I was 7-years old when I was diagnosed with diabetes. I was in the room when the doctor and his entourage came in and told my parents. I had no idea what diabetes was, or what it meant. My mom cried, my dad nodded, and all of a sudden my life was completely different.
My mom kneeled down in front of me and tried to explain to me that an organ inside my body, called a pancreas, wasn’t working anymore, and that I would have to start giving myself needles. I was so mad. I remember thinking, ‘but this is my body! I can make it work again if I have to!”
I spent a couple of weeks in the hospital, learning how to live with diabetes. I remember the day they brought in a cabbage patch doll that they used to help kids learn how to inject insulin. It was heavy. I remember wondering if insulin did that to the doll, what would it do to my body?
The nights in the hospital were lonely, the days filled with nasty hospital food, friendly staff, and lots of learning. When I was finally discharged from the hospital I was told that I would have to monitor my blood glucose for the rest of my life. I had to test my urine every time I went to the bathroom. I was angry and I felt betrayed by own body. It was scary and lonely.
My mom bought a scale to weigh my food and I had to portion out all my meals. My parents were very supportive, and asked that everyone in the family (at the time I lived with both my grandparents, my uncle, and my brother and sister) to do a blood test. I appreciated the effort, but part of me thought, “yeah, but they don’t have to do it at every meal.”
I don’t know how long I tested my urine for, it could have only been a week, but to me, it felt like months. Anyway, I remember being so angry and humiliated that I couldn’t even take a pee without this stupid disease interfering. I remember thinking, at 7-years old, that I would rather die than suffer the humiliation of having to take another pee test.
I barely finished grade 2, and when I started grade 3, the teacher asked us to write about our summer in cursive writing. I remember staring at the page, not having a clue what to do while all the other kids began writing about their summer’s. I cried.
That was a hard year for me because I had to get used to living with diabetes, and I had to relearn most of 2nd grade while simultaneously learning grade 3. My math skills were never recovered.
The first time I had low blood sugars at school, I didn’t remember what it was called. I tried to tell my teacher that I didn’t feel well. “I’m having one of those things…” She looked me over, pronounced me fine, and sent me outside for afternoon recess. I was scared because I had been warned about this at the hospital, and that if I ever felt this way I needed sugar to get my blood glucose up as soon as possible. My best friend ended up scouring the school yard, asking every single kid for anything that I could use to get my blood sugars up. I told my mom about it when I got home and she called the school. The next day the teacher pulled me aside and told me that I had to let her know next time I ever felt like that. “But I tried!”
It was a hard year, and I cried and felt sorry for myself, a lot. I was angry and resentful. I’d missed too much school the year before, and I has having a hell of a time learning grade 2 and 3 together. I don’t remember a lot of this part, but my dad assures me I was becoming depressed. Both my parents felt so bad for me that they discussed sending me to camp Banting. (Fredrick Banting discovered insulin, and there’s a summer camp for diabetic children to go to where the food is portioned out and everyone who attends has diabetes.) We weren’t poor, but my parents didn’t have a lot of money for me to attend a camp like this. My grandparents pitched in and they sent me to camp. At first I was homesick and all I wanted was to come home. Then, I started to make friends and there were a lot of fun activities. We practiced archery, went swimming, went on nature walks, and did crafts. They sold “diabetic friendly” Crispy Crunch bars at the general store. (READ: aspartame laden.)
It was nice to know there were other kids out there who had the same disease as I did. They lived with it, they knew what it was like. We got to talk about it. It made me feel better about what I was living with. It also made me realize that there was nothing I could do about having this disease, and I had to change my perspective about how I dealt with it.
A couple of years later, I became a rebellious teenager and while my mom was busy weighing and measuring my food, I was at school trading my carefully assembled lunches and doing everything I could to get my hands on whatever junk food I could. If I couldn’t eat it at home, I sure as hell would try and eat it at school. By the time I hit high school, my favourite treat was a diet coke and chocolate bar.
A couple of years later, even though I was pretty active (I was still eating a SAD diet) I started gaining a lot of weight, really fast. I was tired all the time and waking up for school was increasingly difficult. I went to see my doctor, who diagnosed me Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. I was put on synthroid to deal with it and that was that.
It was around this time that I started looking in to being a vegetarian. My best friends were all vegetarians, and I thought they were crazy. I went to the library to find books about why being a vegetarian would be dangerous, but I found just the opposite. There was so much research on why it is a safe, responsible choice that I decided I would try it. I was vegetarian for almost 10 years, even vegan on and off. I thought I was saving my health.
At first it was wonderful, I felt great, had more energy than ever, and what I considered the best thing; I was part of an elite group of people that took pride in their health. During that time though, I was never able to get rid of my winter eczema, I still had a hard time with my blood glucose levels and near the end, I started gaining more weight.
Which brings me to now. I’ve found paleo, even better, autoimmune paleo, and it has changed my life. I am finally in tune with my body and the food that I eat. I’ve lost 25 lbs, and I’m trying to lose more. I eat clean, and healthy and I consistently have normal blood glucose levels. I’ve reduced my cholesterol (not enough for my doctor’s liking), triglycerides. I still have work to do with my A1C (average blood glucose over a couple month period) but I like to think I’m a work in progress.
I honestly wish I had known about paleo when I was first diagnosed with T1 diabetes. I think it could have helped me so much. I wish all children diagnosed with T1 diabetes were told about paleo. It seems ridiculous that we’re taught in the hospital to eat 50-60% of our calories from carbohydrates and to mitigate that with insulin when there is a much easier approach.
Funny, now that I think about it, whenever I went to see the nutritionist at the hospital, I always wanted to trade my starches for proteins! I always did love my meat!