It was the middle of the night, and I woke up covered in sweat, feeling confused and disoriented.
Making my way to the kitchen to call 911, I saw my testing kit and decided to check my blood sugar levels.
It’s wasn’t a heart attack; it was a hypoglycemic episode, which is what happens when someone’s blood sugar levels are drastically low. This happened as a result of a lapse in managing my diabetes.
This was the moment I knew I needed to change my life.
Where it all began
Nine years earlier, I had been diagnosed with prediabetes. At the time, I was unfamiliar with the condition, and I didn’t fully understand the risks that came along with this news.
Prediabetes, which affects nearly 6 million Canadians, means that a person’s blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough for a type 2 diabetes diagnosis.
My doctor told me that if I didn’t manage my condition, type 2 could be in my future. But I didn’t feel any different, and wasn’t experiencing any noticeable symptoms, so this warning didn’t spur me to take any action.
Besides feeling fine, I was nervous to acknowledge my prediabetes outright for another reason. Working in a competitive corporate environment, the last thing I wanted would have been to appear weak. I was driven to be successful and was worried that if my colleagues knew that I was living with prediabetes, I would be judged, and they might assume I couldn’t keep up with the demands of our industry.
Instead of acting, I continued to focus on my career and my family commitments, thinking that if I just focused my attentions on being successful at work and at home, everything would work out.
My unexpected wake-up call
Of course, ignoring my prediabetes did nothing to help me. It did just the opposite. Four years after that first diagnosis, my doctor informed me that I was now living with type 2 diabetes. With type 2, the body either doesn’t produce enough insulin or can’t properly use the insulin it does produce, and as a result, blood sugar levels can’t be controlled by the body.
I now knew that I needed to manage my condition, but I still didn’t do enough.
It wasn’t until that fateful night, with my testing kit in hand, that reality truly set in.
That was the moment I fully realized that, try as I might to ignore my condition, it wasn’t going to disappear. Not only that, but during all that time, nine years after my initial diagnosis, I had been putting myself at more and more risk of additional complications. In fact, while I was disregarding my condition and not managing my diabetes adequately, my kidney function had been severely impacted.
The toll of diabetes
When not properly managed, type 2 diabetes can have severe health consequences. High blood sugar levels can lead to a number health risks. For me, my kidney functioning was impacted during years of unmanaged blood sugar levels. Other complications can also include leg and foot problems, eye disease and higher risk of heart attack and stroke.
For people living with type 2, like me, controlling blood sugars is an ongoing task. On top of that, treatment options come with their own complexities, so understanding benefits and risks is a key part of a successful health plan.
For example, I take insulin to manage my diabetes, which works well for me in controlling my blood sugar levels. But hypoglycemia is also a common side effect of insulin. I remember how frightened I was that night, waking up and realizing something was wrong, sweating heavily and thinking I was having a heart attack. After testing my blood sugar and realizing it was low, I ate a piece of cake, tested myself again, and saw my levels going up. At the time, I didn’t even realize I was experiencing a hypoglycemic event. That’s why it’s so important to learn about the benefits, but also potential side effects, of available treatments.
Managing type 2 diabetes takes hard work and commitment. But with help from your healthcare team, the condition can be controlled, with the right treatments, a healthy diet and exercise.
Spreading the word
Now, my approach to diabetes couldn’t be more different. I’ve taken it upon myself to learn as much as I can about the disease, and I do all I can to help others learn and take action, too.
I hold the position of Advocacy Chair for Diabetes Canada BC/Yukon. I speak about my experience with diabetes, and I advocate for strategic partnerships to improve access to care and treatment for those with the condition. I also recently shared my story in a new book: In Your Own Words: Reflections on living with diabetes.
Knowing what I know now, I understand the importance of speaking up about diabetes. I know firsthand how dangerous it can be if diabetes goes unmanaged. Canadians need to feel empowered to ask their doctor, their family and their peers for support. Doing so might just save your life.
With 11 million Canadians living with prediabetes or diabetes, people need to know that they aren’t alone with their condition, and need to know that they can live their best life with diabetes. It’s never too early to act—trust me, your life will be all the better for it.