Last week I had some good news. I had my annual Type 2 diabetes check and discovered that my blood test showed a significant improvement in my blood sugar control. This annual test is called the HbA1C and it measures your average blood glucose (sugar) levels for the last two to three months. Previously the lowest I have ever been, back in the early days after diagnosis, was 8.1. Two years ago it was 12.2, last year it was 10.8. Last week it was down to 7.2. A great result, although they really want it to be 6.5. I suspect I may actually be there, but my recent bout of bronchitis raised my levels for about six weeks of the three months concerned.
The reason for this vast improvement is about six months of total focus on my diabetes. Following a fairly low-carb way of eating, pricking my poor sore fingers 4-6 times a day to record the effect of every meal, every treat, every bit of exercise to see what effect it has on my blood sugar. Swallowing 11 tablets every day, even experimenting with when I take those tablets. I have thought of little else. And it has paid off.
This is really the first time I have done this since I was first diagnosed in April 2001. At the time I was in a pretty grim place. I was newly separated with a 6 year old daughter. I had huge amounts of debt, I weighed over 23 stone (having lost 2 stone pre-diagnosis) and my work life was so stressful and miserable that I could barely get out of bed in the morning.
The diabetes came as another hammer blow, seeming like a death sentence (which of course it can be). It was discovered by a routine urine test at my annual medical for work. Sugar in my sample. They sent me to the doctors, then there was a blood test. Then the news. The only advice I was given was to go home and empty my cupboards of jam. Not really that helpful.
At that time my diet was dictated by my budget. I ate a lot of beans on toast! Over the next couple of years, I lost another 2 stone. I took a dance class to increase my exercise. But as so often happens I got complacent. My diabetes care from the doctors was non-existent. There was certainly no education. Looking back, I don’t even know if I really understood what diabetes was.
Then in the summer of 2004 my daughter, Zoe, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Boy did I get some education then. This blog is not about Zoe’s diabetes journey though. Suffice it to say that her struggle as a 9 year old and then a teenager, punctuated with hospital visits, whilst improving my understanding of this cruel disease gave me a reason not to focus on my own problem.
I lost another couple of stone before I got married. A loss of 6 stone from my heaviest. Although I still needed to lose more (another 2 stone gone since then!). But to be honest I didn’t test very often. I got myself into a stew before each annual blood test, and occasional dark nights when I allowed fear of the future to creep into my consciousness, but outside of that I pretty much pushed it to the back of my mind. To be honest my life was so busy that I had very little time for self care. It was easier just to not worry about it. Just keep going.
Then, as you know, last year we changed our lives. We moved to Morecambe. The level of health care up here is so much better than it was in Hertfordshire. For the first time I felt as though I had someone in my corner. It was time to start taking better care of myself. I realised that I have quite bad damage to my feet. I already had numbness when I was diagnosed, but I definitely have neuropathy in both feet and need to take great care of them.
In May I set out to get a grip. I set up a little accountability group on Facebook, people that I trusted to support me without judgement. Kick my butt when needed. Encourage me if things got tough. I went back to low-carb eating. Started walking more. Started testing more often. Micro-managing my diabetes. And it paid off. Great results. Pats on the back all round. My feet hurt all the time, in fact a lot worse since I got my sugars down – probably because they are not so numb. But all my other results are pretty good.
But since getting those results I have felt a kind of despair. I am always going to have diabetes. I will always have to think about what I eat and drink. I will always have to take tablets. I will always have to test my bloods. I am angry about that. So of course I am writing it out. Acknowledging that diabetes stinks. And overwhelmingly sad that my lovely daughter has to live with this too.
The constant focus in the news on obesity as a cause of Type 2 diabetes haunts me. It shames me. I go into my diabetes appointments feeling ashamed. Like a small child desperate to please. I am letting my diabetes define me. But it is not who I am.
I have learned a lot over the last six months. I know that if I eat well and walk I keep my sugars down, and an occasional slice of cake, or a couple of slices of my home-made bread will not adversely affect me. I can live my life and hopefully prolong my life by continuing this self-care. Over the last 5 days my sugars have been consistently between 5 and 7. I am proud of that.
This blog marks my decision to stop letting my diabetes define me. To stop feeling that my life is limited by this “chronic condition”. To truly rediscover my lust for life. To embrace my 60’s and ignore my limiting beliefs around my physical abilities. To believe in the things that I tell my clients. To stop being angry. To let it go. To relax a little and live my life. With diabetes. Not fighting it.
We are our own harshest judges aren’t we? I love the sentiment of this song. I’m gonna follow my arrow…