I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2016, when I was 25 years old, just as my legal career was taking off. Initially, it took some convincing for me to get myself tested as I was in denial. After all, I thought diabetes only affected the elderly, but boy was I wrong!
The symptoms of diabetes, as I have learned, can seem very subtle. I was always feeling thirsty, so I drank more water during office hours. As a result, I was heading for the loo more often. Little did I know then that feeling thirsty and frequent urination are symptoms of diabetes.
In hindsight, my risk profile was pretty outstanding too — both parents (and a grandparent) are diabetic, I was overweight, made no time to exercise, did a fair bit of stress eating, and had polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). So, on one hand, it seemed like it was only a matter of time, but on the other, I did not expect to get diabetes at 25!
How I Felt
Friends and family, out of concern, were saying that they were sorry to hear the news. Heck, I felt sorry for myself. Coming from others, it sounded to me (and as dramatic as it sounds) more like “I’m sorry (for your loss of a life).” I appreciate that it always came from a well-meaning place. However, I felt very isolated. I didn’t know any other person of my age with diabetes. While I would never wish it upon my friends and family, I wish I had peers who could relate to what I was going through.
My favorite reaction came from a dear friend, who instead asked, “What did the doctor say? How can we fix it?”, “Would you like some dessert? I will share it with you.” She even got me to sign up for a gym membership to get me moving. Her reaction made me feel more hopeful, less lonely, and more motivated to take action.
How I Managed
From then on, lifestyle changes have been inevitable. Medication (Metformin) twice a day, I have to watch what I eat with more scrutiny, and have since rediscovered my love for running. I still have the occasional slice of cake (albeit a smaller one). The more I learned and understood the disease, the more hopeful I felt, which in turn helped me cope better. Now, I am happy to say that my blood sugars are well-managed and I feel like a completely different person.
I learned that diabetes is not a death sentence. The large number of diabetics in this world also means that many live with it, and many even thrive despite it, but only if they decide to do something about it. It has only been about 5 years since the diagnosis, but I have learned so much about the disease and I continue to learn something new about it every day.
As of 2019, 1 in 5 Malaysian adults (about 3.9 million people) have diabetes, but there is still little awareness about the disease. I have set up an Instagram account (@insu.nin) to raise awareness about diabetes, share my experiences and connect with others. If I can just prompt one person to be aware (and take early action), feel less lonely, less misunderstood, then it is all worth it.
I also learned that when someone delivers news of diagnosis (on any illness- visible or otherwise), especially in the early stages, we need to bear in mind that accepting it, in itself, can be a struggle. Lend them your strength, while they are finding their own.