I have been living with diabetes for nearly 40 years, struggling to fight the illness with exercise, the right food, daily blood sugar tests and medication. It is a sickening disease that sticks to your body and soul forever, affecting both your mental and physical state.
It is like living in perpetual fear of whether you have eaten the right food, of whether your blood sugar level will go up at the next test, of whether trying a bowl of ice kachang will be a setback for your disciplined and rigorous regime.
Diabetes eats you up on a daily basis, creating mood swings that sometimes make you wonder if being so cautious is worth it. Singapore’s war on diabetes, which the PM spoke about in his National Day Rally speech two Sundays ago, is a good wake-up call. Hopefully, it will lead to the country fighting the illness on all fronts – from individuals, to parents of young children, to caregivers, to restaurants, to supermarket chains and purveyors of sugar-enhanced foods.
From my little diabetes book, here is my personal checklist to keep diabetes in check.
MAKE IT PUBLIC
Don’t be shy about saying to your colleagues, friends and relatives that you have diabetes. Talk about it openly and candidly. Share with them all the details…when you knew you were a diabetic, how you are living with it, the types of food you shun and the regular exercises you do.
This kind of open declaration has two benefits: People you interact with will be mindful when they go out for lunch/dinner with you, they may want to be cautious over their own sugar intake and think seriously about keeping the illness at bay. My two grandsons, nine and four, are up-to-date with my affliction, so much so that when they see me having a rare sweet treat they will admonish me by saying: “You have diabetes, cannot eat sweet.”
DO DAILY TESTS, MAKE MENTAL NOTES
I test my blood sugar level at least thrice daily: Once in the morning on an empty stomach, another before lunch and the third time after dinner. These tests tell me if I have been on good behavior, if the food I had consumed was the wrong one. It is a very straining exercise.
The biggest culprit is the food you eat outside. The other day, I had prata with fish curry. It is quite safe, I thought. The test I did two hours later told a very different story with my sugar level going above the acceptable level of 7 to 9. That restaurant must have added sugar to the curry to give it a sweet flavor. It has been added to my blacklisted food places that I will boycott.
This is just one example of how tortuous this fight is as you live in fear that a twist is waiting to happen when you consume something. It is all about sugar hidden in our food, sometimes it is added to give the meal a special flavour. There is another invisible enemy that appears in the form of preservatives that are added to our food. Sugar and salt are added to such preserved items to keep them fresh.
DON’T DEPRIVE YOURSELF
There are times when your sugar craving hits crazy proportions. That is because you have been too strict with your diet. It is ok to have your favourite ice cream or chocolate once in a while. If you over do it by depriving yourself of sweet stuff over a long period, you will find yourself going on a sugar binge. That can be disastrous.
FINALLY, GET A PATIENT DOCTOR
I am fortunate to have a doctor who asks me detailed questions during each visit. He is patient, discusses advances in containing the illness and recommends new medication that has just come into the market. Tell him all the changes that are happening to your body, even the simple ones. They may point to issues with your organs like kidneys, feet and eyes. Be diligent and go for all the tests he recommends. Finally, learn to live with diabetes and not in dread of it. The former will give you good perspective of things; the latter will make you miserable with no improvement to your condition.