Thursday, April 06, 2006
So, about that diabetes thing...
So, this diabetes thing... what's it all about?
Essentially, Diabetes is a chronic disease where your body fails to deal with the blood-sugar (glucose) in your body either by producing ineffective insulin or no insulin at all. The blood sugar ends up being stored in your body and not absorbed and can reach high/dangerous levels - this is in "Type 2" diabetes (which I am). You also end up peeing a lot of glucose since you have so much that your body has to get rid of it somehow. (Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 Diabetes, is so called because of this "Sweet Siphon")
There is another type, "Type 1" which involves injecting yourself with Insulin because your blood-sugar levels drop too low (commonly associated with and known as "hypo-attacks"). Fortunately for me, Type2 is less extreme and can be controlled through gentle medication and balanced diet/weight control.
The longer diabetes/high blood-sugar goes on untreated it can lead to a number of complications including major problems with the feet, eyes, kidneys and heart. You can have it for ten years or more before some of the more severe symptoms show itself. By then it could be way too late.
So, how do you know you've got it? Good question... in my case, I'd gone to the doctors with a cyst near my eye which had grown pretty big, pretty quick. Since I wear contact lenses I was quite concerned that it was getting close to that region so with the wife nagging me to get it checked out, I went.
A few questions in, along the lines of "do you get tired" (well, yes, I work a lot, am at a PC alot, I've got 2 young kids, of course I get bloody tired!) "do you get thirsty?" "do you pee a lot?" etc... well, I was ticking all the boxes without really thinking about it. It seems that the cyst and skin problems are all symptoms, with the high blood sugar levels causing the cysts.
I then gave a sample and immediately, the frown, "ok, we need to get you along for a blood test, I think you're diabetic". It didn't really strike much fear into me, I've known other diabetic people for years without really knowing the details and they seemed ok to me, they just tended to opt for Fig rolls rather than the choccy biscuits.
Off I went for the tests and was eventually told my blood sugar level was sky-high, dangerously high and that they were very surprised I wasn't very ill - and that I could be very ill at any given moment! Hmm, not great news at all.
Well, I certainly didn't feel very ill and certainly didn't feel on my death bed.
They gave me a blood-sugar monitor, a little gadget (cool eh?) that I could use to test my own blood-sugar level by pricking my finger and testing it (relax, it doesn't hurt). I was also advised about my weight and my diet and told to essentially "sort it out".
It's all a vicious circle really and in hindsight, it's no bloody surprise I'm diabetic. You only have to look at my lifestyle; the video-game industry and the circles I move in are largely male-oriented socio-fests involving beer, merriment, fast-food, no exercise and general inactivity apart from in the wrists (note: think keyboards).
I'd spent the best part of the last 15yrs in a pub, or at least somewhere near one and have industry folklore status about it. Despite this, it isn't the beer that's caused the diabetes, but has most likely contributed towards it given the amount of carbs and sugar. The biggest other single factors (given no diabetes is in my family - it's strongly genetically linked) are that I'd piled weight on and my diet was, in the main, shocking.
So, big change time. First things first, I read everything I could about the disease and how to deal with it. I was very focused in ensuring I was positive and direct about my approach to it. In truth I'd needed a good kick up the arse to get my health in order, especially given I very much want to be around to see my two lads grow up, so a new diet was in.
Out went beer. Now given my appetite for beers, lagers, stout, cider and generally anything wet... this really was a life-changing moment. I have the occasional bottle of beer now, but nothing like the masses I used to crank my way through. Initially I was concerned that this may impact my enjoyment of the more social side of my work, but I was wrong since the doc said that spirits and diet mixers (in reasonable moderation) were ok, as were red-wines. Good.
Out went crisps, fried stuff and well, sugary/fatty crap. That was easy, I don't have a sweet-tooth apart from a lust for old-style midget gems (they stopped making them anyway) and the occasional creme egg. Big ommission for me was to cut down on Pizza's, which I bloody love. So I only have the odd one now and again - as with Take Away's in general.
So, what DO I eat? Well, mostly salads, non-fatty meats, fibres, cereals and fruits, and wholemeal breads (no white bread). I've not found it a problem unless I'm abroad and desperate to eat. Fortunately the tablets I'm on (Metformin) cut down my desire to eat, so that helps too. I'm eating around 1800 calaries a day, whereas 2500 will allow you to 'maintain'.
Since the diet changes, I've managed to lose about 25lbs in weight, so currently I'm down to the slimmest I've been in 10yrs and people suggesting I'm wasting away! I'm not - I still have a fair bit to lose before I can safely up my calories again and "maintain" weight.
Diabetes is easier to control when you aren't overweight (which I still am) and this is in turn linked to your BMI (body mass index) which is an index of your height and weight, giving a reading of typically 15-40. Anything 30+ is clinically obese and I was around 32-33 for a while but couldn't get motivated to sort myself out. I'm now at a BMI of 28 and dropping, which means I'm purely just overweight now. I've about another 20lbs or so to lose before I'm "normal".
In addition to the diet culls and tablets, which I luckily had very little in the way of side-effects (mostly gastrine, I understand) I've taken to walking often and even bought a bicycle, so I get better value from my diet and cardiovascular system as a result.
Three months on from the diagnosis, it's under control, I've adjusted to a new diet which I enjoy, my blood-sugar reading is normal range, I feel better than I have for 10years and have stacks of energy and focus. It's almost like I could recommend diabetes to people!
My retinal scan came back all clear - as have other tests. My diabetic nurse seems very pleased and the after-care support has been great. I have more tests in a fortnight (this will be the drill every 6 months now for the rest of my life) and I'll keep on suggesting how it's going and any difficulties I face.
The most important things I've done are to (a) stay positive and use it to help get me back in shape (b) understand it by reading and accepting my problem - which was most likely my body crying out for a break.