It was late one night in August 2021, and I was feeling pretty rough. So rough, in fact, that I was laid up in A&E awaiting treatment for a rather nasty infection. The doctor came back into the room with my blood test results, and looked a little concerned – and that’s never a good sign! He starts telling me about some emergency surgery, antibiotics, and all the rest and recuperation that I’m supposed to get afterwards. I ask him how I rest when I have a 3 year old daughter to wrestle on a daily basis, but he couldn’t offer me any wisdom on that one.
The next question he asked caught me off guard though.
“Are you diabetic?” he asked.
“Not that I’m aware of!” I replied, jokingly.
“Oh…” he said.
“Oh?” I enquired.
He shows me the numbers on my blood tests, explaining that infections can cause blood sugar levels to rise higher as our body needs the fuel to fight the infection. Mine, however, was “astronomical” apparently. This was clearly not a good thing. The next morning I was down for the surgery, and after an hour of recovery the surgeon felt I was just lucid enough to have a bombshell dropped on me. She said they had run a few more tests, and could confirm that I do in fact have Type 2 Diabetes.
Now, I can freely admit that I wasn’t as fit as I was in my 20s. My days of cross country running and rugby training were long gone, and while it had been a while since my last trip to the Himalayas I was still fairly active. Yes, I had put on a bit of fat, and lost a bit of muscle mass, but I was still hitting well over 10,000 steps a day walking the dog. No longer an athlete, sure, but I didn’t think I was in terrible shape.
As for food, I was more than happy with how we ate. No processed food in the house, barring a supermarket pizza once or twice a month. I’d cut down on meat, and we ate a lot of homegrown vegetables. Rarely got a takeaway, and never drank sugary drinks. I used to be a chef, so every meal was home cooked and fresh, with 5 a day fruit and veg a minimum.
So with all that in mind, I was perplexed. How on earth have I got diabetes?! What the hell could I have done to deserve this? Surely they must’ve run the tests wrong…
Denial and anger kicked in, hard and fast. I suddenly found myself spending days in bed recovering from surgery, now having to deal with the fact that I had diabetes, and asking myself endless questions. What could I do to stop this from being my life now? What can I do to get rid of this? I had fallen into bargaining. It was then that I realised I was experiencing the first few stages of grief. Grief! Of all things, why was I going through grief?!
I did some reading around, and it seemed to be more common than I thought. Apparently our brains react in that way because we are mourning the death of the future that we had envisioned having, and that it takes time to process it all and come to terms with it. Understanding that meant that I was able to be more compassionate towards myself, and to stop trying to find someone to blame. The whole situation felt unfair, but at the same time it wasn’t going to change unless I actually did something to change it. It didn’t matter why this had happened, but what did matter was how I responded to the situation.
Making the Most of Support
The best thing I did was to talk about it. Most of the conversations with family members and friends were actually me just making sense of it all, but the most important conversations I had were with my wife. She’s a teacher, so she took a very research-led approach, looking up all that she could to help answer my questions and allay my concerns. We reflected on the symptoms of diabetes, and noticed that many of the symptoms I had been disregarding as ‘just part of getting older’ or the rigours of raising a kid. I had put the fatigue down to the sleep deprivation of having a young kid. The thirst was just down to drinking more coffee because of the sleep deprivation. The frequent trips to the toilet, well, that was because of all the coffee!
Knowing that I wasn’t going through this alone meant everything felt manageable. More than that, it felt like I could actually beat it. This mindset led to me looking into the idea of diabetic remission, often referred to as reversing Type 2 Diabetes, and how I could go about it. While I won’t go into the specifics of it all, as there are some great resources out there, the basic idea was to dramatically up my fitness again, lose the excess weight, and shift my calorie intake to a better ratio.
Now, the stats can be boring, but the long and short of it is that there is one blood test that is used to confirm a diagnosis of Type 2 Diabetes. The figure – HBA1c – is effectively your long-term blood sugar over the past 3 months, and should be kept below 42. If your HBA1c is between 42-48, you fall into the prediabetes category, meaning you’re at risk of developing diabetes. Over 48 is classed as diabetic, and a course of treatment is recommended.
Back to that night in A&E, my HBA1c was 76. You don’t need to be a doctor to work out how high that is, and the doctors themselves were surprised I didn’t already know about it. So I set myself the mission to get my HBA1c down as quick as I could, to try and get it below 48 as fast as possible. I joined the gym, overhauled my diet, and focused my mind. I won’t lie, it did consume me a bit, and it was very stressful. In fact stress also makes diabetes worse, so avoid that too!
A Better Future
Fast forward 4 months, and I had shed 15kg in weight, found a diet balance that worked for me, and dramatically reduced my stress levels. It was time for another check-up with the GP, and they ran my bloods. A few days later, I got the call. I had managed to get my HBA1c down from 76 to 44! A massive drop, and effectively took me below the diabetic range. The hard work was paying off, and the changes that I had made were truly working.
So all in all, it has been a rollercoaster ride. My HBA1c has stayed below the diabetic range for almost a year now, and my symptoms have reduced enormously. I’m feeling better, happier, and healthier. Above all, I’m feeling like I have a bright future ahead of me again, and that it isn’t all doom and gloom. A diagnosis isn’t a death sentence, and things can get better, but the most important thing to do is to use the support available to you from your GP, friends, family, and organisations such as Diabetes UK.