Did you have any sense that you were unwell, before being diagnosed?
There were signs, but I guess I didn’t realise that I could actually feel better. I was eating an enormous amount of food. I would eat a full meal, then feel like I could eat the same again. I was always hungry and thirsty, too. I just put it down to working in hospitality and not getting normal meal breaks. Sometimes when I ate food, I had this weird sensation. It was like I could feel the food hitting my bloodstream. I also had this numbness in my two big toes for ages, but I thought it was probably because I’m always on my feet at work, or maybe just that my shoes weren’t so great. But the day after I was diagnosed, I took my medications for the first time and the tingling stopped immediately.
When did you start thinking that diabetes might be causing your symptoms?
I didn’t want to think about it at all. The first person to suggest that I might have diabetes was my foster mum, who is a nurse. I went to visit her at the end of 2009 and she thought I had pre-diabetes, or that maybe I already had diabetes. I didn’t want to have diabetes, so I ignored her. I was a bit naive. About a year later, my partner noticed how much I was eating and drinking, and encouraged me to see a doctor.
So a doctor diagnosed you quickly?
Well, not exactly. I didn’t have any confidence in the first doctor I saw. They said I had type 2, but I decided to get a second opinion. Then, of course, the second doctor also said I had type 2. I very reluctantly said, ‘Okay, I guess you must be right.’
Did you have any family history of diabetes?
I’m adopted, so that has always been an issue when I’ve gone to doctors and they’ve asked about my family’s medical history. At first, I didn’t know anything about my biological family’s health, but then last year, I found my biological mother. She has type 2, so there is a clear genetic link.
How did you react to your diagnosis?
Looking back, I wasn’t happy to hear that I had diabetes from anyone – not from my foster mum, my partner or a doctor. I was only 27 and I really didn’t want to have a chronic illness. I didn’t want to be different from anyone else – I didn’t feel ready for it. Part of me was in denial, but another part of me was terrified and really angry about it all.
I had a massive argument with my foster mum. I remember her saying to me, ‘It’s not a death sentence’, and I yelled back at her, ‘Right now it feels like one!’ Then I went to get my medication from the pharmacist for the first time and he said, ‘You’ll be on this for the rest of your life.’ That annoyed me and I thought, ‘I really don’t need to hear that right now.’ It was all so overwhelming, having to go the pharmacist and the podiatrist, the dietitian, the optometrist and a diabetes educator. You get all of these potential complications shoved down your throat straightaway. I was like, ‘Holy crap!’
How do you feel about living with diabetes now?
After realising that I could continue going down the denial path and get really sick, or be well aware of it and feel healthy, things have become so much better. I certainly feel healthier. While I’m on medication, I don’t use insulin. I just focus on exercise and controlling my food intake. Having diabetes has also given me a whole lot of opportunities that I wouldn’t have otherwise had. I was a young ambassador for Diabetes Australia and I went to the World Diabetes Conference in 2014. I was the only one in my group with type 2 and I found that many participants had preconceived ideas about people with type 2 being lazy and fat. Because of the stigma, many people with type 2 are unwilling to talk about it, but I’m happy to stand up and try to break down those ideas.
You’ve also become a type 2 guru on social media…
Six months after I was diagnosed, I was introduced to dietitian Ashley Ng. She was involved with a Twitter account called @OzDiabetesOC, where people discuss all things about diabetes. I didn’t know anything about Twitter at first, but through it I’ve learned so much. I found it much better than having health professionals telling me what to do. Each week, we introduce ourselves and the moderator asks questions and we all tweet answers back, so it becomes a conversation. I’ve been lucky enough to meet about 15 of the people who use @OzDiabetesOC and they’ve become my friends in real life. Ashley and I now run a Facebook group (facebook.com/groups/youngadultswithdiabetes) so that young people with type 2 have a safe place to talk and ask questions. Having something relevant for younger people is so important.