In April 2014, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. It doesn’t matter what my size is, but I’ll tell you – I’m just shy of 6 feet tall and I weigh 135 lbs. I was diagnosed shortly after I had run my first half marathon. So, I’m not the “typical” patient for type 2; I have a strong genetic component at work here. And because of that, I’m reminded of how weird and personal this disease is – from my breakfast down to my last glucose check before bed. And I may have this for the rest of my life – or until I get a bionic pancreas. I can’t change my diabetes with raw food, weight loss, or mental meditation macrobiotic everything. Sometimes it really sucks (no more cupcakes) and sometimes it has been a gift (knowing my limits).
My day starts with peanut butter. It would end with peanut butter if I leaned all the way into my PB-obsession, but I do realize how important vegetables are in the daily pursuit of blood sugar excellence. As a diabetic, you definitely watch out for sugar, but the name of the game is carbs – and sorry, Mean Girls, butter is actually not a carb – but everything I have held dear and comforting in my life most definitely is a carb. When I was first diagnosed, it was important to go as low-carb as possible because my blood sugar was almost up to 600, and regular blood sugar levels are around 80. That meant cutting out bread, pasta, chips, popcorn, muffins, pizza, crackers, potato ANYTHING (fries, baked potato, wedges, mashed), fruit, rice, anything fried, anything with sugar in it. Now, I can eat healthy high-fiber carbs along with my medicine and exercise.
These guidelines are all just for me; each person has a different game plan and there is no set rule. Each day is like a science experiment – you can give or take carbs here and there, but it must balance – and everyone has different reactions and side effects. The media has latched onto a diabetic image of an overweight person. That perpetuates a shame-outrage cycle that gets more eyeballs on a website or TV show. The dehumanization of a diabetic patient is a vicious cycle, one that I read daily in internet comments. Each person has the disease for a variety of reasons that are personal to him or her, and it’s certainly not easy. There is nothing more insulting than getting advice from a stranger about how if you lived on root vegetables alone, your type 2 diabetes would be reversed. If you only lost weight, your Type 2 would magically disappear. Sorry, dudes, my bittles isn’t going anywhere. This is who I am, and I’m taking care of it. Please stop telling me how to “get rid of it” because if I could, I would.
My day also starts with medicine (a horse pill called Janumet) and a sandwich – natural peanut butter, sugar free jam on low carb, whole wheat bread, and coffee with only half and half – this never, ever changes. I pack my bag with my snacks and lunch which usually includes almonds, an apple, low-carb greek yogurt, since regular yogurt is loaded with sugar. My main entree has 30 or less carbs in it. I go to work and then come home, I go for a run, I eat a salad for dinner (and sometimes I lose it and have a slice of pizza) and then I have my nightly pill. I take Magnesium, vitamin B and D supplements because diabetics run low on these guys, and I’m no exception (and yeah, we get bloodwork done a LOT, so yes we know what’s up in there, this isn’t some sort of vitamin conspiracy). This is basically my day. It is boring, and I go through bouts of depression about it. The most important thing for my treatment is routine, everything from eating to keeping the same hours – go to bed at the same time, get up at the same time, eat at the same time, exercise at the same time every day. Luckily I am a person who loves rules, which does sound a little crazy, but before I was diagnosed, I found food very exciting and loved trying new things. Now it is simply fuel. I don’t begrudge that, things are so much worse for other people in the world, but it has been a psychological adjustment especially as an emotional eater. Not to mention, being diagnosed with a disease is not exactly a mood booster.
When things go off track, my body will retaliate in crappy ways. If I have a waffle with strawberries, my blood sugar will spike and I will become agitated and ragey. You can’t help it, your emotions are affected by high blood sugar. Your emotions can also cause high blood sugar. What goes up must then come down, and lows are dangerous – you start by feeling tired, confused and very shaky. If I have too many carbs at dinner, I will be treated to an array of debilitating charlie horse foot cramps at about 3am. When blood sugars run high, my vision is blurred. The first few weeks on medication were surreal – my blood sugar levels fluctuated so much that my eyesight was horribly impaired. The zoom on my computer at work was up to 300%; I couldn’t even see the screen on my phone. Your eyes are amazingly sensitive to glucose fluctuations; long term effects can lead to blindness. There’s nerve neuropathy in legs and feet and possible amputation. Infections take so much longer to heal and they are more prevalent. Stroke, heart disease… the complications go on and on, and they are serious business. If I had any part in “giving” myself diabetes, I regret every minute of it. And I feel great empathy when reading about other people who are accused of “giving” themselves a disease. You wouldn’t want this if they paid you. I don’t think anyone deserves it.
I’m just shy of the one year mark and I have recently discovered more joys of having the beets – no more hormonal birth control after 35 (doc says it’s a stroke risk), flu shots as well as the pneumonia vax are required now because if you get it, you get tremendously sick and can end up in the hospital. And skin issues? Forget it – dry winter skin for everybody is a problem, but with the beetus, your skin can’t hang. It’s so dry! Luckily I have switched out my candy cravings with lots and lots of skin care purchases.
Despite these challenges, I am learning, growing and thankful for this huge change in my life. For one, I was floundering before my diagnosis. I didn’t have much purpose, and I was working hard to socialize and network beyond my introversion. I didn’t say “no” very easily and was lacking boundaries. Now I feel more aware of who I am and what I need to do, and to look out for my health first. The newfound lack of sugar hasn’t done anything for my skin (I know, people love to think it will), but it has given me an incredible amount of energy. I have so many projects that I’ve put off for years: writing a book, drawing, taking classes, joining a choir. These changes have been invaluable! Not to mention, I’m never hungover (it’s not recommended to get wasted when you have diabetes, but also, my meds don’t mix with booze) and I’m rarely out late. It’s been a nice respite. Plus, there are millions of us. I’m not alone and it’s not a tragedy, but an opportunity for me to change perception about those of us with Type 2.