five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?
In doctors, in glucose
In weight loss, in carbohydrates
In work outs, in meds
In blood tests, in spikes*
*Adapted with great appreciation and reverence to the late, great Jonathan Larson. My apologies for getting that song stuck in your head.
A year ago today, my life changed when I was diagnosed with Type-2 Diabetes. As shocking a diagnosis as it is, diabetes doesn’t give you any time to process it before you have to jump head first into “getting healthy;” a phrase I’ve come to understand is relative. I’ve learned more medical information in the last 365 days than I had in the previous 34 years of my life. It’s organized, compartmentalized, and easily accessible all upstairs in my noggin. The biggest thing you have to learn right out of the gate is it is all manageable. What that entails is far more than the space I have to type here, but I want to give you a little window into what the last year has actually felt like.
Diabetes affects every aspect of your entire body and life…every organ…every function…every choice…every decision…EH-VER-Y-THING. If my blood sugar gets too low or too high, it changes my mood, my balance, and my ability to think. There are long-term problems for my feet, eyes, heart, liver, and pancreas just to name a few. My hair is thinning not because of my medication, but because of the disease itself. My medication alone can ruin my kidneys, but have no fear, I’m also hypertensive, and the medication I take for that creates a force field around my kidneys to protect them from both my medication and my diabetes. But the constant thinking and analyzing and planning that goes into all of this is probably what took the most getting used to.
I wake up thinking about food and glucose numbers. Did I do good enough the day before that my morning fasting number is going to be in range? Two hours after a meal, did I calculate my nutritional intake well enough to be in range? Did I remember to take my medication? How many hours has it been since I ate? When I travel, did I pack enough medicine and testing supplies for my trip? Do I need to pack snacks to get me through the trip? If a friend asks me to go do something, is it going to coincide with a meal time? And if so, is food involved in whatever we’re going to do? If it’s not involved, what time do I need to eat my other meals in order to fit this into my schedule? If it does involve food, is it going to be food that is (a) nutritionally balanced and (b) going to fill me up? If someone asks me to have lunch or dinner with them, is the restaurant they’ve chosen, diabetic friendly? Am I being a burden to them by having all these other things to consider just so we can go shopping or to the movies or to a game? These are just a few of the questions that run through my head constantly.
Over the course of this year, I have drastically changed how and what I eat, and truthfully, I manage very well with my medication regimen and those changes in both my eating habits and my activity. I have a regular exercise routine, which I still have no desire to stick to in the sense that I don’t jump out of bed excited to get on the treadmill or work out, but I get out of bed and do it. In the last month, I’ve added running (more like jogging) to the routine and, Heaven help me, I can’t believe I’m gonna say this, I might actually be enjoying it. But if I ever actually sign up to run on purpose and not as necessary exercise, someone organize an intervention.
Trying to decide how much information I want to share with someone who doesn’t know my diagnosis when they simply ask “what have you been doing?” has been a learning curve as well because that’s a loaded question. For the most part, I’m open and honest about the reasons my appearance has changed so drastically. After the first several times you tell various people, “I was diagnosed with diabetes” and they get that “oh I’m so sorry” look on their face, it gets easier. I only had one person whose response took me aback: “Really THAT’S what it took to get you to change things.” I don’t think he necessarily realized what he said or how I took it, and it probably shocked me more than it should have, but I wanted to crawl in a hole and cry until I couldn’t hear his voice in my head saying those words to me. That didn’t happen, and I can still hear his voice.
I’m not gonna lie, the shame part of this diagnosis has been the hardest to “live” with. I imagine that’s going to be a part of my psyche for the rest of my life. The what ifs that will plague me until the end of time. And truth be told, a great deal of the shame is the result of our society being uneducated about the disease. The majority of people think overweight/fat = diabetes, when, in fact, heredity has more to do with diabetes risk and diagnosis than anything else. When I took my “So you have Diabetes, now what?” training classes, which as you might imagine feel like being sent to the principal’s office, more than half the participants who had recently been diagnosed were nowhere near what any of us would have considered overweight or unhealthy. Honestly, they were downright skinny. So I realize my shame is rooted in what society incorrectly believes. Slowly but surely, I’m beginning to wear a good bit of how far I’ve come in the last year as a badge of honor…of courage…of strength. But, underlying all that is the little girl inside me who just wants to be “normal,” again…to not be different from everyone else. But I’m never going to be that ever, again…not that I ever really was, but still. This doesn’t go away. I don’t take a pill and I’m cured. I take a pill and I survive. I have to be on high alert every second I’m awake for the rest of my life.
Sadly, it makes me occasionally resentful. I find myself getting really and truly angry and jealous when I see someone devouring a giant piece of cake or any other mountain of carbohydrates that I would only be able to eat a bite of…if that. I ask “why is my pancreas broken and theirs isn’t?” a lot…seriously…A LOT. Speaking of carbohydrates, I absolutely HATE…and I mean HATE with the heat of a thousand suns…any shortened or slang version of that word: carbs, carbos, etc. I know it sounds like a weird thing to fall on your sword about, but it’s like nails on a chalkboard to my ears.
Now that’s the dark side. Let’s get to the positive. To date, I have lost 40 pounds though I can’t seem to get the scale to move anymore…hence the addition of the running to jolt my body. I have 20 more pounds to go to be just inside the healthy section of the BMI chart for my height/gender. (Side note: DO NOT get me started on that damned BMI chart or as I call it “the standardized test for our bodies.”) Happily though, I’ve moved not only out of the “plus size” section of the women’s department, but comfortably into the “misses” section. As much as I hate to admit it, they have better clothes in the smaller sizes. The weight loss is a bonus and I get to walk into a store and pick up clothes off the rack that I know will fit and try them on only to see if they look good on me. I actually feel good in them. The part where people tell you how great you look and how great you’re doing with adjusting to all of this is a pretty good ego boost. They tell me about how I’ve taken the bull by the horns so to speak and said to diabetes, “I’m in control, not you.” Like in A Few Good Men, when Jack Nicholson says, “You F’d with the wrong Marine.” Diabetes F’d with the wrong diabetic. The ironic thing about going undiagnosed for however long someone does, is that you don’t know how bad you were feeling until you make these changes and you start feeling better. So, when someone tells me how great I look, I’m very quick to say, “thank you, but the important thing is that I feel better.”
In less than 8 months, I reduced my A1C from 9.5 at diagnosis to 5.6. A 5.6 is actually in the normal range for a person without diabetes, but that’s my A1C with the aid of diet, exercise, and pharmaceuticals. My goal is to not need the medication…to control my disease with diet and exercise alone. It’s an attainable goal that my doctor and I are confidently working towards because I have plans. I have priorities. I keep my nephew’s preschool graduation picture in front of me where I test my glucose. It reminds me of two things: (1) there are people who want me around for a little while longer and (2) I want to be there when Lincoln puts on the other caps and gowns in his future.
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes is a lot of time to learn a lot of new lessons about my new life. The most important one is that having a strong support system makes a world of difference. I have people in my life who have encouraged me, told me I’m an inspiration to them, loved me, let me be angry, let me cry, treated me no differently than before, answered my stupid questions (cough*Tesney*cough), not judged me when I ate the cupcake anyway, and just generally been there with silence, hugs, laughter, and most of all understanding and compassion. I would not have survived this last year without every one of them, and I know I won’t survive the years to come without them, either. At the end of the day, this diagnosis saved my life, and my support system is helping me live it…one minute at a time.