Hello! Who are you? And tell us a little bit more about your diabetes.
Hey everyone! My name is Vinita Sethuraman. I’m 25 years old and currently living in Mumbai, India. I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes during my teens and ever since began my journey with understanding diabetes.
I have been a type 2 diabetic for over 6+ years now working as a graphic designer during the day and a Postcrossing illustrator on the weekends. I like to listen to songs with poetic meaning and am often lost visualizing them, hoping someday I can be an art director. In an alternate universe, I would like to be a polyglot who happens to be a kick-ass dancer.
A major chunk of my diagnosis was misinformation and denial. While doctors were confused and assumed me to be type 1 (due to my age being 17). Once I was labeled as type 2, I was no different than a 60-year-old man with the illness. Pop pills, don’t eat ‘things’ and that was it! No counseling or any nutrition management was provided. My parents were equally shocked and were also clueless about how to manage the situation. They are diabetics themselves, but one major stigma in India is how lightly people take type 2 diabetes – Pop a pill, drink Ayurveda juice and you shall be cured. So nothing was monitored – Be it food, sugars, testing, or medication.
With friends, I would tell them I am diabetic but I myself had no idea how different I was and often tried to fit in the ‘normal’. A funny incident was how a friend assumed only ‘sugar’ causes diabetes and how it’s fine for me to have a milkshake at McDonald’s. Anyone I would try to seek help from was equally misinformed. I was also encouraged not to be vocal in fear of societal stigma and being answerable to relatives, thus being judged. This just made me ignore my diabetes, even more, trick my sugars a week before my tests and avoid self-educating myself until it became bad. So I lived a dual life – A ‘normal’ girl who liked to eat everything and a dark person suffering to learn more about herself and seek help.
I would say my initial few years were ignorance but as I went to college in another city, I slowly started questioning everything, I started getting a little vocal to the people there, talking with my parents more candidly, and finding the right doctor who could direct my management. Years of skipping and constant high A1C’s made me develop more problems which became my wake-up call. I started working on my final year college diploma project to be around diabetes which made me read-up more, learn more, find support systems, and finally ‘understand’ what the condition is and what I had been doing to myself. It was my eureka moment of facing myself.
Currently, I manage my sugars with a balanced diet with minimal cheats, simple workouts via youtube, and taking oral pills of Metformin along with regular home testing. The other way is by venting out to fellow dia-buddies I made along my way and constantly educating myself about nutrition.
The hardest part of my diagnosis was that everyone knew what diabetes is but no one knew what it does. For many, it was just a bi-product of old age or lifestyle only. For me financially was a point too, but the major stake was mental. The constant high medication prescribed and conflicting pressure to be ‘normal’ made me hate them. I ignored it to a point, I started rejecting pills and often skipping them. I would binge eat sweets and fried snacks and skip medications in spite of going into deep hypers. As soon as the honeymoon period got done, I would have very strong side effects. I would pass out sleeping for 2-3 hours during the day with no realization, would be dazed and very irritated which soon made me develop anxiety. The pills weren’t cheap too. All diabetic medications, at the high dosages, are very expensive. So to not make my parents feel guilty, I would lie about taking them and just throw them away. They were already spending so much on me. Without any proper consultation or support systems, it became a blind game where no one knew what was going on and what really needed attention.
Another mental crossroads was – “What am I?” I wasn’t T1 so I couldn’t relate there and neither did I resonate with the elderly T2s. I kept feeling rejected everywhere and talking about this to my friends was a major disconnect because no one really got my struggles. For all my doctor visits, I would be the only young girl while everyone would stare the moment my name was called as the ‘patient’. I started to question everything including the possibility of MODY, but the test costing is not feasible in India and if the treatment provided is working, even doctors don’t test for it.
Finding fellow juvenile T2s gave a lot of mental rest. It’s still something I work towards by making a platform for juvenile T2. Now that I earn and manage all my diabetic supplements myself, I can feel the strain of all my pill bills and doctor tests. Consciously, I am now working to lower my dosages and optimize where I have to spend.
“I am bigger than my ups and downs.”
How do you treat your diabetes, did a lot change over the past years and are you able to manage it well?
My biggest support was online communities and my friends. Though they would not understand, they would still ask and try to understand in spite of not really getting the situation well. Lending a listening ear made things easy, especially by my roommate from college who still patiently listens to me whine! (Thank you for always being there, Kodu)
On the medical side, I have had treatments from many doctors but the one that stayed, is my current endocrinologist, Dr. Ameya Joshi. He told me I could get off medicines and helped me get all the support he could offer. He also encouraged my projects on diabetic education during my final year in college. Meeting him is like meeting a friend you visit 2 times a year due to busy schedules. I also have a close-nit of diabetics who we lovingly call ourselves as Dia-bit*hes.
To treat my diabetes I take different combinations of oral medications. One of them being Metformin and I use a glucometer from Accu-check for regular home testing. Along with these, I use 2 apps – Healthify Me to log my food details and track calories, and Mysugr to see my sugar progress. The oral medications are Allopathic (Metformin) and home herbal remedies like fenugreek water. Before that, I tried different versions and dosages of Metformin and other cholesterol-reducing drugs.
Indeed, a lot changed over the past years since my diagnosis! Diabetes took a lot from me in my teen years. It put me into a dark zone. My weight gain never made me confident and my pride in functioning with high sugars only made me mentally weak inside. But what it gave me back was much larger. It gave me the ability to question, research, and learn with instincts.
It made me aware of what I feel and understand my emotions. It made me more independent and mature in understanding people and pain. I have now started consciously working out and even that has impacted my relationship with my sugars. I am still not 100% dedicated and often slip off, but what diabetes tells me is to never give up. It is after all a marathon and not a race to live with. On the downside, I end up policing what others eat, if not vocally but in my head. But I am learning to turn my diabetic brain off for others while I take it easy occasionally on myself as well.
I believe I manage diabetes pretty well. If I had to rate myself from 1-10, I would give myself a nice 6 now. I’m still a long way in following strict meals and doing intensive workouts but I have now overcome my fear of medications and do my best to be consistent in whatever I can do if not the ideal best.
Can you recognize the symptoms of a low/high blood sugar? Do you test often and can you tell a bit more about your experiences with low blood sugar?
Yes, I can recognize them. My symptoms majorly are for hypers. I experience a very mild to irritating headache. If it’s a sudden spike, due to consuming a lot of bread/heavy outside food, I tend to lose consciousness and get into a deep sleep for 2-3 hours and usually can’t snap out of it. Earlier, I used to have high sugars constantly, so my headaches used to be consistent and it slowly transitioned to being extremely emotional and developing anxiety. Now that I have gained better control, most of my headache is gone but on the downside, if I consume something heavy on carbs, I experience bloating and headaches easily.
Hypos have been very rare. In such situations, I feel weak in my knees and feel uneasy to the point things may slowly start spinning. But many times, I treat them before it gets worse.
During my diagnosis, the only time I would check my blood sugar was before my doctor visits. Currently, I check at least 2 times a day baring some days when I follow something exactly to my diet.
As a type 2 diabetic, I have fewer hypos in relation to hypers. In case of a hypo attack, I usually have Gluco tabs with me all the time that can be dissolved in water or can be sucked on if I am conscious. If at home, I usually take a spoonful of sugar or jaggery.
I haven’t fainted yet due to low blood sugar, but once I had a very heavy carb meal which put my body into a state of shock making my sugars crash rapidly to 60 mg/dl. I was out with my friends at the outskirts of my college premises and suddenly felt weak on my knees. Since it was not something that was often, I didn’t have my kit with me to check or treat my hypo. Luckily, I had my friends with me and they got me a cup of tea at a local shop. With their help, I slowly walked back to campus and checked my sugars, only to see it drop to 58! I soon fell asleep and woke up to 120. To this date, I still haven’t been able to decode the incident.
Food and diet
How does your diabetes affect your eating and do you find being on a diet restrictive?
Currently, I have 3 macro meals and 3 micro meals, mostly local Indian cuisine.
- Pre-breakfast (Around 7:30 am) – Herbal Kaada or Fenugreek seed water + 2 Walnuts
- Breakfast (Around 9 am) – Multigrain bread with egg whites, Muesli with nuts, or traditional Indian breakfast like Poha, Upma, Idlis, Dosa, Cheela, etc.
- Lunch (Around 1:30 pm) – 2 Multigrain Roti/Chappati with Vegetable curry made commonly for everyone at home + 1 cup of Curd/Dal. Some days I have a rice substitute called Lapsi.
- Dinner (Around 8:00 pm) – Same as lunch except for only 1 roti. On weekends, I make whole wheat pasta with lots of veggies.
I can enjoy a lot of food that has chicken or mainly are vegetarian options. In healthy options, I love some Hummus, Cheela (Vegetarian omelet), well-made eggs, and a healthy sandwich. If I could not think and eat then it would be Chinese takeouts, Shawarma, Hyderabadi Biryani, Cheesy lasagne, Fried eggplant, and French fries!
I eat snacks in between my meals! I have a pre-breakfast drink to kickstart the day. My other 3 mid meals are;
- Around 11 am – A handful of Roasted channa + Toned Milk coffee (1/2 cup)
- Around 4 pm – A cup of Toned milk tea with masala + Mix seeds
- Around 7 pm (occasionally) – A cup of sauteed cottage cheese (Paneer)/Tofu/Soya chunks/Egg but sometimes, this gets added to dinner.
- Around 10 pm – Half a cup of Tumeric milk
Since I don’t have any insulin in my treatment, I usually try to lower the quantity of the next meal or make sure to walk/workout the next day.
I drink lots of water. I have always been a heavy consumer of water and can easily finish up to 2-3 liter of water in a day.
Being on diet is restrictive to me. Diets always draw boundaries over what we consume and cut us off from what we can enjoy. I would rather learn the art of portion control and self-control and enjoy everything than completely shun away from a cuisine experience in the name of a ‘diet boundary’. My personal goal is to stay fit and happy then just lose weight and have just perfect numbers.
If someone asked me 5 years ago if I would be annoyed if people ask me about food that I can or can’t eat, I would say yes. But now, I either let it slip, eat what I want or if the person is willing, educate them briefly on letting me do what I want. I do understand that the question comes from a place of concern or lack of understanding, but sometimes, we can lose our zen.
Do you believe that a plant based diet can improve diabetes? Did you ever experiment with this?
I believe so. While yes, I do consume chicken meals and eggs, 98% of my meals are only plant and grains-based. I have never felt any less by having vegetarian food and may also choose options like Soya chunks or Panner over chicken, based on the dish.
Do you have a hard time eating out in a restaurant? And what are you thoughts on making this easier?
My answer to this is yes and no. No, because you have pure plant-based options, but often they are coated in greasy sauces which may have corn starch or corn syrup. In such situations, I either try to eat more greens than starch hoping the fibers will help, or learn to portion control myself. Won’t say how successful this has been (clearly not), but adding rawer/non-deep fried veggies does help with the cheat meal a little.
I like to go out eating at any place. I personally avoid finger food places now because of the lack of variety but any family-style restaurant or food truck stalls work fine as far as they have vegetarian options.
“It’s a marathon, not a race.”
Exercise and work
Does your diabetes restrict you from exercise or your daily job?
I do minimal home workouts, 5 days a week. If I don’t have work calls, I try to add in a quick walk for an hour to the list.
I work as a full-time graphic designer and freelancing illustrator. The nature of my job, while certainly is creative, it’s very demanding to meet deadlines and client expectations. Sometimes, the time ticks by but I don’t have ideas thus making me stay up long hours and stress. I also primarily sit at my desk so it’s not a very active lifestyle for me. All of these affect my sugars, knowing or unknowingly. It’s playing in the dark. So to avoid being static and overloaded, I now try to make my own meals and split my workout into 2 parts to keep myself active throughout the day.
Do you have any positive or negative effects because of your diabetes?
To manage my diabetes better I read and engage with the online community! Reading other’s stories and research papers is something that keeps me on the ground
The worst part of having diabetes is just accepting it and changing the way I look at food.
The best part of having diabetes is being able to control my desire to food than the other way around and maturity to understand empathy.
Yes. As mentioned earlier, my diabetes does cause other problems. It made me develop anxiety and just made me lose my confidence and control of my emotions. With better control, these have also become manageable.
Yes, my religion and my current living location have negative impacts on my diabetes. A BIG yes. The stigma behind diabetes is huge in my community. People assume every bad thing in your life (medically) happens because of diabetes. While, yes, it not always the only cause. People also don’t test or take care and often think herbal alternatives ‘cure’ diabetes. People are also ignorant and don’t test as often with some cases being due to the cost of medical tests. People are not aware of the different types and what the treatment for diabetes does. It’s still stuck in the stigma – ‘Sugar is the cause of diabetes’.
What is the best advice that you can give to non-diabetics, new diagnosed diabetics and diabetics?
To be empathetic towards people dealing with diabetes. You may not understand us, and that’s fine, but all you can do is lend a listening ear or maybe read-up a little than blindly believe uncredited sources. Ask us politely, we don’t mind answering your doubts. Many times it may be from a place of concern but your words may hurt us. And yes, I can eat sugar. Also, my diabetes is definitely different from your grandma’s.
You are never alone. Be vocal, speak up, seek help if needed. We all are there for you and in case you are having a bad day, you are acing by just living life, so you can do it. If it can go low, it will go up too 🙂
What would you ask the other diabetics?
If you could make one cheat meal into a low-carb wonder dish, which one would it be and why?
Feel free to answer in the comments below.
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