I’ve had Type 1 diabetes for 12 years now, and while I understand that most people don’t have the encyclopedic knowledge (and interest!) in the condition that I do, there are a handful of things I wish everyone knew about diabetes.
1. I didn’t give it to myself
Nobody gives diabetes to themselves – it’s not a gift anyone would want. Type 1 diabetes, which I have, is an auto-immune condition where my pancreas no longer works. It is entirely unrelated to diet and is genetic but not hereditary. Type 2 diabetes is known as a lifestyle disease, which means that the wrong kind of lifestyle (too much junk food and sugar, not enough exercise, carrying excess weight) can cause it. But it’s still not helpful to tell someone they ‘gave themselves’ diabetes, because that kind of language of blame isn’t going to inspire anyone to live a healthier life. Type 2 diabetes also has a strong hereditary component.
2. If I’m eating it, I should be eating it
I promise you that any person with diabetes looks at food in a far more complicated way than anyone without diabetes. Any time I make a choice to eat something, I’ve calculated what my blood sugar is doing, how many carbs are in the food, how much insulin I’ll need to take, what I’ve eaten that day, what exercise I’ve done or am going to do, how I’ll feel after I eat it and if it’s worth it. I’m like the duck who’s paddling furiously underwater but smoothly gliding along on top.
3. It’s possible to live a perfectly normal life with diabetes
This is the one thing I wasn’t told at diagnosis – and the one thing I really needed to hear. It’s our mission at Sweet Life to share the information necessary to live a healthy life with diabetes. There is absolutely nothing that diabetes has stopped me from doing. I’ve travelled, scuba dived, hiked, had two healthy babies and live a happy, healthy life – with diabetes. Yes, I have to remember my injection and my testing kit every time I leave the house, and yes, I’m constantly doing mental gymnastics, but to me, being diabetic is like being a mom. It takes up a lot of my time, I don’t enjoy every aspect of it, but it’s part of who I am.
4. It’s easier when you’re in a community
The other thing I really wished for when I was diagnosed was a community of other people with diabetes I could join. That’s why we created Diabetic South Africans on Facebook, which has grown into South Africa’s largest online diabetes community, offering support and advice on all things diabetes-related. Sometimes I just need to complain about blood sugar, or exhaustion, or ask a very specific question that only people with diabetes will understand. That’s what our community is there for.
5. Being diagnosed is quick and easy and can change your life
3 in 5 people with diabetes in South Africa are undiagnosed. 3 in 5! And this is a condition that is preventable if you catch it early enough (Type 2 diabetes) and manageable if you’re diagnosed later… There is no need for amputations and blindness and kidney failure if you are diagnosed early and make the right lifestyle changes.
And what are those changes? Eat a healthy diet. Exercise. Take your medication if necessary. Lose weight if you need to. All things we should all be doing anyway. A diabetes screening is a simple fingerprick test that takes less than 5 mins.
Could you have Diabetes?
- Over 45 years of age
- Overweight or obese, especially excess fat around your ‘tummy’
- Family history of diabetes
- Unhealthy lifestyle
- High blood pressure or cholesterol problems
If you’re at risk, get screened this November, National Diabetes Month, and you can start taking steps to a healthy future. Free screening is available at all public clinics, Clicks and other participating pharmacies across SA.
Bridget McNulty is the co-founder of Sweet Life Diabetes Community. Get more tips, advice and support for living a healthy life with diabetes by joining SA’s largest online diabetes community: Diabetic South Africans (www.facebook.com/DiabeticSouthAfricans) and visiting Sweet Life (www.sweetlife.org.za)