My First Month with Type II Diabetes

I felt driven by a need to understand how I got here in order to figure out how to move forward.

The first thing my doctor asked me was, “Do you want a few months to see if you can manage this with diet and exercise?” She knows me well. I was shocked. She waited for me to say something, but I was unable to summon a response.

My doctor continued, “Your fasting blood sugar is 153 and your A1C is 7.1.” She paused. “You know what this means.”

Indeed. I knew exactly what this meant. It meant that I have type 2 diabetes.

I’m well versed in these lab numbers and what they mean. As a retired certified professional midwife, I’ve counseled numerous pregnant people through gestational diabetes. I’m familiar with the glucometers, blood sugar levels, diet diaries, and all of the lifestyle changes this diagnosis would entail.

It means big changes. It means looking at myself and accepting the truth in uncomfortable, crucial ways. It means facing the fact that I have a chronic condition.

I hung up the phone. It took 3 days for me to tell my partner.

My go-to way of managing stressful situations is to research. As soon as I got off the phone with my doctor, l retreated to my office, where I could do a deep dive into type 2 diabetes.

I stopped by my pharmacy to purchase a glucometer, lancets, and test strips. Making my finger bleed multiple times a day to test my blood sugars made it feel very real, very fast.

I felt driven by a need to understand how I got here in order to figure out how to move forward.

Like many other people, I had gained weight during the pandemic. For months, I didn’t do much but walk from the bed to the kitchen to the computer. I even stopped walking the dog and instead started driving to the dog park, where I could savor socially distanced conversations with other humans.

Over time, I began eating more pasta, more bread. Comfort foods were something to bring a little light during a bleak time. After dinner, I did not shy away from the delights of chocolate, basking in small bursts of endorphins. Like millions across the globe, I coped. I cocooned. Then I stayed that way for 15 months.

With a family history of diabetes and heart disease, maybe I should have known better. But I really just didn’t think diabetes would sneak in the door. Just 5 years ago, I was running 5K races. Even just a few weeks ago, my partner and I were remarking on our good health.

In terms of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes during the pandemic, it appears I am not alone.

Researchers are still tabulating and tracking, but right now the numbers suggest that pediatric diabetes cases have doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether there’s a corresponding increase in adults is not known yet, but it is widely recognized that many people like me delayed meeting with our caregivers during the pandemic.

Because I put off a checkup for 2 years, I don’t know how long I may have been living with the disease.

My age plays into it too. At 57, I’m in the prime age group for being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. While I understand that my body and mind will shift as I age, I am still accepting this sudden lurch into living with a chronic condition. This is a disease I will manage until my death. That idea is sobering.

My weight plays into this. Turns out, weight is often a bigger predictor than genetics about who will be diagnosed with diabetes. I am carrying around about 60 pounds too many, and it may have made me more susceptible to type 2 diabetes.

Excess fat in the body also affects the production of insulin and how it’s used. The good news is that if I can lose 10 percent of my body weight, I may be able to reverse this train.

What no one talks about is the emotional work of having diabetes.

I still haven’t told my sons about my diagnosis, because telling them makes it real. I know my news will make them worry. I also will tell them that it may put them at a greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes in their lifetimes.

I will feel their eyes on me, willing me to poke my fingertips multiple times a day, willing to be deeply dedicated to the management it requires.

There’s a part of me that feels angry, too. Why is this happening to me?

I feel shame. Or is it guilt? Many people living with type 2 diabetes experience shame and guilt about their health. Every day, I push away the thought that this was a personal failing.

I know that while causes are not completely understood, often some combination of genetic possibility and environmental factors leads to a type 2 diabetes diagnosis. Diet, exercise, and stress are a part of this, but so is just luck.

I’m going to not waste any more bandwidth feeling self-conscious. I’m not going to dig deeper into our family history, trying to blame my fate on genetics. I’m going to try to focus on what I can control.

It has still only been a few weeks and already I’m making some changes.

In the kitchen, I found the food scale and pulled out the measuring cups. Just having it on the counter has been an effective reminder to work on portion sizes.

I’ve filled the fridge with the usually recommended items: green vegetables, lean meats, low glycemic fruits, and a few diet sodas in case I get a terrible longing for something sweet.

I put together a new playlist for the many hours of walking ahead of me, and I had a talk with the dog, who is quite pleased with this particular lifestyle improvement.

I’m also allowing myself to get a little excited. I remember what it feels like to be in better shape, what it feels like to get moving for a few miles with the dog every morning.

I’m tracking my blood sugar numbers, just trying to find patterns and identify foods that trigger me. I will miss ciabatta bread, but I’m remembering how much I love sweet potatoes.

Small steps. I know that I’m going to have days when I won’t walk a mile, and I’m certainly having a slice of pie during the holidays. I know that this cannot be an all-or-nothing situation.

I’m giving myself permission to make changes imperfectly because even imperfect changes are steps in the right direction.

What I’m wondering about now is healing from the diagnosis. It’s work. the burden of being a diabetic in a world that doesn’t always understand what it’s like is not insignificant. The emotional weight is work.

I know that there are big changes up ahead. I’m building a new relationship with my body, with food, and with my doctor. I wouldn’t say I’m happy, but I am grateful. I have a good chance of keeping this disease in check before it causes damage to my nerves, or my eyes, or my kidneys.

I’ve accepted that I’ll have to learn a new dance.


Jana Studelska is a writer and editor located in Minnesota. She is a retired certified professional midwife who continues to teach in both pediatrics and writing. When she’s not off the grid at her cabin, she lives in St. Paul with a good man and two animals.

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