If you hear the word “diabetes” and the mental image that springs to mind is that of an illness reserved for someone that’s overweight or obese and/or has indulged in one-too-many giant burgers, let me assure you that you are probably not alone with that thought. In so many minds, this is the stereotype image painted of diabetes sufferers. In truth, there are many people with diabetes who are neither overweight nor junk-food lovers.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes Mellitus is a metabolic disorder caused by the deficiency of the hormone insulin. Insulin is a hormone, produced by the beta cells in the pancreas, and it plays a vital role in the regulation of blood sugar by providing a signal to the body’s cells to absorb excess sugar from the blood for storage. When we eat, food is broken down by the body’s enzymes into glucose. All metabolic activities in the body require energy and given that glucose is the main source of energy for the body, the inability of the body cells to effectively utilise the glucose in the blood stream leads to diabetes.
To illustrate, imagine that all the cells in your muscles and liver have a door that is remote-sensor operated, and when this sensor is activated, that door opens to allow glucose enter inside the cells for utilisation. Like infra-red sensor-operated doors in buildings that automatically opens when they detect human movement, the “doors” of the body’s cells automatically open when they detect the presence of Insulin.
The Different Types of Diabetes
In Type 1 diabetes, the body undergoes an autoimmune response whereby it starts attacking and destroying the beta cells in the pancreas, which in turn, leads to the production of insufficient insulin, resulting in elevated blood sugar levels causing diabetes.
In Type 2 diabetes, the situation is slightly different. Here, the body is producing enough insulin, but like a faulty infra-red sensor in a door to a building that fails to detect movement and so fails to activate the door opening, the sensor in the body’s cells that activate the opening of the cell’s doors upon detecting insulin become faulty, and fail to recognise insulin. This failure is referred to as insulin resistance, and the cells cannot absorb the glucose in the bloodstream leading to diabetes.
In Gestational Diabetes, the hormones produced by pregnancy encourage insulin resistance, resulting as well in elevated blood sugar which is harmful to both the growing baby and mother.
What Causes Diabetes?
While certain attempts have been made to link diabetes to an unhealthy lifestyle or the consumption of fast foods, it is, to a large extent, a myth that the food you eat causes diabetes. Diabetes isn’t a condition that one just “catches”, like a common cold, or the flu. The truth is that, certain risk factors such as genetic predisposition, ethnicity, weight, and lifestyle, of which diet is one component, can pre-dispose one to Type 2 diabetes.
When I was diagnosed with Impaired Glucose Tolerance, I started taking steps to take control of my health and well-being, but it wasn’t until I was diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes and reliant of multiple-daily injections of insulin that I really came to terms with the challenges of managing diabetes and here are 3 of the most important things that having diabetes taught me:
Your Health is the Most Important Gift You Have
Before my diabetes diagnosis, I went about life on autopilot, sparing little thought for my health. It’s not that I went about life without a care in the world. On the contrary, there were always lots of priorities; competing deadlines, uncompleted tasks and projects, su h that spending a moment to think about my health and well-being compared to a frivolous use of time. It took diabetes to realise I was guilty of taking my health and well-being for granted.
Knowing that I could be living with diabetes for the rest of my life was very sobering and it forced me to look inwards, to adjust my mindset to deal with the reality. Most of what goes on in our lives is noise and diabetes taught me to filter out the noise, and to strive to live in the present. In today’s world it’s all too easy to get distracted from what’s truly important, and Eckhart Tolle in his book The Power of Now talks about the living in the now as the truest path to happiness and enlightenment, a principle I think is so simple, yet so true.
Be More Tolerant of Imperfection
I am a perfectionist, with a zero tolerance policy for imperfection. One of my strengths, yet paradoxically, one of my flaws. My quest for perfection has always been evidenced by the amount of time I invest in detailed planning. Would you laugh if I told you that I even make plans to plan? Planning to me, represents having control, which means leaving less room for imperfection. A rather empowering mantra which guided my day to day existence.
However, having diabetes showed me how difficult it is to have control over everything. There were times that I would perform a set of actions which impacted positively on my blood sugar levels, only to repeat the same set of actions a few days later, and get completely different test results. Diabetes has taught me that despite the best intentions, consistency sometimes isn’t always possible, and I have learnt to be more forgiving and tolerant of my flaws and imperfections.
You Are Stronger Than You Know
I used to have a crippling fear of needles, no lie. A trip to the doctor’s office for a blood test was usually enough for me to hyperventilate and break out in a cold sweat. A drama also usually ensued once a nurse brandished a needle at me. My first thought when I realised I needed daily insulin injections was my fear of needles, and the associated pain. However, the great thing about us is that we so often underestimate ourselves. I was so convinced that I would never be able to face a future of multiple injections per day, but diabetes taught me that when push comes to shove, I was stronger than I thought.
Strong enough to push away my fear of needles. Strong enough to prick my fingers and draw blood multiple times a day. And strong enough to repeat the exercise, only this time to inject the much-needed insulin. And although the FlexTouch Insulin Pen from Novo Nordisk is a great innovation in terms of enhancing the insulin delivery experience, there were good times and bad times. There were times I mistakenly injected insulin into the muscle and boy, that hurt!, and there were times it was as painless as painless can be. I learnt from diabetes that when it comes to something difficult or terrifying or painful, your own fear is your worst enemy. And conversely, your mind is your best weapon.