“Life is not over because you have diabetes. Make the most of what you have, be grateful.”~Dale Evans
It has been ten years since I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. In looking back my body had been warning me for a long time. Experiencing extreme fatigue (which as a teacher was a way of life), thirst, dry mouth, difficulty sleeping, frequent urination, and fuzzy thinking.
The symptoms there but so where the list of it could be. It could be the stress of being a single mom. It could be that I was in school full time and teaching. The last year of my counseling program was brutal. I was teaching during the day and completing my counseling residency in the evening.
After hearing that I could have been in a diabetic coma and getting hours of IV fluids to hydrate my body the real devastating news came. My physician looked me square in the eyes and said, “You will not be able to eat rice.” Before I knew it I mustered the strength to remind her, “DO YOU NOT REMEMBER THAT I AM PUERTO RICAN.” Telling me that I had to part with this central part of my cultural cuisine and identity was worse than the diagnosis.
I later learned that most physicians are not versed in nutrition receiving one course throughout their training. The nutritionist came to the rescue and corrected that information. This taught me the importance of second opinions, patient advocacy, learning and questioning doctors, and collaborating on your medical action plan.
My journey has been met with ebbs and flows. I’ve experienced periods where my A1C numbers were that of a person without diabetes. The ADA defines A1C this way, it can identify prediabetes, which raises your risk for diabetes. It can be used to diagnose diabetes. And it’s used to monitor how well your diabetes treatment is working overtime. It’s also a critical step in forming your game plan to manage diabetes with your diabetes care team.
As with any diagnosis of a chronic illness, it demands a shift and managing life takes on new meaning. The questions swirling around can seem overwhelming. Limit your research to just a few sites. For example, The American Diabetes Association or The Center for Disease Control.
- What is diabetes?
- How can I manage my diabetes?
- Are there impacts on my mental health?
What is diabetes?
according to the CDC, diabetes is a chronic (long-lasting) health condition that affects how your body turns food into energy.
Most of the food you eat is broken down into sugar (also called glucose) and released into your bloodstream. When your blood sugar goes up, it signals your pancreas to release insulin. Insulin acts like a key to let the blood sugar into your body’s cells for use as energy.
This was such a hard pill for me to swallow and I spent a long time beating myself up for not taking better care of myself. Diabetes was prevalent in my family and I should have known better. At the time I did not know that stress impacted my numbers significantly. Everyone is different but stress for me is like going on a carb binge. Which leads to our next question.
How can I manage my diabetes?
Managing diabetes will look different for different people and developing a rhythm can take some time. But, establishing some key pillars can make all the difference in the world. Everyday Health identifies five basic management strategies.
- Get it out in the open
I knew my students would play a role in how I managed my diabetes. So, I used my diagnosis as a teachable moment. I did a health lesson on diabetes and stressed the importance of them establishing healthy habits early. I was transparent about my journey and what this meant for me moving forward. We also developed an emergency plan in the event I had an episode (i.e. fainting).
- Eat well during work hours to stay on track
Attending an all-day nutrition class with a Certified Nutritionist and Endocrinologist was a great way to unlearn the misconceptions around food and begin to establish better practices as well as food choices. “The key with healthful eating is to plan ahead,” Kemmis says.
- Stay active at work
As a classroom teacher getting those 10,000 steps was not as challenging. On my feet all day moving up and down the aisle engaging with students. My school had three stories and I was on the third floor. So, a lot of stairs and daily movement. If you’re on your feet at work, activity is probably built into your day, but it can be harder if you have a desk job.
Are there impacts on mental health?
People with diabetes are 2 to 3 times more likely to have depression than people without diabetes. Only 25% to 50% of people with diabetes who have depression get diagnosed and treated. But the treatment—therapy, medicine, or both—is usually very effective. And without treatment, depression often gets worse, not better.
Diabetes distress can look like depression or anxiety, but it can’t be treated effectively with medication. Instead, these approaches have been shown to help:
- Make sure you’re seeing an endocrinologist for your diabetes care. He or she is likely to have a deeper understanding of diabetes challenges than your regular doctor.
- Ask your doctor to refer you to a mental health counselor who specializes in chronic health conditions.
- Get some one-on-one time with a diabetes educator
The great news is that pre-diabetics can change the course and avoid a full diagnosis. My dad turned diabetes around by increasing exercise, changing his diet, and taking his medicine. There is always hope!