People with type 2 diabetes write back to their younger selves, to share personal insights and reflect on their experience of living with diabetes and starting on insulin therapy. In this post, Jean reflects on living with diabetes.
As an energetic, expressive 47 year old, Jean is a firm believer in living life to the fullest. Living in Luton, UK, near family members who are also excellent cooks, her social life often centred on lively, delicious meals.
“I was always a big person as a child, teenager, in my twenties and thirties,” says Jean, who is a customer service advisor. “But I was very fit. I walked everywhere and went to my doctor’s every three to five years.” Nevertheless, her weight gradually increased, and she started to try diets and slimming clubs without success. By the time she was 37, Jean’s weight was out of hand. She weighed in at 139 kilograms and began suffering from arthritis in her knees, and sleep apnoea.
Jean decided to try hypnosis – and although it doesn’t work for everyone, it worked for her. She dropped 32 kilograms over three years and went from an EU size 56 to a size 46. “I was so happy with the new me,” Jean recalls. About this time, she decided to plan a joyful celebration of her 40th birthday: a two-week cruise with friends and family. It turned out to be exactly as she hoped, filled with sun, sea, cocktails and lots of food.
Everything was perfect, except the ending to that trip. Jean disembarked from the ship on the last day and couldn’t see clearly. She blamed her poor vision on being tired from so much partying. But once she was home, her vision continued to be blurry. When an optician examined her, she was shocked to see sugar at the back of Jean’s eyes and urged her to see a doctor. The doctor, in turn, discovered that her blood sugar level was 33.2 mmol/L. “That’s a number I will never forget,” she says. Jean chose to write to herself during this time period seven years ago, after learning that she had type 2 diabetes.
You are very angry. You’ve just had this beautiful time cruising, and now, this dreadful news. You hate having diabetes. “Why me?” you wonder. You’re not the largest person you see in your group of friends. You’ve cried and become very depressed as you try to grapple with this development.
Making matters worse, guilt has started to haunt you. Why didn’t you listen to your family when you were in your early twenties? They suggested you try to reduce your weight back then so you could be healthy later in life.
Right now, you feel determined about not going on insulin, rejecting your GP’s recommendation that you do so. After all, you hate needles and would be embarrassed to inject in public. Besides you feel sure that you can manage with tablets and diet. Unfortunately, you will not succeed. Month in and month out, your sugar levels will get worse. Finally, your doctor will insist that you start insulin.
Jean, I’m here to tell you that far from being the worst thing – the thing you so feared and resisted – adding insulin to your treatment plan will be the most effective way to manage your blood sugar, along with walking and exercise, when you work nights. Most importantly, you will no longer be depressed, angry and hurting. “Yes,” you’ll say, “I have diabetes and I am not ashamed.”
You’ll have lots of support getting to this outlook, particularly from many diabetes support groups available to you in your area. You will attend them all and learn what works for you. You’ll know which foods to avoid, which to eat a little of, and which you can binge on.
As for your weight, well, let’s say that’s always going to be a work in progress. The key thing to know is that you can continue to live life to the fullest. And when your sugars are high or low, you’ll have everything in your handbag to deal with it.
This story has been edited by Ellyn Spragins and shared with support from Novo Nordisk Canada. The views and opinions expressed are not representative of Novo Nordisk, and should not be considered treatment advice. Novo Nordisk has permission to share this letter and included personal details.