Integrated Diabetes Services is truly fortunate. We have the unique ability to work with people living with diabetes all over the world. Everyone we work with offers new insight into life with diabetes, and we all learn something new each time we visit via skype or phone. All of these people are at a different place in their life with diabetes – maybe newly diagnosed, or perhaps living with diabetes for a long time already. Each person’s story is personal. This month, our guest blogger is Conor Smith who shares his personal feelings about diagnosis and life with diabetes.
OK….I admit it. I am a Type A super competitive and somewhat obsessive person. I like to feel like I am in control at all times and really like winning. So, when this Type 1 diabetes thing came my way it sure did throw me for a loop. This time it’s personal! Here is my story.
I am a 41-year-old active person who has been very fortunate to be blessed with a beautiful wife, two young boys and a fulfilling and successful career. Life was grooving along nicely, and then diabetes happened. At the ripe age of 40 I was diagnosed with Adult Onset Type 1 diabetes. I had all of the usual symptoms: weight loss, fatigue, frequent trips to the boys’ room. Of course, I never thought it could be diabetes; certainly not Type 1. I thought I was just working too hard and needed to eat more to keep up with my exercise. I was originally diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, however given my profile this didn’t seem to pass my smell test. I promptly marched on down to Johns Hopkins to see a wonderful endocrinologist who quickly surmised that I wasn’t Type 2 and ordered the necessary tests to confirm his suspicion. He was correct, and in addition to being Type A , I was now Type 1. I guess that makes me Type A1!
After going through a period of denial, sadness, and fear I dusted myself off and decided I was going to take charge and learn everything possible about this disease and how people manage it successfully. I completely immersed myself in the topic and read everything I could get my hands on. It was truly a crash course. Two books made a real impact on me and I was fortunate to meet the men who wrote them. The first, Diabetes Solution, was written by Dr. Richard Bernstein, a person with Type 1 diabetes. Dr. Bernstein is a strong advocate for a low carb diet, keeping your A1 C levels in the 4.5 range at all times and only using multiple daily injections to do so. Dr. Bernstein makes a compelling case for his methodologies, so much so that I went to visit him in his private practice for three days. First, I would like to say he is a very nice and gracious man who is very passionate about treating diabetes. That being said, those three days were some of the longest and darkest of my life. Again, I am a very motivated individual but I found myself completely overwhelmed by Dr. Bernstein’s program. I was so full of fear that if I didn’t follow it and keep my blood sugars at a steady 85 at all times I would be on the path to devastating complications. After three days of tests and consultations I was completely overwhelmed and filled with tremendous fear and anxiety.
The second book I read was Think Like a Pancreas by the one and only Gary Scheiner. Not only is this book practical and full of information you can immediately put to use, it is written in a way that makes the user feel good about themselves. It reminded me that I am still the same person I was before diabetes and the disease doesn’t define me. The book also made me realize that there are MANY people in the world doing just great for themselves who are eating more than 30 carbs a day and have A1C’s higher than 4.5%. I just had to meet this man in person and when I did and began working with Gary and Jennifer Smith (both of whom also have Type 1 diabetes themselves) I realized quickly I was truly at a crossroads. This is where it gets personal.
Diabetes is personal disease that we all have to manage. Like anything in life, no two people are the same and we all have so many different factors, influences and biases that make us who we are. We have to get as much information about our circumstances and then choose a path that we feel will help us meet our goals and live the life we desire. I did some deep soul-searching and my personal decision was that I want to live a life of possibilities and continue to do the things I have always enjoyed doing because diabetes doesn’t have to hold me back. I want to continue to run, bike, have a successful career, travel and enjoy all of the pleasures of life, including food. In fact, I want to accomplish things in my 40’s with diabetes that I couldn’t in my 30’s without it!
After spending the first eight months after diagnosis on multiple daily injections, the tools in my diabetes toolbox are now an OmniPod pump and a Dexcom G4 Continous Glucose Monitor, or CGM. I was somewhat anxious to make the leap to using both, but with help and support from Gary’s company Integrated Diabetes and my endocrinologist I couldn’t be happier. I went on the CGM first and I just couldn’t imagine managing my diabetes without it. The OmniPod has been flat-out awesome and I don’t even think I have scratched the surface on just how much it can help me manage my diabetes. I am learning something new everyday. Both devices have been invaluable to me and really enable me to take my active lifestyle to the next level.
In terms of my diet, if I had to put a label on it I would say it most closely resembles the Mediterranean diet with a splash of Paleo. I am still doing trial and error with a bunch of foods and I guess I always will be. My diet mostly consists of lean meats and seafood, colorful veggies (no starch), tart fruits (mostly berries), nuts, legumes, some cheese, and some low glycemic grains and breads mixed in on occasion. My wife makes the most wonderful sugar-free, low carb desserts and treats! Jennifer has been such an amazing resource for me with my diet and expanding my horizons to support my active lifestyle while still achieving my blood sugar management goals. I am currently eating anywhere from 100 to 175 carbs per day depending on the intensity of my exercise. This is a major increase from the 30 to 35 carbs per day I was eating on the Dr. Bernstein diet. For the most part I have been able to keep my blood sugars very stable but I am still learning for sure. Again, I guess I always will be.
My message is not that Integrated Diabetes is better for you than Dr. Bernstein, or any other clinician or program for that matter. Dr. Bernstein has many loyal followers who swear by him and his methods. The treatment plan and support team you choose is a personal decision. What I am here to state is that we all have to educate ourselves and choose a program and support team that is flexible and can support your lifestyle and what is important to YOU. A good doctor or clinician treats the disease. A great doctor or clinician treats the patient.
My personal choice is to live life to the fullest and know that diabetes doesn’t have to get in my way. I am blessed to have found a support team in Integrated Diabetes that works with me in a personal and flexible way for me to achieve my goals. They do this without judgment: they care for me as a complete person.
Yep, this time it’s personal and I am now in a very good place.
Conor Smith is a person with type 1 diabetes who is President of The BOSS Group and founder of Active on Insulin, which is the Philadelphia affiliate of Insulindependence.org. Conor lives in the Philadelphia area with his wife and two young boys. You can follow Conor on Twitter @activeoninsulin.