Getting to grips with your Type 2 diabetes – by Robin Swindell
Unfortunately a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes doesn’t come with a handbook to explain all that you need to know; whether you are starting out on your diabetes journey, or are a seasoned traveller, you are likely to have a long list of unanswered questions.
My experience of being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes was like that of many others; about three years ago I had a short and rather uninformative discussion with my GP. I left the office with a prescription for Metformin, some vague instructions to lose weight and was told to come back in three months’ time.
As the shock of what I had heard started to sink in, I felt increasingly scared about my diagnosis, and with no real understanding of what I needed to do next. Like many people I had heard that diabetes had serious complications, and five minutes looking up diabetes on the internet confirmed all of my worst fears.
Getting some help
I was lucky that within a few days of my diagnosis I spoke to the Diabetes UK’s Helpline; as well as answering some basic questions, the team put me on the road towards understanding my condition, learning to self-manage and ultimately to living well with diabetes.
Once I had got use to the everyday basics of Type 2 Diabetes and accepted that this was a long-term problem and not just something that was going to go away after a course of tablets, I realised that I needed to know more about it and what it was going to mean for me in the long-term. Unfortunately I live in an area that didn’t offered any structured education for people with Type 2 diabetes at the time I was diagnosed, and despite national guidelines stating that everyone diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes should have the opportunity to attend an education course, like many areas it only has limited access at the moment.
I would always recommend taking advantage of structured if it is available to you; for people with Type 2 Diabetes; this will often be in the form of courses such as DESMOND or X-PERT which give advice about taking control of your diabetes, and Diabetes UK also hosts excellent Living with Diabetes Days around the UK where you can learn about the care you should get from the NHS, and take part in workshops on things like diet, exercise and medication.
Attending a course can be quite a big time commitment, usually half a day for DESMOND and two and a half hour sessions delivered over six weeks for X-PERT. For many people getting away from work and family commitments (particularly if their employer will not give them paid leave) can be problematic.
Having diabetes is not anything to be embarrassed about, but for many people the stigma of the condition puts them off from taking up the offer of structured education. This is a shame, as the courses are non-judgemental, there is no exam at the end and they can be a great environment in which to meet and exchange stories with other people living with the condition. None the less, many people will feel that their condition is a private matter, and they would rather not talk about it in with others.
Regardless of the reason, if you do not attend a structured education course or feel that you would like a refresher of what you have learnt already from one, Type 2 Diabetes and Me is for you. It is an online education course offered for free by Diabetes UK, and breaks down many different aspects of the condition in to short easily digestible pieces;
I worked my way through the course in two sessions on different evenings, but as it remembers where you have got to in each section. You can come and go as you please, and it is easy to refer back to sections you have already finished.
The course was invaluable to me in cementing my understanding of my condition, the treatment I was getting, and what to expect from my annual health review. I was initially prescribed Metformin by my GP, and the course helped me to understand that this was recommended because it stops the liver producing new glucose and assists the body’s insulin carry glucose into muscle and fat cells. It also helped me understand that the initial (and unpleasant) side effects should pass quickly, and if they didn’t, that I could ask my GP for an alternative slow release version of the drug that many people find easier to live with. The better understanding I had as a result of working through the course was a key part in me learning what I need to do to live well from day to day with Diabetes.
Type 2 Diabetes and Me can also provide a useful reference for anyone who has been living with Type 2 Diabetes for a while; it provides a good platform from which to refresh your understanding of the basics. Once in a while it is good to take a step back from your daily routine and think about how your self-management is working for you; getting bored with a daily routine is a sure way for good intentions to slip, and changing things up a bit or simply reminding yourself about your long term goals can be a very valuable exercise.
It can also be helpful for your family members or friends to know more about how you live with your Diabetes, to better understand what you need to do to manage the condition and to understanding the stress this can put on you.
Like many long term conditions, living well diabetes (of which ever type) requires us to take responsibility for managing our own condition; this covers everything we do from the choices we make about diet, exercise and medication each day, to big decisions about the direction of our treatment and our lifestyles.
When self-management works well the chances of developing complications reduces significantly and along the way it can help us live a healthier lifestyle, reduce the stress and depression that often comes with a long-term condition, and can leave us feeling more in control.
At the time of writing I am approaching the third anniversary of my diagnosis (my “diaversary”), and whilst there are plenty of days when I struggle with the condition and what I need to do to be healthy, I do feel that learning more has been a key part in learning to live well.
Views expressed here are my own (or those of my cat), and not those of my employer or Diabetes UK.
Robin Swindell was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in May 2013, and manages the condition with diet, exercise and oral medication. He is a keen runner, occasional cyclist and can usually be found at Oak Hill parkrun at 9 o’clock on Saturday morning. He tweets as @fractis.