Alternative Portrait

This is an Alternative Portrait of a Diabetic. This blog is inspired by another, written by Grayson Queen in his blog Posting Tuesdays entitled Portrait of a Diabetic.

I am compelled to write a response to this blog as I found it painted an incredibly bleak picture of what it is like to be a diabetic. Perhaps it is intended hyperbolic, but nevertheless it compelled me to pen another, alternative blog on how you can live with diabetes.

I should probably explain a bit about my exposure to this disease. I am not diabetic. The Grayson Queens of this world have probably already stopped reading as he explains in his blog:

As the outsider, the only thing you need to know is that you don’t know anything.  Your comments and beliefs don’t make it easier, and– believe it or not — we’ve probably heard it before.

I may not be diabetic, but my partner is. I know Grayson listens to his wife, who throughout his blog is characterised as fuelling his paranoia of seeing the world as a sugar minefield so maybe he will consider my point of view. Although I will happily point out that I am not a health care professional. In fact I work in hospitality which I know Grayson demonises if we accidentally get his drink wrong however believe it or not we in hospitality are people too: we make mistakes but if you politely let us know then we will more than happily fix them for you.

My partner and I have been together for over eight years, unmarried, since we were both 18 and we have been through plently of ups and downs. We even took a break just over a year ago. He was diagnosed with diabetes in September 2010. We too had no idea what was going on and didn’t really understand the disease at the time. We had just moved in to our flat in a new city as such didn’t have local doctors. My partner presented with symptoms that were not frightening or life threatening so we didn’t feel the need to head down A&E. For the first day or so the doctors refused to see him until he undergone an initial check up that is routine for signing up with a new doctor. However we couldn’t get an appointment to do so for weeks. Instead one afternoon he just insisted on seeing someone and got to see her nurse who twigged what was going on. She soon got a doctor to come out of his office and they sent him to hospital as his blood sugar was far too high. In the lead up to that he had been knocking back cartons of fruit juice and we even had lunch before we went to hospital because we didn’t know what was going to happen after he was admitted.

One thing we were told at that fateful time will always stay with me and that is this: before he was discharged from hospital with this life changing diagnosis we had to see the consultant. We were both feeling nervous – he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and have to be insulin dependent which meant injections. He was terrified of needles and now he was going to have inject himself, daily!? How were we going to tackle this? Waiting it was like we about to meet the leader of this new and exclusive club we had just unwittingly joined. We couldn’t leave until we had met her. She came out to discuss current treatment options, how his treatment would be monitored and more than likely how they would change over time. She wanted him to take a course of treatment that would mean at least four injections per day. Four!? We were struggling to come to terms with the idea of one but FOUR!? Why, why was this the course of treatment she was suggesting for a guy this an open and complete needle phobia!?

Because it will give you power over your disease. If you take the treatment option with less injections you will have to eat at specified times of day with out fail. This will be difficult for you with your lifestyle. The way with more injections will give you the power to choose what and when. We do not want our patients to feel like this disease rules their life.

This is something that I do not think Grayson has. He starts his blog:

My life revolves around sugar, despite the fact that I can’t have it.  It’s everywhere and in everything– stalking, hiding, begging and tricking me into eating it.

They do not sound like the words of a man who feels in control of his diabetes. Instead it rules his life, dictating to him when, what and even where to eat. Don’t get my wrong – my partner and I haven’t found living with his diabetes a piece of cake. Pun intended. The first few weeks after we got the diagnosis we were reeling. He was confronting his needle phobia head on, never mind coming to terms with the fundamentals of his condition. Meanwhile, as the resident cook in our relationship was trying to figure out how I could turn our fresh-from-university diet filled with pasta, jacket potatoes and chips into something a bit more diabetes friendly.

Something that I relied on a lot in the beginning and still now is the recipe database on Diabetes UK’s website. You should check these recipes out, regardless of whether you are diabetic or have to cater for one – something I soon came to realise is that eating with diabetes doesn’t actually mean you have to completely deny yourself things which let’s face it is just going to end with you with your face in a bowl of chunky monkey ice cream with extra caramel, frosting and marshmallows and then feeling sick with guilt and off the chart blood sugar afterwards (or Grayson’s case – a plate of fried chicken). Instead it is about eating sensibly and healthy which we could all be doing better. I learnt to substitute butter for margarine, sugar for sweetener and occasionally chips for a couple of baby potatoes. My partner’s dietitians actually tell him he can eat whatever he wants – it is simply about knowing how to combat whatever he is putting in his system with his medication. This actually makes me angry sometimes and fights ensue about why I think he shouldn’t be eating chocolate.

Health complications can arise from the route Grayson has taken by choosing to completely avoid sugary goodness and opt for a high protein diet. Our human bodies need sustenance regularly from all the food groups to survive. Grayson even admits that his choices are already effecting him:

Even eating right, I have to be careful about the amount of protein I consume.  It can build up in my joints and kidneys, so I have to drink a lot of water. 

Don’t get me wrong – is my partner a model diabetic? No, I don’t mind telling you that he isn’t. Is he happier eating whatever he wants and medicating for it instead of going on a strict diet and trying to tell himself it is all worth while in the end? Yeah. I don’t mind telling you that he is. Some days he has are better than others. He’s pretty much a normal guy – we all try to eat right but don’t always manage it. At the end of the day if we all eat white bread bacon sandwiches smothered with butter, cupcakes and fried chicken every day it’s going to catch up with us all in the end whether or not we currently have diabetes. The only difference is with my partner is that if he does slip up he is more aware of the risks. And has to jab himself with something pointy after every meal.

So what is my point? My point is this: I believe diabetes doesn’t have to be a life sentence. It doesn’t mean you have to give up all the food you enjoy for the rest of eternity. At the end of the day it really boils down why we are here on this planet at all? No idea but my philosophy is that life is for living – for enjoying. You can either be miserable without the occasional slice of cake or happy with it. You should definitely eat sensibly but you should be doing that anyway.

And Grayson, nothing personal – I applaud your efforts and as long as you feel the hardship is worth it then that is all that matters. Just please don’t judge the rest of us for enjoying that occasional slice of cake. We all have our own paths.

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