It is often assumed that everyone who has diabetes is overweight, has poor eating habits, and doesn’t get enough exercise. Seems like everyone has a diabetic in their family that fits that description to the last letter, so it’s become an acceptable stereotype. There’s something that can affect diabetics on a more frightening level and contribute to them having heart attacks and strokes.
I’m living testimony to stress being the sole reason my glucose levels are dangerously high, unless I take ridiculously large amounts of insulin. My cholesterol and blood pressure were constantly tested but when they continuously turned out to be normal, the doctor determined that it had to be stress. Upon asking what was going on in my life that would stress me out to where my glucose consistently stayed so high, she ruled everything out and told me to focus on removing as many stressors as possible. It isn’t that this information can’t be easily accessed either. However, with the portrayal of diabetes in television, films, and of course our immediate family, stress is often overlooked.
According to the American Diabetes Association, “Stress results when something causes your body to behave as if it were under attack. Sources of stress can be physical, like injury or illness. Or they can be mental, like problems in your marriage, job, health, or finances… In people who have diabetes, the fight-or-flight response does not work well. Insulin is not always able to let the extra energy into the cells, so glucose piles in the blood. Many sources of stress are long-term threats… As a result, long-term stress can cause long-term high blood glucose levels.”
Before giving you a real-life example of how long-term stress has affected me as a diabetic, let’s look at what a body’s normal glucose levels should be. Even with your blood glucose fluctuating throughout the day, your A1C level (the amount of glucose in your blood over the course of 3 months) should be 5.7% or lower. If you’re prediabetic, it’ll be anywhere from 5.7% to 6.4%. Anything 6.5% or higher, and you’re a Type 2 diabetic. Most diabetics test their blood sugar levels daily but someone without diabetes will be anywhere between 70-99 mg before their first meal of the day. Someone with diabetes can be anywhere from 80-130 mg. After eating, the numbers tend to spike so for a non-diabetic, their blood sugar is usually 140 mg or less, while some diabetics can be 180 mg or less.
I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes back in June of 2017 and when the doctor called me, he was adamant that I should stop what I was doing and get to a hospital immediately. My A1C level was 14% and my blood sugar was 584 mg. He was concerned that I was going to pass out at any moment or go into full cardiac arrest. I was trying to get my shoes off to go through security and get on a plane to visit my father who’d just had surgery to remove some disgusting ass cancer that had taken up residence in his brain.
Was it binge drinking, fast food, and sitting on my fat ass causing these life-threatening numbers to appear? Nope. If I had to pinpoint the exact moment my body started experiencing what led to long-term trauma, it goes back to 2015 when I found out that I was going to have Baby #2. The husband and I were trying to reconcile and had a whoops moment. Our family wasn’t prepared to bring another child into the world. My work contract had been cut in half and the husband’s entrepreneurial efforts couldn’t sustain the family, so I made the gut wrenching and heartbreaking decision to terminate the pregnancy. Anyone who’s ever had an abortion knows the stress that it already puts on your body physically and mentally. Add to this that I happened to be in the low percentile of women who have a bad reaction to the medication given for the procedure. I couldn’t eat anything and could barely even drink water without throwing up…for months. I lost 75 pounds.
During this time, I found out the husband I was busy trying to reconcile with, had impregnated another woman. We had the same due date and she had no plans of terminating her pregnancy. Since there would be no getting back together, I decided to get on with life and move back to California. My contract that had been chopped in half, ended unexpectedly but me and the kiddo still moved.
I noticed certain things about my body that felt different, but I never associated it with diabetes. None of the symptoms started until I had the abortion so that’s what I attached the ailments to. The more stress I experienced (looking for employment, finances not being able to cover necessities, life, etc.), the more the symptoms increased. I was drinking 2-3 gallons of water a day because of being so thirsty but no real appetite to eat. Losing weight is often viewed as a good thing but I knew something was wrong because I wasn’t eating but still rapidly getting smaller.
Working several jobs at once, being in school with an aggressive workload, adamantly seeking a divorce from someone who refuses to sign the papers, being a “single parent” to a child dealing with her own mental and physical stressors, and just needing to breathe, kept my fight or flight response from working properly. I’d like to say that things have improved but my A1C is still around 14% and my glucose levels stay in the 348-484 mg range. Anything consistently above 280-300 mg, and doctors fear for your life.
What assisted in that small drop is working only one job, taking a break from school, and breathing more. I’ve been advised to cut out anything that’s causing me unnecessary stress and I have no doubt that once this divorce is finalized, my body will stop acting like it’s under constant attack. Until then, I don’t do intentional things to aggravate my health. Abstinence from liquor is always best because of the sugar in it but if I do drink, it’s one and done and not frequently. Keeping a low-carb diet helps but I must watch my protein intake because too much can lead to kidney failure and too little will cause me to start losing weight rapidly again. Exercise DOES help so keeping my blood moving is important, otherwise it literally feels like congealed lead is in my feet, ankles, and legs. And water. People crack jokes about water not being this lifesaver some of us paint it out to be. If I don’t drink water, I’m in pain all day. I credit water to me being alive right now.
Speaking of pain, another thing I deal with is diabetic neuropathy and to summarize what that is, sometimes the entire left side of my body goes numb if I stay in one position too long. This can happen whether I’m sitting, standing, or sleeping. It can stay numb for 20 minutes or 2 hours. Since this has to do with nerves, I also deal with sharp shooting pains out of nowhere. Sometimes they’re in my head but they can be in my hands, arms, legs, and stomach. It can be as slight as a needle prick or as intense as child labor. And blackouts happen but I think you all get the point. Diabetes ain’t no punk bitch, especially when it’s associated with stress.
There’s no way I should be able to sit here and tell anyone that stress can kill you with my A1C and glucose levels consistently being what they are. I’m a walking anomaly and maybe I’m still here to help someone else by sharing this information. So, make sure you manage your stress or it will definitely lead to what takes you out to pasture.
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CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS/PITCHES:
The month of May covers Lupus Awareness. Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that's rarely easy to diagnose, extremely challenging to treat and live with, and currently has no cure. We are encouraging people to gain a better understanding of this illness so we're accepting submissions/pitches from people who have it, and those who have family members/friends who've had it or currently living with it. True understanding opens the door for compassion and empathy and with any chronic illness, this is always necessary. This is what we hope to achieve with your stories.
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