According to a report today, in 2015 there were 3.8million people living with diabetes in England and the number is rising. As one of them, having been first diagnosed 20 years ago, I have learnt a few things about how to manage the condition.
1 Mortality Moment
Being diagnosed with diabetes is a mortality moment, a moment when you become acutely aware that you are mortal and will die. We are not indestructible and this is one of those diagnoses that brings this home. For even the most spiritually realistic this can be a shock, because I was in my early 30s when I was first diagnosed and being able to live life to the full was my assumption. I wasn’t expecting the diagnoses – it came on a new patient visit to a new GP having moved to a new parish. (These appointments don’t seem to happen now and without it my condition would not have been picked up so soon.) I remember the nurse doing the urine test and turning to me to say “I think you have diabetes” – that blunt, and no softening of the blow!
I did not match any of the classic triggers, which are usually repeated by news reports: poor diet, overweight, lack of exercise. But I still had to come to terms with the fact that I really did have it and so there were still adjustments to make – straight away.
The condition has to be managed or it will manage you. This involves balancing how much food you eat – how much sugar and sugar producing carbohydrate – so that what you take in matches what your body can process, with the help of whatever medication you are on.
If you take sugar in your tea, stop it. If you eat lots of prepared meals – stuffed with sugar – stop it. If you like sweets – stop it. Sorry to be so blunt, but it’s what I had to do and I did it instantly. My tastes have changed and I now can’t stand too much sugar.
If you can’t do this get help – by talking to the GP or diabetic specialist nurse, who in my experience are well worth spending time with. The dietician will help work out what is good to eat and what should be avoided and it might be that counselling is needed.
3 Let them (not) eat cake
My congregations all know that I am diabetic and they know that there are times I will refuse cake, because I don’t want the sugar, and they know there are times when I will stuff my face with it, because I do want the sugar rush. They know that I am weird and cut off the icing from the top, because it is as it says on the tin ‘icing sugar’. They also know that I have a stash of sugary sweets in the vestries in the Parish Church and Cathedral. These are my emergency supplies and they know that if I start talking gibberish I may need the tin!
I carry supplies with me – glucose tablets, wine gums, a twix… and I know I have to check my blood sugar so that I know if I am likely to go too low.
There are alternatives – foods sweetened with natural sugars: cakes sweetened with vegetables, breakfast spread sweetened with fruit juice. I avoid the artificial sweeteners – I learnt the hard way what happens if you eat too much and it’s not pleasant. When they say on the label that it might have a laxative effect, believe them and be warned.
4 Work, Rest and Play
The gift of diabetes is that it is a dramatic reminder that we need to live life in balance. I am not a robot and I know that I need to rest. I may take a bit longer to recover from a cold and have a flu jab each year. I need exercise and living in a house on 4 floors helps! Vaccing the stairs will get my blood sugar down if I’ve spiked myself on something! Taking the stairs instead of the lift and walking when you can is good, natural exercise.
5 Finger pricking
When I was a blood donor I used to the find the finger pricking test the worst part. Now I feel like a pin cushion. It can be misery inducing. I’ve just started using an automatic tester with a patch on my arm read by scanning it with a device the size of a small mobile phone. It means I can check my blood sugar several times a day – to be honest I do it multiple times a day. I can check during meetings and stop worrying that I am going to suffer from a low or being over anxious about when we’ll get to have lunch. I even have it in my pocket in case I get worried during a service. I am a fan of this new device, not least because it’s a gadget.
6 Live with it
Diabetes is a condition that we have to learn to live with. It does disrupt life – I have to build the management into my routine – but it doesn’t stop me from coping with a very active and busy schedule and shouldn’t. I am inspired by athletes like Steve Redgrave who manages to achieve Olympic gold with diabetes, James Jones the former Bishop of Liverpool who fulfilled his duties with diabetes, and the Prime Minister, Theresa May, sustains her impossibly busy commitments managing diabetes too. If they can, I can.