Today’s D-Blog Week Topic is What They Should Know: Today let’s borrow a topic from a #dsma chat held last September. The tweet asked “What is one thing you would tell someone that doesn’t have diabetes about living with diabetes?”. Let’s do a little advocating and post what we wish people knew about diabetes. Have more than one thing you wish people knew? Go ahead and tell us everything.
I’ve shared a lot of personal things here, but there are a few things I’ve skirted or glossed over because it all seemed to fall squarely into the TMI pile. The problem with that is those other people who have diabetes and have dealt with similar problems feel just as alone struggling with the awfulness that diabetes can deliver as I have, and the people without diabetes get the edited version, which says something because I’ve shared a lot. Buckle you seatbelt, because here are some of the more unpleasant problems that life with diabetes can offer.
Diabetic Mastopathy: I’ve actually written about this before, and all things considered, I’m quite open about it, but let’s start at the top and work our way down, uh, literally. My boobs are not exactly soft and squishy the way they’re supposed to be. There’s a soft squishy layer, but under that the breast tissue has solidified. When I developed diabetic mastopathy at age 28 in the first breast, they initially thought it was cancer because the hard pea-sized lump became a hard plum-sized lump in all of 6 months. They did a lumpectomy, taking out a decent chunk of tissue because they thought it was something malignant– goodbye barely a B cup, hello A cup. Thankfully, the biopsy showed it was totally benign. When I noticed a hard lump in my other breast three months later, I had another surgical biopsy. They took less tissue, but it’s not like I had a surplus to donate. That biopsy confirmed the same diagnosis. It’s affected the way I feel about my body. The incisions were around the areolae (yes, I totally had to look up the plural), and the scars have healed nicely, but they’re still there. I’m married to a total boob guy too, which is a bummer for him, although, clearly, it wasn’t a deal breaker because here we are. Buying bras is discouraging and depressing because B cups are a standard size, but lots of styles aren’t made in A cups, and when they are, they often have an inch of padding in them. Yes, I wish mine were bigger, but I’d rather wear my girls naturally than wear a bullet-proof bra. I don’t always feel self-conscious about my boobs, but the surgeries and having diabetic mastopathy has affected my self-confidence, so I don’t feel as good about them as I once did, and as I hope I can again.
Yeast infections: This is a common problem for women with diabetes. Yeast feast on sugar, and when blood sugars are high, the kidneys filter out sugar as best as they can. That sugar, along with other wastes filtered from the blood by the kidneys, gets excreted in urine. Just because of the magic of female anatomy, when we tinkle, sugar gets on our lady parts, and this can be a smorgasbord for yeast which live naturally in the body, but given the opportunity, will multiply beyond normal levels. Frequent yeast infections are a common sign of undiagnosed diabetes in women with type 2, and for women with any type of diabetes, they can signify out of control blood sugars. Once upon a time, I didn’t manage my BG’s so well, so I had frequent yeast infections. Yeast infections are simple to treat, but once you’ve had many and you’ve treated them, the yeast start to resist treatment, so treatment becomes an ordeal. Thankfully, now that I take better care of my diabetes, I’ve had very few issues, but they were such a problem for me once upon a time, that avoiding them is one of the top things that keeps me motivated to manage my diabetes, as tedious and thankless as it feels at times. On those days when I get the fuckits, and I’m tempted to eat potato chips straight from the bag or ice cream right out of the carton, without taking the time to weigh and measure so I have a semi-accurate carb count, I remind myself that I don’t want to die, and I don’t want an itchy hooha. One is my long-term goal, and the other is my short-term incentive.
Diabetic Diarrhea: Before you’re all like, “Eww, gross,” get over it… everyone poops. I went looking for more information about this for the sake of writing this, and came across this article from Clinical Diabetes, co-written by one of our favorite endocrinologists, Dr. Steven Edelman. According to the article, diabetic diarrhea affects up to 22% of patients with longstanding diabetes. Diabetic diarrhea hasn’t plagued me like it did when my BG’s were out of control, but I still occasionally have an issue with it. The doctor who initially diagnosed me with it when I was about 25 told me it was related to autonomic neuropathy, so basically, the nerves in my lower digestive tract have been damaged. I’ve had it so bad that I couldn’t leave the house because over-the-counter meds weren’t doing the trick. Thankfully, it hasn’t lasted long enough for me to feel the need to get prescription medication, or seek care from a specialist. It’s been a mild disruption to my life on occasion, it’s embarrassing, it makes me feel awful, it causes anxiety, and it’s a reminder that as much as I try to manage diabetes, sometimes diabetes grabs the steering wheel and takes me for a vicious ride.
These problems haven’t been the end of the world. I was treated for retinopathy, but I still have my eyesight. My kidneys aren’t in awesome shape, but they get a passing grade, and my nephrologist continues to tell me she has no reason to think they’re going to tank on me. I have mild peripheral neuropathy, so I’m not about to lose a limb. I sometimes lament the “quality-of-life complications” that I have though. They aren’t disabling like those more serious and life-changing complications can be, but they’ve affected my body image and relationships in various ways over the years. It’s hard to not feel physically and mentally worn out when your bowels are haywire, your vagina is indescribably itchy, and your boobs, the supposedly hot symbol of womanhood, are defective and embarrassing… as if I need my womanhood further insulted. If you live with this disease long enough though, this is the kind of shit, no pun intended, that you have to man up and manage. Most of the time, I don’t think about it, but there are moments when these problems recur or make themselves evident in some way, which translates into moments of hating this disease, hating my uncooperative body, and hating myself… and that’s what people need to know about life with diabetes.