Diabetes and me: My year of living right

diabetes-and-me:-my-year-of-living-right

In December 2021, I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

Megan Whelan, RNZ Head of Content.

RNZ Head of Content Megan Whelan. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

If I am honest, I had suspected it for about a year, because I am an adult with access to Google, and I knew that tingling in my feet wasn’t normal. But I avoided going to the doctor because, well, I’m also a fat adult, and the GP has always been a place of judgement and disappointment, not any kind of care.

For the first month after I was diagnosed, I swung wildly between telling myself “you are a lazy piece of shit and this is entirely your own fault, I hope you regret every cheeseburger you’ve ever eaten” and “if you can achieve what you’ve achieved with uncontrolled diabetes (and pretty severe anemia), imagine what you can do with normal human levels of energy.”

It’s now been a couple of months, and I can see that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

For as long as I can remember, my body has been a thing that has been separate to me – I have always hated my body. I thought I was supposed to. And so I did.

I spent my 30s unlearning that, thanks to authors and activists like Roxane Gay, Aubrey Gordon and Lindy West and the myriad awesome women that now fill my Instagram feed. But I think somewhere along the way, I maybe kind of missed the point. My brain, always inclined to take the easiest possible path, took “fat acceptance” to mean “you don’t have to care about your body at all”.

(To be clear, this is my own experience, and my own issue. But regardless of your size/weight/health, people deserve healthcare, clothing, employment, housing, and most importantly, dignity and respect.)

Maybe if I had cared about my body more I wouldn’t be here? Or maybe I would have, given diabetes has a genetic factor and runs in my family. Maybe I could have staved it off for longer. Maybe if I had leaned more towards the “go to the doctor, eat the occasional vegetable” school of self care instead of the “bubble baths and lush facials” one, I’d somehow have defeated the complex relationship between lifestyle, environment, genetics and hormones. Or maybe I needed to spend my 30s fixing my brain, so I’d have the resources to face this challenge?

Anyway, here we are. The idea for this column came to me on the massage table. I had been to the gym, and booked a massage immediately after. As the therapist dug her elbow into my butt, I thought about the advice my dietician had given me.

Post-workout, I was meant to eat some protein, and replenish some carbs (I am currently deathly afraid of carbs, though, so how?). But I had neglected to ask “how soon after” and “how much” and “what if the thought of eating right now makes me want to vom?” I googled, but all I got was Men’s Health articles and ads for protein powder. And vegan recipes. So many vegan recipes.

So, yes, I am an adult with Google, but Google isn’t a doctor. Nor is it a dietician, specialist, scientist, psychologist, endocrinologist, personal trainer, nutritionist, massage therapist, or even that friend who makes really good salads.

So, I am going to hit up some knowledgeable people. Because, as a journalist, this is what I know how to do – ask questions, and then ask more questions, and then write down the answers and see what makes sense. It’s not going to be an instruction manual. I’m not going to ask how to lose weight, or get fit quick, or the trick to having abs. But I am gonna spend the year figuring out how to “live right”.

What works for me, my body and my brain won’t work for you. Human beings don’t all work the same way. But I figure some of the questions I have might be questions other people have, whether you’re also T2, or trying to lose weight or build muscle or get over your own internalised fatphobia. Or maybe your loved one has what I euphemistically refer to as “body issues” and you’re trying to understand what’s inside their head. Maybe you saw me talking about being fat, and the hate that I get, on TV that time, and understood a little more what it’s like to have a body like mine. Maybe you saw me on TV that time and have been looking forward to me getting my comeuppance, in which case, this must be a fun day for you.

It’s going to be personal. I am not going to share my weight, or what spikes my glucose, or what my Hba1c levels are. But I am going to share my feelings, what’s going on in my head, and how things make me feel. ‘Cos that’s the only way I know how to live: out loud. It’s not going to be journalistic, in the way that people who know me from my day job might expect.

On the day the doctor shared the news, I sat on my bed crying, thinking my life was over. I’d never be able to have a baguette with really cold butter again. Or chicken katsu, or carbonara. Or roast potatoes. Probably I would go blind, and have to have a foot cut off, I thought. And as I mindlessly scrolled TikTok, a man came across my feed. I wish I had saved it, so I could thank him, because the whole video was just him, looking at the camera and saying “this is the beginning of loving yourself. Welcome home.” I have never needed to hear anything more.

Diabetes and me will be a weekly column on Wednesday mornings.

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