Back when I graduated from high school in the summer of 1997, I partied hard and ate whatever I wanted. I was constantly hungry and started the habit of ending most days with eating a box of ice cream. Aside from the hunger, I was super tired, constantly thirsty and didn’t gain weight despite my insane calorie intake. But hey! I was partying and didn’t really think about it too much.
My family started to notice something was wrong after I had to nap during a family gathering, and urged me to see a doctor. I did, and he lectured me on proper nutrition for a while and then, just to be safe, measured my blood sugar, which pretty clearly showed that I had diabetes. That was a Friday.
The doctor sent me home and told me to go to a specialist Monday. I remember biking home, not knowing what the heck diabetes was and thinking that I was dying. That was incredibly scary. I didn’t know anybody with diabetes and was completely clueless to what it all meant. In hindsight, my doctor should have done a better job at explaining the situation to me, and if I hadn’t been so shocked, I should have asked more questions.
To this day, it baffles me that he would diagnose me with diabetes on a Friday afternoon and just send me home. I obviously still had some insulin production (that stopped completely later, which is expected) since I could still function and didn’t look like a walking skeleton, but still. Any diagnosis like that is a major traumatic event and I had to spend the entire weekend deadly nervous about what was going on.
On the other hand, it was actually a huge relief to know why I had felt out of whack for so long. It’s interesting how we humans can adapt to a situation and start accepting it as our reality. Like the fact that I hadn’t been able to sleep through the night or sit through a movie without having to go to the restroom. That I was so deadly tired and had no energy.
Seeing a specialist and getting the right support
Monday morning my mom and I arrived at Steno Diabetes Center, one of the (in my opinion) best diabetes treatment facilities in Denmark, and they confirmed that I indeed had type 1 diabetes with a very small remaining insulin production.
I was assigned a nurse named Lotte, and she became my lifeline for the first few years. She was great because she firmly believed that I should live my life just as any other 19-year-old. I really took that to heart, and still live by the philosophy that I do not live my life to fit my diabetes; I manage my diabetes so it fits my life.
Aside from starting on insulin, inducing the first hypoglycemic event (to ensure that I knew what it felt like and what to do about it), and teaching me basic carb counting, those days at Steno Diabetes Center gave me a great foundation for my life as a diabetic.
I often get asked if the needles scared me. It’s funny how I’ll almost faint if I get a vaccination, but injecting myself was never a big deal. I remember sitting there, with Lotte and another nurse looking at me, thinking “well I guess that’s what I have to do to survive”, so I just did it. It didn’t hurt and now it’s second nature.
Living with diabetes
I did what Lotte suggested and still pursued all my dreams. In November of 1998 (less than a year after my diagnosis), I packed my backpack and traveled around India for 3 months. Lotte and I kept in touch by fax (yes, fax!!), and when my insulin got spoiled by heat (twice), I managed to get new shipments sent to me in Bombay. It went fine. I had a great time, and it boosted my confidence to know that I could manage my diabetes, even on a 14-day camelback ride across Rajasthan.
After my diagnosis, I continued eating like I did before. My body had been starved for so long (due to the lack of insulin) that I probably needed the extra calories, but I went a little overboard. I cut out the box of ice cream, but I still ate like two grown men. So I gained weight, and I gained a lot of it very quickly. After 20 pounds, I pulled the breaks, and that’s when my fitness journey as a diabetic started.
You can read about how I dealt with my weight gain in this post.
I’m not saying it was easy, or that it is easy living an active life with diabetes, but I am saying that it shouldn’t be a hindrance to living a full life. The diagnosis was scary, but for me, it wasn’t so much the diagnosis, or the needles, or the blood sugar testing that bothered me. It was more the uncertainty about whether I could still do all those things I had planned to do with my life.
Luckily, all my experiences up to now have taught me that there is (almost) nothing you can’t do with diabetes!
A little practical advice
To finish off this post, I would like to give a little practical advice on what to do after your diagnosis (the more difficult emotional advice will have to wait for another post).
- Find the right doctor. Your regular doctor is NOT qualified to deal with diabetes, so you need a specialist (Endocrinologist)
- Tell your friends and family. Not only will they have a ton of questions, you will also need their help and understanding while you figure out to handle your diabetes yourself. If you have a hypoglycemic episode in school or at work, you want the people around you to know what is happening
- Join an online network. There are some really good forums and Facebook networks for diabetic where you can ask questions and get support