After developing gestational diabetes during both of her pregnancies, Zena was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes shortly after the birth of her second child. Since then, sharing her struggles with a psychologist, along with support from her family and keeping active, have all kept her positive.
Living with Type 2 diabetes since 2009
“I’m still puzzled and get upset at my blood sugar readings at times - high when I think it should be low, and vice versa. But I’ve had a lot of help and I know it’s up to me to put the advice into practice.”
Zena’s journey with diabetes
- Developed gestational diabetes while pregnant with her sons, now aged 12 and 11.
- Was warned that this might put her at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, but assumed that she’d only be at risk when she got much older.
- Was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2009.
- Struggled to come to terms with her condition, but has found talking to a psychologist and taking up exercise has helped her mental wellbeing.
In 2007, I was 37 weeks pregnant with my first child when a nurse at a routine antenatal check-up asked what I usually ate for breakfast. “Porridge with honey, yogurt with chopped grapes, pineapple and pear, and a cup of tea,” I answered, feeling pleased with myself about my healthy choices.
Later, a consultant broke the news that I had gestational diabetes, my baby was too big, and I would have to be induced.
My breakfast menu revealed I didn’t have a clue what diabetes meant, but the medics were taking it very seriously, so I presumed I had to as well. I was told the diabetes would go as soon as the baby was born, and fortunately it did. Less than a year later, I was pregnant again – and diabetic again.
I’d always had a sweet tooth and had been treating myself to chocolate and cakes occasionally. Now that I had gestational diabetes for a second time, my feelings of guilt were dreadful. I panicked about what damage I’d been doing to my unborn baby.
After my second son was born, I was once again thankfully free of diabetes. Two months after the birth, the nurse told me my HbA1c was so good I needn’t worry about what I ate, but warned me I might get diabetes in later life. I smiled, thinking she meant when I was much older, maybe 80.
"A year later, my GP suggested a blood test, because I was constantly thirsty. Back in the surgery for the results, I noticed a poster about diabetes with the title ‘Living with a chronic disease’. That was the diagnosis I was about to receive."
I don’t believe there were any warning signs in my case. I believe that having more knowledge about the condition would not have stopped me developing the disease. I have since met people who have been told they are pre-diabetic and I’ve urged them to follow the medical advice and do everything they can to avoid it because it’s a serious, life-changing condition. I didn't know it had such serious consequences before I was diagnosed.
I don’t drink regularly, smoke or gamble, but food has always been my vice. Chocolate, biscuits and cake give me pleasure and comfort me in times of trouble. If I missed a train, I’d console myself with a Kit Kat. Parking ticket? Well, that would call for cake.
It seemed so unfair that, after being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, I could no longer enjoy my favourite foods whenever I wanted to. I was not overweight and I have no history of diabetes in the family.
One day, during an appointment with the diabetes nurse, I found myself sobbing that I just wanted diabetes to give me a break.
"My diabetes nurse asked me if I’d like to see the psychologist. I didn’t know that was available and I jumped at the chance. She worked in the diabetes unit so it was amazing to have someone who could understand."
I ended up seeing her once a month for 18 months. She helped me feel I wasn’t stupid – that it wasn’t all my fault. That you can have the same breakfast and one day have a hypo and the next day not. I stopped blaming myself automatically as I’d done before.
One of the things that really made me feel better was just hearing her say that my feelings were justified and I wasn't doing everything wrong. It felt like someone who understood what it was like.
The emotional support has been important because it's made me feel less isolated. Some things I can't control and I'm still working on it.
Looking back I’m not sure how I managed before without anyone to talk to. It's still hard for me, but having a sympathetic ear made me feel much, much better. I’m not very good at sharing things. I’ll keep them to myself. Even with my husband I’m quite self-sufficient when it comes to my diabetes, otherwise it feels like I’m making a fuss.
I picked up tips such as mindful eating – breaking down the process and feeling of eating a biscuit, for instance. Also, it helped me to realise it was OK to feel hungry at times and wait for my next meal and the importance of planning when it comes to food.
Support from friends and family
My family have been supportive by adjusting what they eat, so I don’t feel I’m missing out too much. For instance, puddings are a rare treat at home. Also, I have explained to my children, Jesse, 12, and Jude, 11, what to do in case of a hypo emergency. Thankfully I have never had a bad one, where I have blacked out but they know I would need a sugary drink or sweet if I did.
"My children accept my diabetes as a normal part of life because they don’t know any different and they wouldn’t dream of eating the emergency Jelly babies I keep in my handbag, at home and in the car."
My husband is good at reminding me to take my insulin and he sometimes joins me on my post-dinner walks.
Getting my blood sugars under control was very tough. Remembering to take my insulin at the right time and resisting the urge to eat chocolate cakes and biscuits was also difficult. I find it really hard, and I am coming round to the idea that hypnosis may be the solution for me, to change my eating habits.
Recently, I joined an informal running club and loved it. I could easily slot a run into my day and the positive mental effect lasts all day. Exercise really helps me control my blood sugar.
I’m still puzzled and get upset at my blood sugar readings at times – high when I think it should be low, and vice versa. But I’ve had a lot of help and I know it’s up to me to put the advice into practice.
Diabetes UK and me
I've enjoyed being featured in Balance magazine, have been part of a video shoot for the It's missing campaign and will soon be speaking for Diabetes UK at the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Diabetes in London! Please sign the petition below to help more people with diabetes get the kind the emotional support I got.