I went from “I can’t walk” to “I’m cycling to Paris”
12:25pm on 1st September 2016 and it is time to reflect and pen down the last year with type 1 diabetes and the next four days as I aim to cycle from London to Paris with 28 other brave souls who have accepted this challenge for various reasons that hopefully I will learn about.
The sheer fact that I am sitting on this train, feeling this healthy is an achievement in itself. Why do I say that?
Two years ago, I first got diagnosed with hypothyroidism and even though my numbers were stable, I never felt 100 percent and this lead to my health degrading slowly over days and months which eventually forced me to stop playing cricket and even walking to work became an issue (I had to stop three to five times during a 20-minute walk).As the situation degraded further, the doctors had no clue what was going on and eventually I had to pack up and leave for India.
Looking back at some of my blood sugar values across a period of six months scares the hell out of me. All those nights of cramps, sweat, thirst and more cramps. A statement from my diabetes nurse at our first appointment comes to mind—“Mr Sharma looking at your numbers, I am surprised you are here to tell your tale and not in the hospital’s emergency ward.”
Fast forward to 21st October 2015, with an HbA1C of 14.4 percent (The scales did not go that high to signify risk to health) and my confirmed diagnosis of type 1 diabetes. I remember coming out of the hospital with all sorts of new devices, insulin pens and needles etc., having had a 40-minute crash course on all that involves diabetes. I was expected to know how to inject myself multiple times and do various blood tests just to survive.
Is it scary? Yes. And overwhelming. And depressing. (sometimes.) But when I came home from the hospital, the survival instincts kicked in. The first thing I did was to go on the internet and learn as much as I could about type 1 diabetes where I found a parallel universe that I previously had known nothing about. Since then, I have met people online from every continent living and defeating diabetes every day with their actions.
The fact that type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease and I could have done nothing to avoid it became a turning point in how I thought about it.
Two days into taking insulin with no clue of what was to come next, I signed up for a three-day event cycling from London to Paris in September 2016. At the time I had lost significant weight, had no muscle definition, was still struggling to walk, had no confidence and most importantly, I did not even own a bike (What was I thinking?! #Madness.)
But before I could start planning—a decision had to be made about how to approach life with type 1. Having given it some thought the decision was to be open and not hide anything and fight back with everything I have.
As soon as I became vocal about it, the support I received was unreal and for which I am thankful every day. People took out time for me and went above and beyond to help me get back on track.
The plan was simple…
- Take baby steps.
- Get comfortable with managing diabetes.
- Use analytics to understand trends and adapt diet where needed.
- Buy a bike and everything I would need to get training started.
- Evaluate health every weekend and listen to my body.
- Identify signs for blood sugar going low or high.
- Listen to the people around you (I am surrounded at work by mad cyclists).
- Don’t get competitive (very hard for me).
- Enjoy the journey and trust the plan.
- Rest is as important as training and pushing the body to its limit.
It look a few months to go from doing 20-30 minutes spin classes at home to riding outdoors for 8-10km to eventually over six months being comfortable riding around a 100+km in one outing.
With over 400 million people (1 in 11) around the world suffering from diabetes (90 percent are type 2 and the rest a mix of type 1, pregnancy-related diabetes and other). 46 percent of that population are still undiagnosed and the overall number is expected to rise to 700+ million by 2040.
If 90 percent are type 2 cases that are related more to lifestyle choices, making better decisions around eating healthy and losing a bit of weight, it could go a long way to make some changes. It could also save billions of dollars that are being spent to manage diabetes and related health issues. JUST DECIDE AND GET GOING—trust me prevention is better than living with the health risks.
Read “You Have the Sugars”—Being Diagnosed with Diabetes in India by Siddarth Sharma.