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, Steve reflects on living with diabetes.
In many ways Steve, 65, was well equipped when he received his type 2 diabetes diagnosis at age 52, after experiencing increased urination, blurry vision, fatigue and extreme thirst. For one thing, he had learnt from his mother’s example. Devastated by her divorce, his mother did not control her diabetes and ultimately died at 81 from a heart attack related to complications of the disease. He’s also been an athlete from age 14 onwards. Steve has continued to kayak, rock climb, go to the gym and enjoy other sports throughout his adult life. What’s more, he eats carefully, monitors his blood sugar regularly and manages his insulin treatment prudently.
Despite his excellent habits, he’s struggled at times with hypoglycaemia. One recent episode occurred in April 2017, when he was living and working in North Carolina, USA, while his wife worked in New Jersey, USA, and came home at weekends. During one work night, when they were apart, Steve woke up, sweating and shaking. “I’m lying in bed. My heart is pounding, I didn’t have enough energy to get out of bed to get to the kitchen for a glass of juice,” he remembers. He swallowed four glucose tablets that he had next to the bed and was able to get up a little later. When he told his wife, Nancy, what happened, she said, “That’s it. We can’t be separated. I have to be by your side.” They moved back to Pennsylvania, USA, so that Nancy could continue her work, while Steve looked for work.
Steve is writing to himself in his early 50s, the first time he had a hypoglycaemic event and woke up feeling alone and afraid.
You can feel your heart pounding fast and hard in your chest, while you sweat and shake. You know what’s happening – your blood sugar is low – and you’ve taken some glucose tablets. But it’s so frightening to feel so sick. Will it happen again? How often?
Steve, I must tell you that hypoglycaemia can be a part of life as a person with type 2 diabetes. This will be frustrating to hear because, so far, you’ve believed that you’ll be able to handle your condition, no problem. After all, your life has shown you that you can overcome set-backs.
But there are more variables than you realised. The effect of stress, for example. Or depression, which runs in your family. Life can be difficult at times and you will be prone to anxiety and depression. The hurt of remembering Kelly, the daughter who died as an infant, will persist.
Understand that the hurdles are not your fault. You probably inherited ‘genetic susceptibility’ as it’s called. You saw your mother deal poorly with type 2 diabetes but you will do better, with healthier eating habits, more exercise and better management. And you’ll learn how to manage the hypoglycaemia, too. You’ll keep orange juice and glucose tablets nearby. Diabetes education is essential, too.
Everything may not be controllable, at every moment. But your family will be there for you. You’ll be able to do the activities you’ve always enjoyed. Don’t look back. Look forward.
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.