1. Type 1
Eating well does not come easily to me. I have an obscenely sweet tooth. I love biscuits and chocolate. I like cake. I enjoy beer, kebabs, bacon sandwiches. Jelly babies are a vice.
There is a strange sort of excuse for these predilections in the fact that I’m a type 1 diabetic. I have always had a reason to be eating something. A lot of people don’t really understand the condition so a casual ‘my blood sugars…’ accompanied by a sympathy-eliciting hand gesture would normally suffice as explanation.
I remember tucking into a brownie halfway through a class when I was 15 years old. The new teacher pointed at me, her finger quivering. Summoning up the extent of her authority, she asked me what I thought I was doing. ‘Diabetic’, I mumbled proudly through the chocolate, ‘my bloods are low’. She slowly deflated and I continued munching.
I stopped producing insulin when I was 6 and have had to inject it since. This is a crude method compared to a pancreas that has been finessed by millions of years of evolution. Quite often it leads to high or low blood sugar. To distinguish - type 2 diabetics produce insulin but have lost sensitivity to it. The bullets still fire but they bounce off. If you have type 1, you are out of ammo.
After diagnosis - I tested my blood regularly, carried dextrose tablets on me at all times, and went to the nurse if I was feeling unwell. My parents and others helped me along. I can’t remember getting too down about it when I was small. I got given a lot of Lego too which definitely softened the blow.
I got used to the cycles, the highs and lows, misjudging a jab or eating too much. Feeling shaky, getting headaches, but generally being alright. Life goes on, you grow up. It affects you but does not dominate. I don’t remember specific jabs when I think about the past, it’s all just background noise that fades into static.
I was lucky that I was active. I always played a lot of football. I lived near a beach in my teens. My mum paid attention to my diet. All of this contributed to my bloods being regular. My hBa1c (average blood sugar) was always good and there was never cause for concern.
I always had good control. I am a good diabetic. This is something I never questioned. Even in the last few years. Even when I started lying about my diet and how much I drank to diabetic consultants during university. Even when I was putting on weight, not exercising, eating poorly. Even when I had a year of high blood sugars every morning and started getting unwell. I am a good diabetic. At least - I know how to be.
There are reasons, always reasons, that it isn’t your fault. The whole condition is bad luck. Having to inject myself from the age of 6 is bad luck, so is having to test my blood 10 times a day. Going low in the middle of the night and waking up shaking and covered in sweat - bad luck. Getting pissed off because you’re high - bad luck. Not my fault.
But in the year that I had the morning highs, I got very very down. When you have extended periods of high blood sugar, the pH of your blood changes. You struggle to focus, you get irritable at meaningless nonsense.
Feedback loops. I did not feel good when I was 24, and every morning I had high blood sugar in the morning, I got worse. More unhappy, more dependent on quick fixes, little pick me ups, big doses of insulin that wouldn’t absorb properly and bottles of juice or sweet snacks after the inevitable crash.
Vicious circles work downwards like a drill. You enter a strange sort of pit. The surface exists, it’s visible from where you are, but it is unreachable. You may have some awareness of how to get there or the steps you need to take to climb out, but the drill keeps pushing you down. It’s a numbing impotence you feel down there.
Someone, several people can offer a hand. But you have to have the will to reach out and grab it - pull yourself up. This is easier said than done. I don’t know what to suggest as I’m not sure exactly when the change occurred for me. I had to accept that I had stopped controlling my condition, and it had started to control me.
Life can be so complex but ultimately it’s an infinite series of binary decisions - choosing to do something, or choosing not to. Free will may be a fiction, but I don’t think that idea is particularly helpful for us humans. We have to cling to the notion that we can change our own behaviour, if nothing else.
I would like to claim that I conducted an analysis of the issues I was having and put together a 3-month diet plan, complete with celery snacks and liquid rations. But the first day I tried a low-carb diet, I had bacon and eggs for breakfast, an avocado for lunch, and half a chicken for dinner. Sometimes you have to figure things out as you go along.
I almost shit myself on the second day. I got very hungry. But I stuck to it for a few days and started to feel better. Fewer mood swings, more able to focus. I stopped craving sugar and stopped having lows as often. No more highs in the morning. Losing puppy fat.
Feedback loops. Things get better, you get better. You become more-equipped to make more constructive decisions. In the year I’ve been eating this way, I’ve lost a decent amount of excess weight and have reversed the diabetic neuropathy in my eyes. I feel better than I have for a long time.
Different things work for different people. I think low-carb is particularly effective for me because of my diabetes. I’ve benefited from thinking about what I eat more. But it’s difficult to change habits. In my early adulthood, I had slowly slipped into an unhealthy mode of being.
My dad always talks about the frog and the pot - if you place a frog in a pan of boiling water, it will hop straight out. But if you put a frog into a pan of cold water, and slowly raise the temperature, it will be boiled alive. We often don’t notice those gradual changes until it’s too late.
I think I either do things or I don’t so I had to go all out and commit to it from an early stage. Other people can make gradual shifts and adapt slowly - this may well be healthier. Whatever works for you. But I am glad that I’ve changed the way I eat. I am at the surface.
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