The doctor came in, looked her straight in the eye, and simply said, “You’ve got it.”
That's how my mother was first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes early last year. Recently, she recalled to me what it felt like to sit in that doctor's office and have her whole world change with just three words.
At first, she thought to herself, “What the heck? What does this mean?” It felt surreal. This is the simplest way she could explain it.
But the surrealism doesn’t last, unfortunately.
As my mother started to understand what being a type 2 diabetic really meant, the sorrow set in. She had to learn about new diets, blood sugar, insulin, and how to read labels carefully. While she tried to implement these changes and thought about everything she had been doing wrong up to this point, it hit her: She was not in control anymore. She was a woman in her 50s, but what she ate, how she lived, and even her own identity now felt dictated by disease.
While you might know some things about type 2 diabetes, there are so many tidbits — big and small — that you’re not privy to until you have it yourself. Here are some things my mother learned only after being diagnosed:
1. Warming devices can be dangerous.
If you're diabetic, you're often told not to use electric blankets or heating pads or take hot baths. That's because those with diabetes are prone to developing neuropathy, which is pain and numbness in the hands or feet.
And if, due to neuropathy, you’re unable to feel how hot a heating pad is on the skin, or how heated the water in your bath really is, you could end up seriously burning yourself without realizing it.
2. You have to constantly apply lotion.
About one in three people with diabetes develop a related skin disorder, and many struggle with very dry skin. This is more than a cosmetic issue: If your skin dries out, it might result in breaks in the skin, which can lead to infection. These cuts often take a long time to heal since a diabetic’s blood doesn’t circulate well.
Applying lotion can decrease the chance of cuts and breaks in the skin. Plus, who doesn’t love silky-feeling skin anyway?
3. Annual eye exams are extremely important.
If you wear glasses, you probably get your eyes checked out every couple of years. But if you’re a diabetic, it’s recommended that you have a dilated eye exam every year.
That's because it's easy to spot burst blood vessels in the eyes. And if blood vessels are bursting in the eyes, it can be a sign of underlying complications of the disease.
For example, burst vessels may also be a sign of retinopathy — the most common diabetic eye disease, which can lead to severe vision loss or permanent blindness.
4. Depression is common.
To put it frankly: Diabetes sucks. A lot.
My mother had to change what and how often she ate, how and when to exercise, and even how she felt. If you have diabetes, you might also feel angry, sad, or depressed when first diagnosed. It’s important to discuss this with a professional before these feelings worsen.
But know that you do have control. This is still your life; you’ve just got to make adjustments.
My mother, who had to change most aspects of her life after her diagnosis, is now very thankful for the help, medication, and support she received. She looks and feels much better than she did early last year — something she never thought possible at the time.
As corny as it sounds, she wants you to know that it does get better.