Recognizing Diabetes Symptoms; How Being Diagnosed With Type 2 Diabetes Re-framed My Views Towards Self-Care
Living With Type 2 Diabetes — My Story
Living with Diabetes. The phrase can strike terror in the strongest of hearts, with visions of lifelong medication and care. I am here to share my own diabetes management strategies, right from how I was diagnosed, what led up to it and how I was able to overcome the initial fear and take control of my condition. You can, too!
I have always been fairly healthy, except for the occasional cold that came with a change in weather. Discovering that I had been living with the initial symptoms of diabetes came as a shock to me as I lead a reasonably active and healthy lifestyle.
I have been living with diabetes for eight years now. To give you a brief background, I am a freelance writer and editor and work from home. Besides the happy perks of flexible timings, it also means sitting at my desk for hours and staying up late, racing to catch deadlines. It means I can be a little lax about mealtimes, regular exercise, and getting enough sleep. I considered myself fairly healthy as I walked regularly.
Looking back, I now realize that for months before the diagnosis, my body had been giving me warning signals that I had no inkling were symptoms of type 2 diabetes.
There is a slew of common symptoms that mimic diabetes symptoms, making it quite frustrating to pinpoint what it is. For example, excessive thirst, frequent urination, blurred vision, hunger, and fatigue can each point to something else. Diabetes symptoms can be sneaky and it is difficult to catch even when it has progressed, as happened in my case.
How My Initial Diabetes Symptoms Began
Life seemed normal enough. Then, in February 2014, I started noticing that I felt thirsty and dehydrated and visited the bathroom frequently. I chalked it down to the warm weather. I didn’t worry.
Maybe the frequent urination was because I was drinking so much water or because of an infection.
I also felt tired and hungry and I put it down to the long working hours and erratic meal times.
A lack of sleep also contributed to my lethargy.
I complained about blurred vision, but then I wear glasses and was probably due for a check-up.
I also noticed that the skin in my armpit had become darker and remembered reading that it was a sign of diabetes.
Then one day, while dressing, I noticed skin tags around my neck. I remembered these are considered signs of type 2 diabetes. I do have a family history of diabetes, but I shrugged it off.
I craved sweets, which was really odd as I am not that fond of sweets.
So, what was the tipping point?
Our wedding anniversary was around the corner and my husband urged me to get a full health check-up, which I scheduled immediately. When the reports came, I was in complete shock. My blood sugar levels were abnormally high.
My test reports got me thinking, though.
- Were the antibiotics I took a couple of weeks earlier responsible for the high sugar levels?
- Was it my work fatigue?
- The shaking and sweating from my menopausal hot flashes?
I did think of diabetes, but there are other conditions with similar symptoms. The report also showed high cholesterol, vitamin D deficiency, and an abnormal ECG.
Still, I didn’t worry too much. I put it down to the long working hours and not enough sleep along with a not-so-healthy diet. Nothing that regular exercise and a healthy diet couldn’t resolve, right?
Surely one abnormal blood sugar reading didn’t mean something serious?
I met my GP and showed him my test reports. He advised me to get the HbA1c test, the average blood sugar for three months. It was 11.4 percent (the normal range is 4.5 to 5.6 percent).
My doctor gently told me that I had type 2 diabetes. From onset to diagnosis, it had taken several months!
I felt my world crashing around me. As I tried to process this, I thought of all the things I had heard about people living with diabetes: the lifelong medication, the possibility of injecting insulin, the health complications, and so on. I left the doctor’s clinic with advice about lifestyle changes, a prescription for oral medication, and a very heavy heart.
(Also read: Diabetes complications)
The first thing I did was I cried. A lot. I felt let down. I mean, I had been leading a fairly healthy life, so why me?
And when the tears dried up, I took stock of the situation. What had I been doing wrong? I made a list.
- I was sleeping late every day
- I had been skipping mealtimes and eating more out of guilt than hunger.
- I had prioritized work rather than exercise.
- Everyone on my father’s side has diabetes, and that put me at risk.
- I was going through perimenopause.
…and so on.
I felt somewhat let down. I mean, why me? I just did not want to believe I had diabetes. Eventually, I got past the denial and pulled myself together. I was determined to face this with a positive mind. Overnight, I changed my routine, pledging to eat healthy, exercise, and get enough sleep.
How I Learned to Cope
I was fifty years old, and it was time to re-frame my self-care and personal health routine.
I learned that living with diabetes need not be difficult provided I followed a few basic rules. Step one, of course, was to accept my diagnosis. Step two was empowering myself with knowledge — learning about diabetes. I also had to make healthy food choices, keep a healthy weight and manage my stress levels. Uncontrolled diabetes leads to several health complications and my number one goal was to ensure that my blood sugar levels were within their target range.
Here is what I decided to do
- Monitor my blood sugar levels once a week (as per my doctor’s advice). This helped me learn if certain foods spiked my blood sugar.
- Take my medication on time. I set alarms and maintained a chart.
- Exercise regularly. For me, this is a 45-minute brisk walk first thing in the morning. I also do yoga.
- Eat healthily. I made weekly meal plans that balanced complex carbohydrates, fiber, protein, and healthy fat. This helped me plan my shopping and have the ingredients ready.
- I consciously cut out all packaged food from my diet. This was not hard as I love to cook from scratch.
- I pledged to sleep at a reasonable hour. I stopped staying up late. I was aware that inadequate sleep and chronic sleep loss put me at risk for weight gain and other health complications.
- I realized that I had allowed myself to get carried away with my workload. I had to get off that hamster wheel and make time to relax. I made some changes to my work routine.
Perhaps my biggest encouragement was the support of my husband and son, who joined me in this “new” healthy lifestyle.
I followed my health routine rigorously. Three months after my diagnosis when I took an HbA1c test, it was 7 percent. I whooped with joy! I knew I was on the right track with my diabetes management!
Would I Do Anything Differently Today?
If I could turn back the clock, I’d like to say that I wish I had led a healthy lifestyle focusing on eating healthy, getting regular exercise, and enough sleep. Maybe I should have recognized the initial symptoms of diabetes. Considering that I have a family history of diabetes, I ought to have been more alert.
Today, I am proud to report that I am thriving with the condition. I have not allowed diabetes to take over my life. Maybe I missed the signs, but I am glad for the diagnosis. It has enabled me to take control of my health and make the necessary changes and stick with them. While following precautionary measures is certainly important, it is just as important to understand that you have the power to move beyond it to create the life you want. I know that now.
Valuable lessons I’ve learned from living with diabetes
- Having diabetes does not mean you can’t enjoy life. But discipline and commitment to a healthy lifestyle are crucial for diabetes management. It is absolutely fine to feel frustrated and overwhelmed. Take it one day at a time.
- Ask questions; being informed helps.
- Remember you are not alone. There are wonderful support groups to encourage you.
- Listen to your body.
There are other conditions that show symptoms similar to high and low blood sugar. For example:
— Fatigue if you are recovering from a sickness, suffering from depression
— Dry mouth if you are stressed or nervous about an interview or relationship
— Dehydration and thirst from not drinking enough water
— Medication side effects
— Dizziness from over-excitement or a lack of sleep
— Shaking and sweating from menopausal hot flashes
Talk to your doctor to understand what is going on.
- Exercise is non-negotiable. I walk for 45 minutes at least five days a week and take the stairs as much as I can. This helps with better weight management and fighting diabetes complications.
- Our body needs adequate sleep to heal and stay healthy. There is plenty of research about how inadequate sleep can be a contributing factor to type 2 diabetes.
- Prediabetes can be reversed, delayed, or prevented from becoming type 2 diabetes with lifestyle changes.
- If you are at risk for diabetes, consult a doctor to minimize the chances of developing type 2 diabetes.
Today is World Diabetes Day in honor of the birthday of Sir Frederick Banting, who discovered insulin just over 100 years ago. This year’s theme for World Diabetes Day 2022 is “education to protect tomorrow”
Disclaimer: This is meant for awareness/educational purposes and does not constitute health advice. Please consult your doctor/ healthcare practitioner before starting any diet, medication, or exercise.
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