On New Years Eve 1992, I spent my first night in hospital. I was five years old and my parents had taken me to my GP because I’d started feeling ill. I lost 5lbs, was guzzling water by the pintful and, errr… I was weeing a lot. I felt sick and tired and I couldn’t get the energy up to do anything much other than nap. Or so I’m told. I don’t remember much. Within hours I was admitted to a children’s ward and diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.
22 years later and I’m not a model diabetic. I’ve had my highs and my lows. As a child I adapted well, dealt with the needles and blood, wasn’t squeamish and worked hard with the help of my parents to maintain good control. But as expected, puberty rolled around and with it came the cliche rebellion phase. I ate all the wrong foods, skipped injections to save being embarrassed in front of friends, went an afternoon or five without testing my blood sugar. Thankfully, those things didn’t last long. I was just testing the limits. Overall, as diabetics go, I was pretty standard.
Stay with me… I’ve got a point, I promise.
Type 1 Diabetes, or diabetes mellitus, results from the autoimmune destruction of the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Essentially, my pancreas doesn’t work. When you guys eat, your pancreas will secrete insulin, a hormone to help regulate the levels of sugar in your blood. Without insulin, the sugar levels in my blood are not regulated. This means they naturally run high, and I have to administer insulin manually in order to combat it, making my sugar levels run in a zig-zag-esque fashion that can peak or drop, instead of the smooth, regulated wave that a healthy person’s would.
As I grew up I got better at controlling my sugars again, adapted to normal life as an adult and didn’t let my diabetes affect me too much. But this last year or so, I’ve let things slide a little due to a few massive life events (getting married, buying a house, being self-employed… you know, the usual) and I’ve been becoming less happy with the way I feel, health-wise. On top of that, it’s no secret to those who know me, Matt and I are planning to have our first baby within the next few years. Pregnancy and diabetes is a difficult mix for a number of reasons I won’t go into at the moment in regards to pelvic floor physiotherapy – but lets just say, it involves a lot of monitoring and some hard work from me to carry a healthy, bouncing baby to term.
Thing is, people don’t always take diabetes seriously. “You’re basically fine though, right?” is a common reaction, “You can pretty much do what you want?” another. “Do you have the fat kind?” is also a classic (No, but thanks for asking). While it’s true that, indeed, I basically can do what I want, people tend not to understand the work that goes into being a diabetes sufferer and staying healthy. Without tight 24/7 monitoring and control, diabetes can lead to ketoacidosis, coma and death, not to mention kidney failure, blindness and loss of limbs. Plus there’s an increase in the risk of heart disease and a reduction in life expectancy of 12 years. Pity party this ain’t, but it would be irresponsible of me to play the complications down.
You’d think that Type A personalities like me would find diabetes easier to deal with. “Treat it like a job, babe” said one friend after I received a particularly sub-par blood test result and a stern telling off from my doctor. Well, yes. She had a point. I could throw myself into a healthier diet, monitor and analyse full time and while my health still wouldn’t be perfect, it would be a lot closer to it. The thing is, and I’m not sure if any of you know this, I really love food. So while being a home cook and interested in the nutritional value and origin of what you eat is a plus point, eating out multiple times a week and having a particular penchant for potatoes and butter, well… that isn’t.
So you see, when I say that food is my life, I mean it literally.
I wear an insulin pump. I’m sort of like a robot. I have this little piece of machinery attached to me 24/7, via a piece of plastic tubing and a cannula, feeding me a constant drip of insulin. That drip has to be regularly monitored, amounts calculated and tweaked. I then have to adminster a “bolus” of insulin everytime I eat. I work that amount out by counting my carbs. The grams of carbohydrate I eat directly correlate to the units of insulin I have to feed my body. And there are carbs in things you don’t realise there are carbs in. The more you eat out, the less you know about your food, the more you have to guess at what quantities you’re eating. Get it right and you might maintain blood sugars in the safe zone. But that’s without factoring in stress, activity and hormones, all of which have their own impact. In short, it’s a battlefield. A battlefield paved with potato dauphinois and Curly Wurlies.
The point of this post was to explain the change. I’m conscious that now that my life has become a constant rotation of blood glucose testers, iPhone monitoring apps and online forums again, I might be dropping the d-bomb more often, both here and over on Twitter, and I didn’t want it to come out of nowhere. That’s the kind of thing that encourages comments like “Oh, she’s a diabetic? I saw her eating a piece of cake last week!”. It’s a common misconception, but people with diabetes can eat whatever they like. We just have to account for it. We all have to work out a system that works for us. For me, everything in moderation works, so that’s what I’m going with. Life without a Twix or a Chinese takeaway doesn’t bear thinking about.
So things might be slightly different around here. That doesn’t mean there won’t be complex carbohydrates in abundance. I promise you that quinoa will never form the bulk of my diet. But there will be low sugar, low carb recipes every now and again. Sometimes I might like to share my experiences in trying to get that perfect HbA1C result, or the reasons why I’ll never eat a Dominos pizza again (lies, every time). I also want this to be a place where other people with diabetes, friends or family members can come as a resource, a place to ask questions and learn something new. We’ll see.
So that’s that then.