Fifteen years ago, I was diagnosed with insulin resistance. Two weeks ago, I was diagnosed with diabetes.
The word “diabetes” has always struck terror in my heart. When I was growing up, my mother would always talk about how her grandfather died of it. To her, it was always a big demon. When I was 20, my mother was diagnosed with it. She was 42. Although, she always thought of it as a horrible disease, she didn’t really foresee that she would get it. Both her parents didn’t have it. For her it was a total shock, it just came out of the blue and knocked her off her feet. It took her more than a year to come to terms with the diagnosis. Witnessing her struggle with the diagnosis, it became this huge enemy in my mind. Since then I started to read and learn everything about the disease- knowledge is power after all.
Even with good control, my mother became insulin-dependent after several years. Ten years ago, at the age of 60, my dad became a diabetic. He took his diagnosis in stride, with his never die attitude. Still, as years marched on, the disease wore down his body as well as his optimism and sometimes overpowered him. He is not insulin-dependent, although he had to take insulin for a couple of months when some medication had the side effect of high blood sugar. Currently, both my parents have their blood sugars under control and continue to battle this demon.
When I was pregnant with my first child, the doctors worried that I would get gestational diabetes because I was already insulin resistant. I followed a very strict diet and checked my sugars seven times a day. I managed to deliver my daughter without succumbing to gestational diabetes. When I became pregnant with my son, I went on a similar diet. In the last trimester, even with the strict diet, I saw the sugars climb up. It got to a point where I just couldn’t eat any differently to get it under control. I had to take insulin injections during the last three weeks of my pregnancy. Research shows that those who get gestational diabetes almost always develop type II diabetes within five years of the pregnancy. I was determined that I would not become part of that statistic. I lasted six and a half years.
The trouble with such research statistics is that numbers are black and white, while biology isn’t. Those numbers are not hard facts; they are just estimates. Like the estimate that if both your parents are diabetic, you have a one in two chance of becoming one yourself. But when they say a one in two chance, it isn’t like a flip of a coin. It is not mean that if my parents had eight kids, four of them will become diabetic. In reality all eight kids probably get various amounts of susceptibility, some more than others. With the decks stacked against me genetically, I could only exercise control over my lifestyle to delay the inevitable onset.
Every other Indian is diabetic these days. Chennai is the diabetic capital of the world. With all this background, there must have been some part of me that KNEW that I too will be a diabetic some day. I just hoped it will be after 60 like my dad. It is incredibly upsetting to me that even with monitoring my health for so many years, the demon caught up to be even before he caught my mother. I never expected to be diagnosed at 39. My mother’s parents were both diagnosed last year. My grandmother is 78 and my grandfather was 84. I am the youngest in my family to be diagnosed with this disease.
Coming to terms with a diagnosis that changes your lifestyle completely is very much like grief. I grieve for the life I lived before when I didn’t have to worry overly about what I ate and when. That life is now gone. The five stages of grief are denial/isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. My mother went through a lot of denial because she was had no inkling of her health status. I thought that I didn’t waste much time in denial, but it must have been there because I did not want to admit to anyone that I was now diabetic. I was overwhelmed with isolation and depression. It didn’t help that I already felt isolated because of my move to the US. But mostly I felt guilty. So much guilt that I had let this happen. So much shame and anger, mostly directed inward. Then I wallowed in self-pity. One night, I was overwhelmed with fear; fear of eating. I felt panicky that no matter what I ate, I would not be able to control this. I wanted to release my emotions by writing a post about it, but I was not ready then. I did not want anyone to know my failure to prevent this. At this stage, I started reading more about emotional responses to the diagnosis. Website after website told me to let go of the guilt and the fear. I prayed for help to do just that.
Yesterday, I forgot to put my protein bar in my purse on my way out. When I started feeling hypoglycemic and searched for the bar, it wasn’t there. I know the dangers of hypoglycemia. Besides, the danger, it leaves me tired, makes me binge eat and sometimes leaves behind a headache. Thankfully, I had emergency glucose tablets. I have never had those before but they did an incredible job of rescuing me. I then bought a box of peanuts and couldn’t stop myself from eating three servings instead of one. Later, when I was waiting to pick up my kids at the bus stop, I admitted to a new friend that I am a diabetic. I didn’t plan on it. It just happened. I guess I was starting to come to terms with it.
Today, something happened that pushed me over the line into acceptance. I found out that my daughter’s new best friend, a fellow fifth-grader, is a type I diabetic. It shocked me when the child chose a single slice of brown bread as an after-school snack because “it was the only thing in the house that was below 5 carbs.” Now I feel ashamed again, but this time for all the drama, the self-pity and the depression. How incredibly blessed I am that I got to live till 39 years without this disease! That child is only ten.
I know that this epiphany does not mean that the struggle is over or that I will always be fine with it. I have seen how my parents still have days when they just want to surrender to it all. I know I will have my down days. But for now, I have made my peace with it. And I write this to remind me on those black days to count my blessings and be grateful.
By the way if you are wondering about the title of this post, it refers to the etymology of the word “diabetes”. It is an old common name for diabetes, derived from the symptom of excessive urination.