Some time ago, I started writing a diabetes management guide. I had no idea what I was doing when I first developed this disease. There was a lot that I had to figure out on my own. So I put this together in the hopes of helping someone else who is figuring it out on their own. Remember, this is NOT medical advice and part of a successful management team includes a primary physician and an Endocrinologist. However, it can be a good place to start learning about diabetes and how to manage it.
A Beginner’s Guide
A 10 Step Guide to Success
Throughout this book, you will find italicized words. These words can be found in the glossary at the end of the book.
This book is intended to give you a starting point for diabetes management. It is not a replacement for medical treatment by a licensed physician. Always consult your physician prior to starting, stopping, or changing your diabetes management methods.
I’d like to thank Shannon K. Black for help with editing, content, encouragement, and honest feedback.
Thank you to Eppy Ratner, the greatest sister a girl could have, for your love and support during my journey with diabetes, and life in general. My life would have a great, big empty spot without you.
So You Have Diabetes?
Welcome to a new life. It is a life where you make all the decisions. You are in charge of your diabetes management. It’s big and scary and overwhelming at first, and maybe you are thinking that it isn’t fair, it can’t be happening, or that you have been given a “death sentence.” Well, it isn’t, it can be, and it’s not. How diabetes affects your body has very much to do with how you choose to manage your diabetes. How it affects your mind is well within your control as well.
What follows is a beginner’s guide to managing diabetes. It will be a starting point, a place where you will figure out what to do right now and how to find what you need to do next to take care of yourself.
If you are a veteran diabetic, then you already know the emotional roller coaster that this disease has taken you on. If you are newly diagnosed, you are likely smack in the middle of that roller coaster ride. It’s okay to feel scared, angry, indignant, and overwhelmed. You are allowed to feel all of those things. Being afraid of diabetes means that you understand how serious it is and that means that you are willing to do the work required to manage your diabetes successfully.
It is very common for people with diabetes, especially newly diagnosed, to feel lonely. It is hard to imagine that anyone else could possibly understand what it is like. In a way, that’s true. Each person’s diabetes is unique to them. It is important to remember, though, that we are not alone. In fact, we are not even close to being alone in this. In the United States, there are approximately 29 million people with diabetes.* The chances are good that there are people in your life who have diabetes without you knowing about it. With so many people being affected by this disease, there is no reason to face it alone. There are plenty of resources out there that will help you connect with other diabetics. Many diabetics have personal blogs. More resources can be found in discussion forums, local support groups, and diabetes education centers. Internet meet-up sites are a terrific resource for connecting with people locally who are looking for the same type of community that you are. If there isn’t a group in your town for diabetics, start one!
No one is going to be more determined, more assertive, or more thorough with your diabetes management than you. Learn everything you can about diabetes. Learn about diabetes physiology, management options, and medications. After that, learn about nutrition, exercise, and relaxation methods. Head to your local library and check out everything they have on diabetes. Go online and visit diabetes websites. You will be able to find information on every aspect of living with diabetes. Watch documentaries, talk with doctors and diabetes educators, and familiarize yourself with diabetes management tools like glucometers, ketone testers, insulin pumps, and continuous glucose monitors.
The more you educate yourself, the better you will be able to manage your diabetes successfully. With education comes empowerment. With empowerment comes the ability to take charge of your health and your life. You can do this!
*Taken from the American Diabetes Association website, last updated 2016, http://www.diabetes.org.
Reality Sets In: This is Forever!
For some people, a diabetes diagnosis feels like a death sentence. For others, its surreal—something that they never thought would happen to them. That was my reaction. The night I was diagnosed, a friend drove me to the emergency room after I told her that I couldn’t see anything clearly and could hardly stand or stay awake. She didn’t know what was wrong but she knew that my symptoms were dangerous. I argued with her, telling her that I couldn’t afford an ER bill and that I just needed to get some rest. She insisted and I finally relented. If it weren’t for that friend, I probably wouldn’t be here today. I lived alone. I was in between jobs. There was nowhere I had to be anytime in the near future.
In triage, a nurse checked my blood glucose level and after an entire day of not eating, my blood sugar was at 411. I remember the nurse looking at the meter and then holding it up for me to see. I looked at the meter, looked at her, and said, “What is it supposed to be?” “Under 100,” she said. They took me back to a curtained-off room and my friend, the driver, made sure I was comfortable, warm, and entertained. We made silly jokes to lighten the mood and during a pause in our joking, I looked at her and said, “Well, I didn’t see that coming.” I headed home a few hours later with my blood glucose level at 235, a couple of prescriptions, a new glucometer, a couple of pamphlets on diabetes and diet, instructions to follow up with my primary physician, and a diagnosis of Type 2 Diabetes.
It turned out that they were wrong and after a brief honeymoon period and a very frustrating holiday season, I found out that I had become an insulin dependent diabetic. Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults, or LADA. It wasn’t until that first insulin injection that I began to understand what it means to live as a diabetic. That was when it became real. That was when I understood that diabetes is forever.
Strangely, diabetes has given me a great gift. It has given me strength I didn’t know I had, a purpose in life, and the ability to work toward a goal in a way that I didn’t possess before. And for those things, I am truly grateful.
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At some point, we all have to accept that diabetes is with us to stay. As a Type I, diabetes is forever. As a Type II, you may be able to reach a place where you are asymptomatic. If you have Gestational Diabetes, pregnancy may or may not be the only time you have to deal with it. Whatever the case may be, while you have diabetes, you have to be able to coexist with it. If you don’t, it will consume you. As diabetics, we have to manage our disease every day. As humans, we have to find a balance between our disease management and living our lives.
Initially, learn everything you can about your diabetes. Once you have done that, intentionally do the things that you love. Having diabetes doesn’t mean that you cannot have a high quality of life. What it does mean is that you have to consciously manage your diabetes and learn how to incorporate the things you love into a life with diabetes. To do this, work with your diabetes health care team and adjust diet, exercise, medication, and insulin levels as needed. Expect some trial and error. No one gets it right from the beginning. No matter how difficult it seems, you can do this. You cannot fail if you do not give up.
I have often heard it said that it takes a full year to really understand and learn to manage diabetes. In my experience, this is true. Over the course of a year, there is plenty of opportunity to become overwhelmed and wish diabetes would just go away. If you have Type II Diabetes, you may be able to reverse symptoms through diet and exercise. If you have Type I, that isn’t going to happen. You have diabetes for the rest of your life, unless a cure is found during your lifetime. It sounds horrible but you must accept it. Though great strides are being made toward a cure for diabetes, there is not, as of the time I am writing this, a cure. So what happens once we fully accept our diabetes? Well, that is when we really get to begin living, when we get to truly appreciate all that we have and all that we may be. Accepting your diabetes is vital to your successful management. After all, diabetes never takes a day off, and neither can you.