culture,  Diabetes,  Health

Everything I Thought I Knew About Diabetes Was Wrong

Did you know diabetes mellitus is a term for a group of disorders that cause elevated blood sugar (aka glucose) levels in the body? Known by it’s first name, diabetes is a chronic (aka long-lasting) condition that affects how your body turns food into energy. Glucose is a critical source of energy for your brain, muscles, and tissues.

When you eat, your body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose (sugar) which is released into your bloodstream. This triggers the pancreas to release a hormone called insulin. Insulin acts as a “key” that allows glucose to enter the cells from the blood. If your body doesn’t produce enough insulin to effectively manage glucose, it can’t function or perform properly. This produces the symptoms of diabetes.

Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to serious complications by damaging blood vessels and organs. It can increase the risk of: heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, nerve damage, eye disease

Nutrition and exercise can help manage diabetes, but it’s also important to track blood glucose levels. Treatment may include taking insulin or other medications.

Diabetes and Food Memories of Mom

My mom was a diabetic. I don’t remember when she was diagnosed, but she would have been in her early or mid-thirties. I do remember watching her shoot insulin into her belly. That’s pretty much all I remember. Oh, and she was a drinker. Not too heavy, but she loved beer and now that I look back, her mood swings could have indicated some habitual drunkenness. She also enjoyed drugs and sweets. Memories of Mom’s baked goods still bring joy. When she threw together caramel cake with icing, banana pudding, and sweet potato pie from scratch, I would literally stand transfixed at her elbow peering under her arm or looking over her shoulder as time went by. Normally, I don’t claim regrets, but my greatest regret in life is that I didn’t get my mom to write down her recipes. Watching her cook and bake was not the same as having written instructions.

In the fourth grade I had my first Home Economics class – remember those? I still have Dotty, the stuffed animal I sewed that year. We learned to make French toast and vanilla pudding from scratch. There were many other dishes, but these were my favorites. Mom allowed me to make French toast and other simple dishes for the family on weekends. When I was fifteen, I took it upon myself to gift my mom and siblings with caramel cake. I threw flour, sugar, milk and eggs into a bowl and baked a brick. Mom was by nature laid back and easy-going person. A super pleasant and beautiful soul, truly. One of the few times I was the target of her rage was when she woke from a nap and saw that I had “wasted” so much of her precious baking ingredients. Desperately, but to no avail, I explained that I did not “waste” her flour, sugar, eggs, milk, precious vanilla extract and whatever else I tossed into the mixing bowl, I was baking her a cake. She stomped and screamed as she pulled my brick from the oven and tossed it on the counter. Truly bewildered, I didn’t understand why she didn’t appreciate my initiative and desire to bake one of our favorite deserts.

Today I understand. Today I can hang my head at my obtuseness. But I still wish she would have fussed and then shown me how to make her fabulous caramel cake. As far back as I can remember, Mom had worked several jobs at a time. The pride of her life was being able to say she provided for her family without government assistance. However, we were extremely poor financially. Everything, especially food, was precious. I knew that. Understood it. But that day, I didn’t consider it a waste to attempt to emulate my mother. She died a few years later and I have no other memories of trying to cook or bake her dishes. Since she’s been gone, I’ve asked relatives if they know how she cooked her banana pudding, sweet potato pie, caramel cake, turkey dressing, potato salad, pinto beans, chicken noodle soup or any of the foods that brought me comfort and joy during my childhood. No one knows. My mom cooked by taste, sight and feel. She was self-taught and as the eldest of eight children, everyone enjoyed her cooking, but no one could duplicate the magic.

This is all I knew about diabetes growing up: My mom had it. She had to take insulin. She also smoke, drank and did drugs. Subliminally, diabetes wasn’t a big deal.

Food as Comfort and Love

I’ve long known that food is my comfort. Certain foods remind me of home and love. Until the writing of this post, I hadn’t connected my “sweet tooth” to what my mom’s deserts and home cooked meals represented to me. For most of my adult life, I’ve attempted to recreate the taste, texture and feel of my favorite foods. This has led to baking becoming one of my favorite pastimes. I still haven’t mastered caramel cake but I’m closing in on an excellent caramel icing. My sweet potato pie is gift worthy and has been has been requested during the holidays, as have my staple sweet potato dishes. I haven’t attempted banana pudding from scratch again, but it’s on the to do list.

So… just as I’m coming into my stride as a baker, I get diagnosed as a diabetic during an intense DKA episode. I was sick, but didn’t know I was a diabetic so I was cooking and baking peach cobbler, caramel cake, banana bread and similar yummies to make myself feel better. In my ignorance, I was killing myself. Despite having a diabetic mother, brother and grandmother and since my diagnosis learning, five of my maternal uncles have diabetes, I knew nothing of the signs or symptoms common to the disease.

I Knew Nothing

Honestly, despite having a mother who had to use insulin daily and a brother whose death was inconclusive because he was a diabetic who had drugs and alcohol in his system when he was beaten to death, I knew nothing about the mechanics or practical requirements of diabetes. Both of my grandmothers fought chronic illness for most of my life. Yet I can’t tell you the sum of their illnesses or how their lives are impacted by each disease or how likely it is that I’ve already developed the same diseases or will soon do so. Disease isn’t talked about on either side of my family as something that is avoidable or even treatable to good health. There’s a resignation to disease with my people. So much so that it’s a side note or conversational add-on.

Quick Facts from CDC.gov

  • More than 34 million people in the United States have diabetes, and 1 in 5 of them don’t know they have it.
  • More than 88 million US adults—over a third—have prediabetes, and more than 84% of them don’t know they have it.
  • Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the United States (and may be underreported).
  • Type 2 diabetes accounts for approximately 90% to 95% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes; type 1 diabetes accounts for approximately 5-10%.
  • In the last 20 years, the number of adults diagnosed with diabetes has more than doubled as the American population has aged and become more overweight or obese. [https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/quick-facts.html]

What is Diabetes?

Closeup of dictionary page showing definition of diabetes

With diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use it as well as it should.

Diabetes is a chronic (long-lasting) health condition that affects how your body turns food into energy.

Most of the food you eat is broken down into sugar (also called glucose) and released into your bloodstream. When your blood sugar goes up, it signals your pancreas to release insulin. Insulin acts like a key to let the blood sugar into your body’s cells for use as energy.

If you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use the insulin it makes as well as it should. When there isn’t enough insulin or cells stop responding to insulin, too much blood sugar stays in your bloodstream. Over time, that can cause serious health problems, such as heart diseasevision loss, and kidney disease.

There isn’t a cure yet for diabetes, but losing weight, eating healthy food, and being active can really help. Taking medicine as needed, getting diabetes self-management education and support, and keeping health care appointments can also reduce the impact of diabetes on your life.

There are three main types of diabetes: prediabetes, type 1type 2, and gestational diabetes (diabetes while pregnant).

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Sources: CDC.gov and Healthline.com, American Diabetes Association

 

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