It’s time for me to come out. Not out of ‘that’ closet, but a cold, dark and lonely hidey-hole of fear, shame and self-suppression nonetheless. It’s more like it’s time for me to come out of the pantry- back there in the deep, dark corner where all the cakes and cookies and buckets of sugar hide.
That’s right: I’m diabetic.
It’s taken me about the whole, entire 2 years since diagnosis to be able to even say the word aloud without cringing in shame and wondering what horrible, horrible life choices I made brought this scourge upon myself. All you have to do is click open any single page on the whole wide internet and you’ll find some crack or comment about eating your big, fat, gluttonous way into Diabetes ( or The Betes, D-beast and D-bomb as I also call it). While I applaud the health conscious waves sweeping the globe, attacking the very real conditions and the very real people living through them can make for a cold, dark and lonely life for those of us who happen to wake up in the Dungeon of the Gluttonous with social judgment lashing down upon us.
In November 2010, I delivered an absolutely beautiful baby boy- the pride and joy of my heart, and I quickly shed all my baby weight. Then just as quickly, I began packing it back on. Bizarre, really, since I was not at all eating. WHO HAS TIME??? If I had had a minute to eat, I’d have used it to SLEEP. When I emerged from those early days of baby domination, I began to get serious about Recovering My Life. I had a private trainer, a nutritionist and a super supportive husband. I worked out religiously, I mercilessly slashed all delicious foods from my life and feasted courageously on decorated cardboard and fiber…whatever it took. I went to the gym during my lunch breaks and presented grand ad campaigns to choosy clients in small A/C board rooms smelling like…IMPENDING VICTORY aka gym funk. But I KNEW I was on my way to my glorious pre-baby chub, as opposed to this post baby obesity, and that kept me going.
37 days after Operation “Be Less Fat” began, I stood on the scale in my trainer’s torture chamber and closed my eyes expectantly, waiting for the declared number that was SURE to be an itsy bitsy one. When the silence went on for a bit too long, I cracked open an eye to see her fiddling with the scale. Uh oh. Finally she said, (and is there anything more demoralizing than a mean trainer trying to be nice?) “Maybe it’s muscle weight you’ve gained”. As we both looked down at my abs, still hiding under enough flab to take 10 bears through a Russian Winter, and my arms, fat still jiggling softly in any passing breeze, we both knew the truth: it had not worked. Not one pound lost. GAINED! Depressed beyond imagining, I trudged into my perky nutritionist’s office (and why shouldn’t she ALWAYS be happy? She had the appetite of a tiny bird, wore the same size as one and could do yoga positions birds would trade their wings for) and repeated the same debacle of weighing, silencing and shaming-by-weird-encouragement. For her, it had to have been my mighty, milk-filled boobs, holding my body down like ballast on an air balloon. No one mentioned ‘air balloon’. Was too close to the truth.
After that came what felt like a never-ending spate of tests. Wildly invasive, improbable, dug-up-from-ancient-Rome type tests that left me feeling more invaded and less human each time. And every time, the results came back with a big ole blank. I used to sob to my husband that we needed to find Dr. House. I was not even kind of kidding. Finally, the talk turned to the “only” thing that could single-handedly account for hair loss (on head), hair gain (every.where.else!), Cortisol levels through the roof and weight that still crept steadily up: brain tumor. According to one doctor, it was the only thing that could sweep everything into a tidy, albeit increasingly obese package, and get us all out of her office. Almost off handedly she also threw out: “Though I guess I could further explore Diabetes”.
My heart, which had begun to pound wildly at the brain tumor idea, absolutely stood still at the D-bomb. DIABETES? But…but that would mean I’ve killed myself! That somehow I earned this illness and the chaos it was wreaking on my body and new little family. Tumor hey, you know…they suck but they happen. Diabetes though, shoot…that’s just what your fatness will get you, Fatty McFat-Fat. Just the other day, my husband mentioned how I broke his heart AND boiled his blood the moment I looked across at him and whimpered that I almost wished it were the tumor instead of the D-beast. I pointed out that I had said ‘almost’. He remains unimpressed. But at the time, it felt really true to what I was processing. I was NOT a glutton (and I can say that with utter confidence. NOW.), but I was a self-confessed sugar junkie. I rated restaurants on their desserts. The best meals complete with singing elephants and fire breathing mermaids would remain so-so, unless the desserts could match. I’ve always been a bit melodramatic, but in that moment saying goodbye to sugar was…NOT the option I’d have gone for.
What did having- no, no- EARNING Diabetes mean? What did it say? I was now a new addition to the unstoppable punchline that Diabetes had become. How could I tell people who knew I was being examined, people who were nervously praying with me and waiting with me and crossing fingers with me that “Oh never mind, it’s nothing terrible, just a little Diabetes I gave myself, sorry for all the fuss!” When it turned out that my highly traumatic childbirth experience had in fact resulted in a tiny swelling in my brain by my pituitary gland, which was somehow working in conjunction with my diabetes to create the overwhelming destruction of my body and dreams, I felt a bit comforted, but only a bit.
In my mind, Diabetes was…shame. Chocolate covered, deep-fat-fried shame. It had to be hidden in the back of a deep, dark closet so that I couldn’t be judged, labeled, chucked in with others who had the same ‘classification’ as me, but were NOT the same as me. Testing my blood furtively like a super ninja is something I should be able to put on my CV. Taking 7 tablets a day in the initial stages, and dealing with the horror of my body adjusting to these new chemicals, switching to insulin injections and doing that covertly too…no one knew. Stealth testing, stealth checking, stealth treating, pretending to eat cake or drink juice just to avoid the questions (coz homegirl was known to eat-a the cake-a, one more boulder for the guilt load), refusing to accept the truth and therefore sending my sugar levels sky high and feeling like death, or trying to ‘starve the Betes away’ and near fainting…all these became part of my daily routine.
I withdrew from my friends (hey friends, now you know!). I became rather hermitty. And crabby. Hermit-crabby. And essentially began to live this washed out version of my life that I felt the Betes had bequeathed to me; that I had bequeathed to myself. It was a horrible foray into the majestic depths of self pity of which I am capable. Man, if THAT gave you an illness I’d be writing about 2 conditions today.
One day, the shadows began to disappear. I think it began around the time I stopped dwelling on what I may or may not have done to myself, and began concentrating on what I would do FOR myself thereafter. One day I looked down and realized that I had been shopping on autopilot, and had ended up with a trolley filled with fresh produce and whole grains. Not a cookie in sight. I was shocked. I was awed.
I was proud.
Soon, I began trying the ‘weigh myself’ thing again, and every time I stepped on a scale, I had lost weight. My relationship with food changed. I respected mealtimes. I had all 3 meals, I had snacks…but wise snacks. I measured food carefully until my eye began measuring for me, and my portion appreciation adjusted accordingly. I fought harder to choose meals wisely and I worked out. Nothing manic, mind you, but enough to keep my blood pumping.
I was okay. I AM okay.
I have no immediate plans to become a Diabetes Activist really, because I’ve realized that people will always mistreat what they don’t understand or have never experienced. It’s why someone can casually drop the N-bomb and other racial slurs, mock homosexuality, make inappropriate jokes about the poor or their (usually wrong) ideas of immigrants; it’s why people are casual about teen pregnancy, mean about ex-cons and unforgiving of radical… anythings. Diabetes is just another one of those things. Y’know: it’s funny because fat people are funny, and fat people can only ever be fat by their own fault. And BK. Sometimes it’s Burger King’s fault too. Or McDonalds.
Just FYI: roughly 15% of diagnosed Diabetics are Type 1, which is an auto-immune response and not triggered by lifestyle. Of the remaining 85%, there are so many factors it’s amazing. It is true that having the condition in your ancestry increases your chance. It is true that living a sedentary lifestyle augmented by poor food choices can further increase that risk. But we haven’t all ‘given it’ to ourselves.
Life happens to us all, and sometimes it takes crap illnesses along for the ride. Besides, what would it even mean if we had? Does someone with Lung Cancer who smoked 4 packs a day for 30 years deserve less treatment and support that the patient who never smoked? No, better question: will their family grieve less? Function any better? Have less of a hole where Grandpa used to be?
One more D-Bomb statistic is this: pregnancy can trigger it, whatever your starting weight or food and lifestyle choices. My son was born at 10lbs. (Yes. Ouch.) His weight got Doctor #I-lost-count looking very closely for the Betes, which she found by repeating the same test 3 days within the space of a week because it was fine, fine, then SCREAMING DIABETIC! A 4th test took D’s side. So did a 5th variation. Ta-da. I had had undiagnosed gestational diabetes all along, and had become one of the roughly 5-10% who just…keep it.
For my trauma, I have gained this: a beautiful, healthy, ridiculously joyful little two year old, and a son due in 6 weeks, who as a result of careful diabetic management and medical care, is on track for being another dollop of perfection in this world. I have gained an appreciation for foods that do good things for my body, and a natural aversion (moderation, when it comes to cake, though) to the ones that harm me. I have a natural food scale in my eyeballs and brain that can tell me when to stop. I lost 60lbs before my second pregnancy and am sure I will bounce back after this birth too.
I think about my husband, and the fact that he’ll get to have his wife for all the years he planned on, plus some other years, and she will be healthy, confident and sparkling. I think about my boys, and the hit-and-miss nutrition they could have been born into, rather than the balanced plate life I HAVE to lead now. I want them to see Mommy as happy, and confident and capable. I want them to see me keeping up with them in the garden and in the sandbox. I want them to eat more lettuce cause Mommy does too. I want them to fearlessly but wisely enjoy birthdays, like Mommy does. I want them to know that life will never stop bringing the pain, but like my aggravating inner-trainer used to say as I contemplated burning down the gym to avoid anymore squats: Pain? There is no pain. That’s just the fire under your butt telling you you can’t sit down here. Not yet.
The thing I have learned most about this journey, is that at every moment, life asks us to choose who we are going to be in light of what we are facing. Our diagnoses are NOT our definitions. Our obstacles are not our definitions.
So hurdle already.
Aaaand cue cheesy victory pic: