Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Six Things I Want You to Know About Diabetes

Yesterday was Diabetic Blog Day (who knew and didn't tell me?!) so I thought I would add my six things I want you to know about diabetes to this year's theme.  Yes, I have Type 1 Diabetes and I capitalize that word, not because my English skills require it (it is definitely NOT a proper noun), but because it dominates my life much like my two-year-old grandson does his mom when she is on the phone and he wants her attention NOW.

1.  THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS JUVENILE OR ADULT ONSET DIABETES ANYMORE.  There is Type 1 (insulin dependent) and Type 2 (oral medication and/or diet controlled diabetes).  The last thirty years have seen a dramatic increase in the number of adults who develop Type 1 Diabetes so the experts have taken away the "juvenile" label for good.  New Type 1 diabetics come in all ages these days.  I feel blessed that I wasn't diabetic until age 26 which allowed me to have two healthy low-risk pregnancies and many carefree years before the diabetic monster arrived at my front door.

2.  I DID NOT CAUSE THIS.  Right after I was diagnosed with diabetes someone close to me kept suggesting that my eating habits or the anti-depressant I was taking had brought this curse to my life.  I think that person was just trying to understand something that is incomprehensible, but as a result, I took on a lot of unnecessary guilt.  When you meet someone with diabetes you can't assume anything.  If they are overweight, it doesn't mean they are a lazy couch potato and have Type 2.  Insulin acts as a weight magnet and diabetics often gain a lot of weight after the initial diagnosis and then battle weight issues continually for various reasons.  Then there are the very thin diabetics who tend to be associated with Type 1, but there are also thin Type 2s.  Lifestyle does play a big role in diabetes and can help somewhat in prevention, but there are other factors as well.  The best thing to remember is that the diabetic club is full of diverse members with all kinds of lifestyles and genetic histories.  Treat each diabetic as an individual instead of a poster child for diabetes.  I was a poster mom for my local hospital's healthy diabetic pregnancy campaign in 2001 and it isn't fun to have someone at the ward party ask you why you are eating a piece of pie if your picture is in the hospital elevator symbolizing diabetic health.  Which leads me to my next point.

3.  JUST BECAUSE I HAVE DIABETES DOESN'T MEAN I DON'T EAT SUGAR!  Sugar is definitely not a preferred dietary item for anyone, but the true enemy of all diabetics is the carbohydrate, and every food item eventually turns to some sort of carbohydrate, even proteins and fats.  It is just a matter of how quickly that food item breaks down into a carbohydrate with that person's metabolism.  Some people with diabetes appreciate their family and friends helping them resist those tempting foods but some don't.  If your favorite diabetic wants your help with their dietary choices they will ask for it.  Otherwise, keep the food comments AND JUDGEMENTS to yourself.  You can't judge a diabetic by what they eat.  All diabetics have different ways of managing their disease.  I use an insulin pump and quick acting insulin.  Others use multiple injections, diabetic medications, or just diet.  Oh, and don't buy sugar free treats for your diabetic unless they have told you they like them.  Sugar free is a marketing tool that is nothing but a LIE.  EVERYTHING you eat turns to some form of sugar, even the so-called sugar free items.  I would rather eat a real Heath bar and cover it (a cool way of saying dosing) with insulin than a tasteless sugar free chocolate and have to cover it with insulin anyway.

My pink insulin pump
 4.  IF YOU SEE ME EATING FRUIT SNACKS IN PUBLIC IT IS NOT BECAUSE I LOVE THOSE STICKY BITE-SIZED YUMMIES.  I can't tell you how many times I have been in church and had a blood sugar low (some call them insulin reactions) and had to eat my last package of fruit snacks in front of some wide-eyed three-year-old who thinks, and sometimes proclaims aloud, that I am the most selfish lady they know.  And yes, I drag around a gigantic purse because I feel like I must have a miniature diabetic first aid station with me wherever I go, especially in the Middle East.  I carry fruit snacks (sometimes enough to share so I don't get those looks of betrayal), a glucometer with needed supplies, pump batteries, and a glucagon injection kit in case I have given my last package of fruit snacks away out of pity, and wind up unresponsive on the floor.  At home, when I ask someone to get me some orange juice, that is code for "Mom's having a low blood sugar and needs fast sugar NOW!"

5.  I HAVE DIABETES; IT DOESN'T HAVE ME.  Yes, diabetes is a big part of my life, especially now that I have had it for over twenty years, but I have so many other wonderful parts to my identity, so I have to concentrate on those.  The two Ds in my life that often try and define me are diabetes and depression.  Unfortunately, the two often buddy up on a lot of people and make it especially difficult to make life as normal as possible.  If I think too long about the amount of money, time, and energy I spend on managing this disease and the depression it makes me want to scream.  Brett has a sister with Down's Syndrome.  She passed away in 1990, but I remember how important it was to my mother-in-law for people to refer to Sommer as someone WITH Down's Syndrome instead of a Down's baby.  The slight distinction is important because the former highlights the adjective quality and the latter highlights the thing quality.  An adjective is much easier to put on and take off of your identity than being the thing itself. 

And lastly,

6.  INSULIN IS NOT A CURE FOR DIABETES!   I think our society gets lulled into thinking that there is no urgency when it comes to diabetes.  Yes, research is progressing, but nowhere near the same rate as other more popular diseases like aids and heart disease.  The number of people who suffer from diabetes is astronomical and far outweighs the previous two combined numbers.  As a society we need to start demanding better, more affordable technology and eventually a cure.  The Middle East has some of the highest numbers of diabetics, yet even though I presently live in one of the world's richest countries in the Middle East, insulin pumps are rare in Qatar.  When I go to the doctor here my pump is an oddity and the nurses gather around for a lesson and demonstration. 

I read today someone describe diabetes as a bully and a sore loser and yes it is.  This disease is relentless and is constantly throwing temper tantrums - keeping with my analogy at the beginning.  Just like my daughter has to choose when and how to pay attention to her sweetly demanding two-year-old when she is on the phone, so must I choose when to let diabetes run the show and when to let it take a back seat.  But hey, I have stabbed myself with sharp objects more than 3000 times in the last 365 days so I am definitely tough enough to deal with bullies and sore losers.  Take that, Diabetes!!!


Kristy said...

This post is awesome, Mom!

Amy said...

This was interesting and educational. Thanks so much for sharing this with us! One of the little boys in our little preschool group has diabetes. I have to check him before snack time and call his mom to determine what he can eat. The sweet boy is also allegic to gluten, so it gets really tricky. You are brave fighters, I tell you!

Amy said...

Here here! You should write a diabetes awareness pamphlet for those of us who are clueless and would rather not be.

terahreu said...

So insightful! I have had all the questions, but very few answers about diabetes. Thank you so much for sharing. You are one, strong mama! Oh, and grandmama!

Amber said...

wow. What a fantastic post. I do remember making sure there were nonsugar alternatives and noncarbohydrate alternatives when I knew you were around...I hope that didn't offend you. Sorry! Honestly, I hadn't read this post yet and wasn't aware of your feelings...I was just trying to be thoughtful. Promise! I think everyone should read this post...I am going to link it onto my blog and facebook if it is alright with you...let me know!

Juli Barros said...

Very interesting post!