“You have diabetes.” Have you just heard these words? Or maybe you recently heard it about your son or daughter. The oxygen rushes out of your body. A knot forms in your stomach. “What now?”
I know that feeling. I had it 19 years ago and remember it like it was last week. Today I receive a lot of emails from newly diagnosed adults or parents of diagnosed children, and relive it with each one of them. They approach me at my speaking engagements. Their faces are concerned, but courageous. No doubt already veterans of a few terrifying episodes of hypoglycemia, or days where the blood sugar just will not come down and they cannot figure out why. They are looking for answers to all of diabetes’s mysteries. Why does this happen? How do we manage this? What tools do you use? What does diabetes mean I . . . my son . . . my daughter . . . cannot do? How will this change our lives? I am honored that my story of racing the Ironman triathlon with diabetes gives them a little comfort.
A few months ago I received an email from a young man in his early twenties who had just been diagnosed the week before. He was in law school, his first semester exams were the next day, and he was stressed. No, he was panicked. He got right to the point. He wrote, “I am overwhelmed. I need encouragement. I need to know that I am going to be okay.” That happens to a lot of students before exams, and to a lot of people diagnosed with diabetes, so he had a double dose of panic serum.
If you have just been diagnosed, or even if you have been dealing with diabetes from a while and sometimes just feel overwhelmed, here are a few suggestions. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I have been there before and see many just like you and me all over the country.
You will be okay . . . if you take control. In fact, you may even be better. Yes, your life is different now. You cannot eat what you want without calculating the carbohydrates. Everyone should eat healthy, but now you must eat healthy, I bet more healthily than you were eating before. Exercise, healthy diet, weight loss. Everybody wants to do those things, but can’t find the discipline or motivation. Now diabetes is your motivation, or your intimidation. Either one, use it. Diabetes can make you healthier than you were before.
Use technology. When I was diagnosed in 1991 we were still injecting pork insulin. Insulin pumps were like cell phones, big bulky devices and new technology that no one had. Now pumps are wireless, waterproof, tiny, reliable and programmable to your lifestyle and give us freedom and flexibility to do anything, even an Ironman triathlon. Long acting basal insulin and insulin pens make injection therapy much easier. Fast acting insulin gets in our system and starts working in 15 minutes so we can eat on our schedule rather than being a hostage to our insulin schedule. Blood glucose meters took 1 minute for a reading in 1991, now they take 5 seconds. Continuous glucose monitors are now on the market and getting better every year. Numerous medications for type 2 diabetes will stabilize your blood sugar. The technology is there for you to control your diabetes and live the life you want to live. But it is up to you to use it.
Communicate with others. Diabetes online communities and events are a great way to find answers, friends and peace of mind. For children, I like www.childrenwithdiabetes.com, an online community for parents and kids to share questions and information, and they also hold fantastic conferences around the country. Come hear me at Friends for Life Conference in Orlando in July. I also recommend kids attend a diabetes camp. I love visiting with kids at diabetes camps and watch them learn and realize they are just like every other kid. Diabetes blogs are all over the web, some fun, some serious, for adults and children, men and women. You are already reading this magazine. Read, learn and realize that you are not alone.
Develop a routine. Diabetes is a self management condition. You must control your diabetes every day, not your doctor, your parents or anyone else in your life. Find supplies and routines that work for you, foods, exercise, and medication. Keep your diabetes supplies handy – insulin, syringes, pump supplies, blood sugar meter, test strips, snacks. Do not be discouraged when some days your routine works beautifully, and the next day gives you unexplained highs or lows. It happens to all of us. Just keep going.
Diabetes is a challenge, but you are stronger. You can do it!