I think (or, I hope) I speak for most people when I say that routine check-ups at the doctor’s are rarely pleasant and often nerve-wracking. Am I secretly dying? Do I have a late stage of some unknown and/or untreatable disease? Such is the culture of WebMD, where a muscle twinge could be a sign of cancer. Or maybe I’m just paranoid.
Even for a seemingly-perfectly healthy person such as myself, routine blood work can be cause for some sleepless nights. I recall the last blood test I had; as per usual, they told me that if they didn’t call, I was fine, but if they did, there was something up. They called, and since they’re not allowed to divulge any information over the phone, I immediately took to Google to see what anomalies could be found in a routine blood test. According to some random website (it was probably WebMD come to think of it, but that’s not important), they could discover that you have a low white blood cell count, which could be a sign of HIV, a.k.a. the early stages of AIDS. Naturally, I spent three days convinced that I was going to die of AIDS. Of course, when I actually went to my appointment, I was told that I merely had a vitamin B12 deficiency, instructed to eat more fish and red meat, and sent on my way.
When I received a callback after my most recent round of blood work, I told myself that it was probably just more low B12. I had been rather less-than-diligent about taking my supplements after all, and fish and red meat are not high on my list of things I like to eat. I felt relatively unperturbed by any possible imminent doom as I sat down on the examination table.
My doctor pulled up my files, surveyed them, and told me that almost everything (including my B12) was normal. She then paused and said, “Does anyone in your family have diabetes? Your siblings, your parents?”
“No, just my grandparents,” I responded.
“No one in your immediate family then? That’s very strange…” she said. My stomach dropped. “Here, let me show you.” She motioned for me to come sit, and I obliged. She pointed to my blood glucose results. “We take two blood sugar readings,” she explained. “One of your fasting levels, which had a normal reading. And, one that averages your levels over the past three months. A normal reading is 4.0 and below. You have 4.1, which means that you are in the range for prediabetes.”
I was personally offended. I was POINT FUCKING ONE over the normal amount? Can we do a retest? What utter bullshit was this? “So, that means I could develop actual diabetes at some point? How long would that take?” I asked numbly.
“Oh, not for a long time,” she said. “Not for at least two to five years.”
Two to five years?! I thought. That’s not a long time! That’s a short fucking time! I’m only 22! I’d have to deal with that shit for like three quarters of my life!
But, the damage was done. Low-risk or not, I apparently have prediabetes. Since my diagnosis a month or so ago, I’ve learned a few things…
3. Your mostly-healthy relationship with food and your body hangs in a very delicate balance.
Like many women in our appearance-obsessed, body-shaming society, I’ve had a voice at the back of my head telling me that I shouldn’t eat this or that for as long as I can remember. Over time, I had, for the most part, learned to quell that voice. Usually, when I was craving some cookies or something, I might’ve thought to myself, “Well, that is 300 extra calories.” But then I would rebut my own thoughts with, “Come on. Treat yo self. It’s impossible to gain any weight from a couple cookies. You’re not going to die.”
Now, apparently, eating cookies actually could cause me to die. Or, at least, develop a terminal, incurable disease.
Now, the mild feelings of regret and “Oh well, I’ll just go to an extra yoga class this week” has been replaced with a deep-seated guilt and anxiety before and after every treat, or even after one of the occasional bowls of pasta my family serves for dinner. A couple weeks ago, I battled with myself for a good ten minutes before allowing myself to eat two snack-sized chocolate bars, and once I did, I lay in bed and experienced such high levels of shame and panic that one would think I’d just murdered a small child. Waves of guilt seemed to radiate from my stomach where those two little chocolate bars now sat, chewed up and digesting. I seriously considered going to the bathroom and throwing them back up. It took every ounce of willpower I had to stop myself.
That was certainly a low point, but the point is, this fucking sucks. Anyone who knows me somewhat well knows that I love to bake, mostly because I like to give baked goods to people in order to force them to be friends with me. I used to live by the motto “Everything in moderation, even moderation,” because sometimes you need to eat half the pan of brownies you just pulled out of the oven. Not anymore. When I bake, I can no longer truly enjoy the fruits of my labour, and even enjoying a small piece of a pie I just spent three hours baking from scratch feels wrong somehow. It’s not as simple as “just don’t eat it”. This is a wrench thrown into an ongoing battle I’ve had with myself and my body image, a wrench I never dreamed I’d have to deal with.
2. Some people apparently think they are doctors and/or nutritionists.
Here’s the thing: my doctor was very shocked to discover that my glucose levels were anything other than normal. She was even more shocked to learn that diabetes does not run in my family (besides my grandparents, but they are 80, so that doesn’t count). I am a healthy weight by the BMI scale (not that the BMI is anything but utter BS), and obviously, I’m only 22. She asked if I exercised, which I do. She then pulled out a piece of printer paper and began writing out a bunch of dietary guidelines, and with every single suggestion of change (don’t eat too many carbs, eat lots of veggies, eat lots of healthy fats, etc.), I found myself saying “Yes, I already do that…and that too…” (having a personal trainer/nutritionist for a mother does that to you). Besides the aforementioned treating of ma self, I eat healthier than probably 85% of the people I know. We eat mostly homecooked meals, we are moderate on the bread and pasta, and I love salad. Not as much as my sister, Emily, who I fear may one day begin leaking salad out of all her orifices, but constructing pretty salads (well, any pretty food, really) with lots of yummy toppings and a perfectly flavour-matched homemade dressing gives me a shiver of joy.
But, anyway, some of the people I told immediately jumped to, “Don’t drink juice, that has sugar in it too!” (I don’t, and no shit, Sherlock). “Cut back on the pasta!” (I barely eat pasta). “Eat lots of colourful veggies!” (I told you, I love salad). “You have to be careful, I’m just concerned about you!” (Yes, the correct response to my lamenting about the three East Side Mario’s garlic home loaves I gobbled down last weekend pre-diagnosis is to make me feel more guilty about it). I explained what my doctor said, how she was just as surprised as I am, but these people somehow think that a trained professional who went through eight years of schooling to be there must have been missing something. Plus, I personally know more about health and nutrition than I could ever desire, largely due to the rants our mother subjects us to about the dangers of hydrogenated oils and non-organic beef. I wasn’t asking for your advice. I was merely trying to express my feelings about the situation.
1. You’re going to feel like it’s your fault.
The thing is, Type 2 diabetes carries a stigma as a disease that only fat and/or unhealthy people get. As such, the general consensus is that if you get it, it’s probably your own fault. This differs from the public opinion of other most other major diseases. No one is ever like, wow, you have cancer? You really shouldn’t have been standing in front of all those microwaves. You clearly have a disregard for your own health and deserve this, you idiot.
As I previously stated, I lead too healthy of a lifestyle to logically be at risk for diabetes. I’m no fitness model, but my healthier-than-most diet should be enough to leave me firmly out of the potential diabetes candidates. When the doctor was listing all the things I should and shouldn’t be eating, I grew more and more frustrated and embarrassed and personally offended. I’m 22, for Pete’s sake! I don’t resist the urge to eat 3 croissants for breakfast every morning and have eggs and avocado instead for nothing! What the actual fuck? By the accounts of the things I looked up about diabetes and prediabetes, I have 0 of the risk factors, except for being of East Asian descent, because apparently even diseases are racist. Can’t catch a break, I suppose.
Even so, I thought to myself, This must be my fault. And, Other people will blame me for this. I consider myself “not quite chubby, but not thin either.” I’ve felt like the fat child in the family for years, and my parents and friends have made no secret of commending me when I lose a few pounds, thus making me feel like they secretly think I could stand to drop a bit of weight, but that they don’t want to say anything about it until it actually happens. Basically, I’m thin enough to avoid harassment (except for from salty old men on dating websites who like to write me essays about how fat and ugly I am when I yell at them for trying to hit on someone young enough to be their daughter, but that’s another story), but not so thin that people to assume I consistently exercise and eat healthy, or to necessarily believe me when I say I do. I felt like maybe all those people who thought I “wasn’t healthy enough” by their standards were right; maybe I do need to never eat a cupcake again and forego all carbs and go on runs every morning, never mind the pain and discomfort large-breasted individuals such as myself experience when doing anything more strenuous than walking.
I haven’t told anyone about my diagnosis except for a select few friends. My parents don’t even know (though I guess they probably do now, since they make up about 40% of my readers). I was afraid to tell people because I was afraid that they would start scrutinizing everything I eat, which is certainly not healthy for that precarious relationship with food I have. To be honest, I don’t really know what to do at this point. And I’m not asking for suggestions. I was just hoping to vent my frustration and maybe raise awareness for the fact that sometimes you do just get shitty diseases, even ones like diabetes that traditionally have “causes”. So, I guess, unlike most of my other posts, I don’t really have a big “point” to end on to bring it all together.
I suppose all I can say is, don’t assume things about people’s health. It’s really none of your fucking business, be they 90 pounds or 900. Be kind, be understanding, and don’t, for the love of God, give unasked-for advice. Usually, if someone doesn’t ask, they probably already know.