, diabetes has changed my life.... for the better. Diabetes does not define who I am, but it has certainly given me a reason to go on. It has given me direction and a goal that hopefully one day I will achieve and be proud of. Last but not least, diabetes has made me the leader I am today. So, all I know to say is: Thank you, Diabetes!
Sounds like TeamD is doing great work to connect the dots over in Bahrain, Khadija, and we look forward to see you reaching your dream of becoming a doctor! Thanks for everything yo do in your part of the world.