Sweet and Sour

This post is a collection of somewhat disjointed ideas which starts with the over-sharing of lady business and will probably contain Feelings and Rants. 

I was overdue for a smear and had some questions about increasingly recurrent thrush so I took myself to the doctor for a down-below two-fer. My robust good health, general stoicism, and dislike of scrutiny meant that I was not a frequent visitor to her office and, therefore, she took the opportunity to check for all the things while she had me captive.

It turns out my good health is not quite as robust as I had thought. While I was trotting around with no noticeable symptoms, my pancreas was giving up on the whole insulin producing business and I had developed type two diabetes. It’s not a hugely surprising diagnosis as there is family history and I had (fairly borderline) gestational diabetes in one of my pregnancies, however, learning you have a chronic condition which will affect most aspects of your life for as long as you live is still a bit of a shock.

In practical terms I’m doing ok. I’ve mostly got my head around my new diet, I remember to take my metformin, I exercise every fucking day, even if I’m sick. My blood sugars are slowly but surely coming down. But the emotional consequences are significant. At first I was burn-the-world angry with frequent excursions into despair and it felt like my diagnosis was the only thing there was. I’m moving closer to acceptance now but there are still times when I am brought up short by the unfairness of it all.

We hold diabetes up as a threat – it’s the consequence of “letting” oneself become too fat, or of not eating enough kale, something that can, invariably, be prevented by ticking enough healthy lifestyle boxes. Almost all the people involved in my care (With the notable exception of one nurse who seemed to believe I existed solely on cream-puffs) have been very careful to remind me of the huge genetic component of my condition and to avoid placing the blame on me, but that earlier message is persistent.  I find it quite hard to see myself as worthy of help or kindness when the thoughts whispering in my head are telling me it’s all my fault and I frequently have to stop and remind myself that the state of my health does not represent a moral failure.

When you are diagnosed with diabetes you are told to make three lifestyle changes: change your diet, exercise more, and lose weight. This last perplexes me a little – weight loss is a likely outcome of the first two changes and any other method of weightloss is likely to have some negative health consequences (I could get really thin by taking up cigarettes and cocaine but I doubt I’d be any weller.) Anyhow, I have been losing weight and my feelings around this are, predictably, complex. I wasn’t going to get hung up on my weight but, given I’m not doing daily blood sugar checks, it is the most easily observable sign of change. I find myself simultaneously celebrating each step closer to a conventionally acceptable figure and mourning the loss of the body I fought so hard to love. I am learning that self-acceptance must encompass change  but it is a surprisingly hard lesson. 

Our family meals haven’t had too radical a change – a shift in the proportions on my plate, more whole grains, and a distressing lack of chips notwithstanding, but other aspects of eating have become a struggle. I’m vegetarian so I’m well used to shared food and eating out being a bit fraught but the diabetes takes it to a whole new level. Lots of the strategies I used to use, like filling up on chips and garlic bread, just aren’t cutting it any more. On a recent holiday I found myself getting tired and weepy in the afternoons. I realised I had been leaving the bits of my meals that didn’t fit my diet plan and not replacing them with anything. We have now learned to make sure Jamie and I order different meals and swap components until I have enough suitable food.

This all brings it home how much food is about belonging. When someone brings a cake in to work for morning tea, or buys chips to share at drinks, I find the feeling of being excluded (no matter how much I know that’s noone’s intention) so much harder to bear than missing out on a treat and I fear that being difficult-to-feed will lead to social isolation.

Another phenomenon I am finding interesting is people’s reaction to the fact that I am taking medication as well as changing my lifestyle. It is oddly similar to the attitudes I’ve seen about antidepressant use. People like the idea that I could control my condition through willpower alone so needing metformin must be a bit disappointing. However, given the amount of effort managing my condition with medication requires, I am more than happy to let my pills do some of the heavy lifting.

I’m hoping to live for a long time and I’m hoping to live well in that time. Diabetes is always going to present challenges but I am also hoping that things will keep getting easier.