Canadian Diabetes Association’s Stress, Depression and Type 1 Diabetes Talk

Hey, I know you!

Towards the end of Leah Drazek’s presentation on mental health and type 1 diabetes, I happened to spot someone I had met at the JDRF type 1 adult support group in November.

I don’t know about you, but when I see someone and know they are type 1 as well, I get this surge of excitement and happiness. My face changes. I smile. And I feel 100 times better. Does that feeling ever go away?

We updated each other on how we were doing with our diabetes management, what’s been happening since we last saw each other and offered words of support. It was short and sweet, and although I didn’t know it at the time, it was something I really needed.

It’s just like being in a room filled with other type 1’s out there. The room was packed at the ING Direct Cafe in downtown Toronto, and I saw people of all ages and cultures. It was the first time I saw such diversity. If you read my previous post titled What it’s like to be the only Chinese type 1 diabetic you know, I think you’d understand how much this meant to me.

And from the audience to the speaker, that feeling continued on. As Drazek went through her slides listing stats and symptoms of mental health and type 1 diabetes, I started giving myself internal head nods and inside saying, “Yes! I’ve felt that. Oh! I can relate completely. I’ve been there!”

My note highlights

  • People with type 1 diabetes are over 3x risk of developing depression
  • Risk factors for developing depression with type 1 diabetes: female, poverty, few social support, stressful event, longer duration of diabetes, poor glycemic control, presence long term complications, physical inactivity
  • Symptoms: sadness, lack of pleasure in almost all activities, significant weight loss/gain, sleeping longer than normal, loss of energy, agitation, impaired concentration
  • How to deal: use supports such as family/friends, counselors, family doctors
  • Drink more water, less coffee, listen to music, exercise, spend time with people you like, positive self talk, antidepressant/anxiety medications, drink more h20
  • Be open and honest with your diabetes health care provider, they can better guide and provide resources

My live tweets: Canadian Diabetes Association’s Stress, Depression and Type 1 diabetes

Drazek shared personal stories about having a panic attack, how family changes impacted her stress levels and even what her blood glucose levels were before and after a recent car accident.

What made the experience worthwhile was having a fellow type 1 diabetic speaking right in front of me, being vulnerable and sharing her life in a very raw and honest way.

I walked away with more confidence, feeling less alone, and after exchanging numbers with my support group buddy, possibly a new friend.

J

Links:

Canadian Diabetes Association

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health Contact List

American Diabetes Association Depression Information

 

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My worst diabetes day: lowest low, a diabetes proclamation without my permission & what helps

I am usually the queen preacher of positivity. 

The reason you don’t see me expressing my diabetes distaste or frustration often is because I think there’s enough of it out there. And it’s not to knock people for expressing a negative thought. It’s just not what I choose to do most of the time on my social media outlets.

I have my bad moments.

My dark days.

I think this is something you need to know about me. I find this damn hard. 

There’s been many episodes of uncontrollable tears and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. This is the part that many don’t see. And it’s not just us. It’s all people with invisible illnesses whether it’s mental, physical, or both. 

If someone asked me how I was handling my type 1 diabetes (diagnosed in 2012), my honest answer would be, “not well”.

 

I’m writing this entry after my lowest hypoglycaemic episode. I went below 1.1 mmo/L (or 19 mg/dl). This was 3/4 into my run.

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I managed to get myself up and out of trouble, but I’m sure the severe drop didn’t contribute well to what transpired after. 

Long story short, I was presented with an “herbal tea” that was supposed to “be good for my diabetes”. I scoffed at it, went to another room and just broke down. It was also given to me by someone whom I am…not a fan of. Deeply not passionate about, you know, that one person who gets under your skin and just makes your blood boil. I was NOT aware she knew about my diabetes (told WITHOUT my permission). All this was fuel to the fire, the latter revelation being the worst.

I think I could tell this story until I’m blue in the face to my non-d friends and family, but it wouldn’t do much. I would hear words of sympathy and smiles of compassion, however I know no matter how hard they tried to comprehend it, they wouldn’t get it.

I don’t get that same sense of peace I do when I connect and open up with other diabetics. 

The more d-people I meet and talk candidly about my type 1, the better I feel.

I sometimes feel like curling up into a ball and crying in a corner. There are so many things I haven’t decided yet: who I want to know, how I want to contribute to the diabetes community, what to keep private, what is important to share so others don’t feel alone.

While I’m telling this story my hands are usually over-animating, my eyes are slightly bulging and I’m trying to coherently express how angry/sad/frustrated I can become. Nowadays there is a person across the table at a coffee shop, that is part of my growing diabetes family, who is looking at me and saying, “I understand”. 

So maybe they don’t understand and are just humouring me? It doesn’t really matter. I feel less alone. Less scared. And a moment of feeling just so miserable gets a little bit better. 

It doesn’t solve the ignorance. It doesn’t take away the pain. But it acts like a big bandaid, providing a buffer and sense of support until things get a bit better. 

The one blessing I have gotten from this horrible disease is that of finding amazing people who have helped me through my darkest days.

I am forever thankful for them, and for you the #DOC. I don’t know what I’d do without you. 

J

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The dreaded “before” photo & taking on the Inches Challenge

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I’m a big fan of my gym. Here’s why:

  • Trainers are friendly and so helpful. Every time I go in, I call on one of them to see if I’m doing an exercise correctly. I always have a good experience and walk away feeling empowered and not intimidated in the slightest (the latter being a big deal for me).
  • They provide lots of fundraising initiatives. For Christmas, one of the trainers dead lifted the total weight of how much food was donated. For Movember, donators could purchase from an exercise “menu”, appetizers being $2, a main course $5. I bought a few appetizers and purchased squats. At the end the trainers had to do all the exercises that were purchased from the Movember menu. I won a poster and free passes to the gym 😀
  • New programming. Last month I took part in two olympic lifting sessions (power clean and dead lift, which I’ll blog about later) and had a blast doing it. And now, I am taking on the Inches Challenge.

So the photo above explains it all. On Thursday I had my measurements taken and sat down to talk about my goals. You can decide your end date to the challenge. I have decided it will be a year from now.

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For the most part, I want more definition. I want to build muscle and decrease my body fat percentage. 2013 was definitely a year to push myself when it came to fitness and this year, I want to continue to grow and dedicate myself to my health.

Taking a “before” photo was nerve-wracking. It took 10 seconds at the most, but standing there, in form fitting gym clothes to bare every curve in front of a lens that I wasn’t shooting was no easy task. I wouldn’t have dared to enter something like this 5 years ago.

I’ve never been a person that was proud of my body. I struggled long and hard and resounded a while back that it just wasn’t in the cards for me to be really fit. Being diagnosed, and all that has come with it, has really changed my perspective on things.

We hold so much power in our thoughts. We are much stronger than we believe. I’m thankful to be part of a fitness facility that helps build my self esteem and provides me with a comforting environment where I can say, “Yes, sign me up! I can do this.”

Find a place, whether it’s outside alone on a trail or a group class with an energetic instructor, that makes you feel comfortable. An environment that makes you feel strong, that encourages you to step outside of your comfort zone.

It makes all the difference. And with that, you will be another step closer to conquering your fears and reaching your goals.

Body Fat 33% & going down,

J

What it’s like to be the only Chinese type 1 diabetic you know

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Every time I go to a type 1 diabetes-related event, my heart breaks a little.

Not just because I have type 1 diabetes, which I am learning is a disease that breeds champions, but because I am consistently one of very few if not the only Asian person there. In Canada. In Toronto. A city that is touted for being one of the most multi-cultural places in the world.

In fact I’ve been hard-pressed to find a significant representation of any visible minorities during the events I’ve attended. Mind you, I haven’t been to a ton of these things, maybe 10, but for me it’s enough to know that when I go in the future, chances are, I stand alone. And, if I ever do get the chance to see another visible minority out there, I apologize in advance, but I’m going to want to befriend you very quickly and in all likelihood will try and hug you towards the end of whatever session we are attending.

I attended my first JDRF adult support group meeting last night, and I asked the entire group, “Do you know anyone who is Asian with type 1 diabetes?”

Silence. Then the JDRF rep piped up to say she did know Asian families with children who have type 1. Okay, so they are children and I’m an adult (I was diagnosed at 29). However, it was enough to give me a little boost.

Once the meeting was over, she came back to me and said, “Now that I think about it, the kids are mixed with one Asian parent.”

I can’t explain why but I was a disappointed when she said that. Let me be very clear, if I’m not seeing anyone out at support groups because I am really one of a very very small group of people who are Asian and have type 1, I am totally fine with that. But I really don’t think that is the case.

I’m not going to say that Chinese Canadians are the only group of people who, in general, don’t speak openly about illness. That would be very ignorant. There are a myriad of cultures and subcultures that hold beliefs which make speaking about illness in an open fashion a very difficult task.

Explaining to people you have type 1 diabetes is not easy. You need to mentally prepare for what it means to take this next step: the questions, the myths, people’s wild assumptions, clarifying stereotypes, the pity party you did not ask for, and the worst, that look and sigh, as if to say, “Sorry your life sucks”. For me this is an emotional and taxing process which requires a lot of strength, courage and sheer willpower.

I’ve done it before, so I know what it’s like. I waited a month before telling my parents. I did this in part because I wanted more of a concrete answer to what I had (they initially diagnosed me with type 2 diabetes), and in all honesty, I needed the time to mourn. And although in my heart of hearts I knew this wasn’t the case, I still felt I had let them down somehow. I felt I would be outcast, unwanted and unloved. And my parents are the most wonderfully supportive parents I know of. Yet I still felt this way. I still struggle with these thoughts all the time. I secretly cry about it still. I’m working on it.

I understand and sympathize as to why people believe it’s important to keep illness a secret. I must, because I’ve spent a good chunk of this past year trying to break my own head out of that belief system.

There’s no place in this entry to explain all the different types of belief systems that lead people to live with illness in silence. I’ll leave that up to you to decipher. And it’s by no means a finger point to any of the cultures that hold these beliefs either.

People who have diabetes or any kind of illness need support. I think it’s fair to say the greater the support, the better chance at a greater quality of life. How do you garner support when no one knows? One of the biggest reliefs I felt was when I met people who also had type 1 diabetes.

No one wants to feel alone. Loneliness is a dark and scary road. I don’t know about you, but I feel a lot better going to battle with an army of people beside me than carrying the load by myself. Knowing people rally behind me gives me strength to move forward and to tackle life’s challenges.

If you are out there, Chinese type 1 diabetics, or anyone living with an illness tucked neatly in your jacket pocket, please know you are not alone.

You are not alone.

Jessica

Please feel free to e-mail me with 100% confidentiality at t1dactiveliving @ icloud.com (take out spaces).

How do you deal with Halloween diabetes jokes?

It’s overwhelming.

Dealing with this disease day in and day out is downright exhausting at times. Today was a rough day in that the diabetes jokes just poured out through social media, and after a full morning at the hospital, it really hit a nerve.

On most days, I can let it roll off my back. I can shrug my shoulders and say “there are ignorant people everywhere” and that people make fun of everything. But today and on really emotional days, it’s tough. It’s the last thing I need to see or hear. And if you know anything about diabetes, it’s a disease that you must care for every day, every hour. There are no breaks.

I know people are miseducated. I know how easy it is to make diabetes jabs behind a screen. However this is what I want to say to all the people who made references to Halloween candy and diabetes:

“Today I spent my entire morning at the hospital. Do you like going to the hospital? I sat in a waiting room with some really sick people. Then sat again to get blood work done. I’ve done this so many times now, and it seems to never end.

It’s been a year and some since I’ve been diagnosed with type one diabetes and I can say without exaggeration that for me this time has been the toughest of my life.

Do you know the kind of guilt a parent goes through when their child is diagnosed with diabetes? Even though it’s not their fault at all? I wish you’d think of that when you write an ignorant comment about diabetes. Try to put yourself in the shoes of parents who have a newly diagnosed child with diabetes.  Then think about what it’s like for them to see jokes about Halloween, sugar, and diabetes. Then think about  a young child dealing with people making these jokes at them every Halloween.

It has nothing to do with eating too much sugar. And when people say sugar causes diabetes even in a joking way, it continues the cycle of uneducated people misinforming the public.

And I guess you can say, it’s all in lighthearted fun. But tell me if it’s funny if God forbid your child gets diagnosed. Or your family member or friend is in a diabetic coma.

Some diseases are just easy targets. But you should know there is no cure. I live with that reality every day. Show a little compassion. Because if ever there is a chance a disease you may have is the butt of jokes, I guarantee you won’t find it all that funny.”

Now that I’ve gotten that out. It’s time to focus on the positive.

Dealing with these jokes has been a blessing in disguise. Since being diagnosed I’ve become much more aware of what I say, and when I hear people have different diseases, I ask lots of questions, show compassion and ask how I can support them. If we all did that a little more I think the world would be a much better place.

Goodnight and let’s welcome Diabetes Awareness Month in about an hour!

Jessica