Managing type 1 diabetes, with the support of my spouse
My name is Nasreen Yousuf. I'm a 60-year-old homemaker and live with my husband.
In the past gastrointestinal problems and stress caused by infertility gave me high blood pressure, but I was otherwise always in good spirits. I refused to give up and savoured every moment of existence.
And then, at 50, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
How I was diagnosed
At the time, I knew little about diabetes other than it was related to blood sugar.
But in March 2012, I felt as though I couldn’t quench my thirst and kept having to urinate. One day, my blood pressure was so high that my husband self-prescribed an anti-hypertensive drug for me. This made my condition worse so we had to go see a doctor.
My doctor thoroughly examined me and advised me to get my blood sugar and urine tested. The urine test showed my urine had elevated glucose levels, which is a sign of diabetes.
My blood sugar level was also high, around 200 mg/dl (it should be less than 140).
Suspecting I had diabetes, my doctor advised me to take an HbA1c test. My result was 6.8%, which confirmed I had diabetes – A non-diabetic result would be less than 5.7%.
Having confirmed my diabetes diagnosis, my doctor told me I had to abstain from all sweets and sugary foods, including ice cream and sugary fruits. They also recommended I keep a journal and record my blood glucose levels twice a day – In the beginning, they thought I had type 2 diabetes and could manage it with diet and lifestyle changes.
After a week of stomach pain and bad meals, I was relieved to have a diagnosis and be able to go home.
The early years of my disease were quite difficult. I still felt constantly drained, and my disease made every domestic task harder.
One of my biggest challenges was simply that I was different and couldn’t eat the same things at the lunch table. The delicacies I loved most had to go.
I also noticed physical changes in my body, such as swelling in my feet and skin rashes.
My doctor recommended I visit for routine check-ups every 15 days.
My strongest support came from my husband, who took care of me and told me not to worry. He bought a glucometer for me, and I used it every morning and evening to check my blood glucose level. Every time I checked, I got discouraged – No medicine made a difference.
Monitoring my condition, my doctor said I needed to take insulin shots to maintain a normal blood glucose level – They’d determined I had type 1 diabetes, not type 2.
I had to check my blood glucose level twice a day and take 2 doses of insulin every day. I also had to record my blood glucose levels in a notebook and carry a first aid kit (stocked with insulin, injectable supplies, sugar, and glucagon). If I didn’t eat enough sugar, I became exhausted and shaky. When I ate too much, I got agitated and thirsty.
Changing my diet
To cut down the amount of sugar I ate, I changed my diet to exclude all sweets (including candy, cakes, ice cream, and sweet fruits and beverages). I also started using mixed-flour chapati (made out of maize, oatmeal, wheat and barley), which a friend recommended. The diet didn’t work as well as I had hoped, and I also had to have sugarless tea.
All this was extremely difficult and fundamentally changed my life. But my husband was my biggest helper and supported me throughout the process.
My diabetes also caused me to unexpectedly lose weight, which stressed me a lot. I’m 4’2, and before I was diagnosed was 52kg – I’m now 45kg.
Where I am now
My diabetes affects my eyesight. I’m sensitive to bright lights and have practically no night vision. I also have a hazy area on the left side of my peripheral vision.
I now have a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) that checks my blood sugar level every 5 minutes and delivers the results to my phone. This provides me with a lot more information than random finger pricks ever did and helped me regulate my diabetes.
I’m also taking a lot of diabetes medication.
In the summer of 2020, I participated in a program with a diabetes coach. She taught me a lot about how to work with my diabetes rather than against it, and how your perspective can change everything – She helped me finally get over my phobia of pre-bolus injections (taking doses of rapid-acting insulin 5-15 minutes before you start eating, rather than at the beginning of a meal).
I’ve learned to live with my illness and make type 1 work with my life.
And I’ve learned to take an active interest in my health and not lose hope if things don’t always go according to plan.
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