Singapore Women's Weekly (Singapore) - - INSPIRE -

I thought my itch was due to PMS

“I did not sus­pect I had di­a­betes at all,” says Annabel Mid­dle­ton, 44. “I was about to go on a trip to the Philip­pines, but de­cided to see a doc­tor to get some cor­ti­sone cream as I had been suf­fer­ing from a gen­i­tal itch that just wouldn’t go away.” But the doc­tor how­ever, felt com­pelled to do a blood test on the spot and dis­cov­ered “my blood sugar was sky-high!” she says. This was nat­u­rally a shock to Annabel, who had un­til then at­trib­uted the itch to PMS (it had been go­ing on for some time).

There were signs

While one of the most prob­a­ble causes for her hav­ing di­a­betes could be a fam­ily his­tory – Annabel’s mother and ma­ter­nal and pa­ter­nal grand­moth­ers had di­a­betes, in­clud­ing aunts and un­cles from both sides – she re­gards her life­style as a ma­jor cat­a­lyst for its early on­set. Annabel, who is now a free­lance writer, was work­ing full-time in the pub­lish­ing in­dus­try at that time. Work stress and long hours were cou­pled with a va­ri­ety of ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties such as per­form­ing with sing­ing groups and church min­istries, leav­ing her with no time for “self-care”. Lack of me-time also meant mak­ing bad di­etary choices.

“I was tired and stressed all the time,” she says, at­tribut­ing it to just over­work. But, they were also warn­ing signs, which she did not re­alise un­til she was di­ag­nosed. “An­other thing that struck me only much later was that I had been rather ir­ri­ta­ble and snappy with the peo­ple around me. Again, I had at­trib­uted it to stress or my lack of pa­tience with in­ef­fi­cient peo­ple or in­ef­fec­tive work sys­tems. How­ever, I later dis­cov­ered that ir­ri­tabil­ity is one of the symp­toms of di­a­betes!”, she says.

Change in life­style

Her shock in dis­cov­er­ing she was a di­a­betic led to a de­ter­mi­na­tion to find­ing ways to cope. She read vo­ra­ciously on the sub­ject, and changed her life­style – “that meant test­ing my blood glu­cose lev­els be­fore and af­ter ev­ery meal, re­vamp­ing my diet and up­ping my ex­er­cise.” It was an ex­er­cise in math­e­mat­ics: “I had to fig­ure out what ‘one carb por­tion of 15 g’ meant for each type of food (for ex­am­ple: 15 g of carb = one por­tion = ½ an ap­ple = 2 tb­sps of rice = 6 squares of choco­late…).” She has since fig­ured out that her body can only ef­fi­ciently metabolise two or at most three carb por­tions.

Through time, Annabel has learnt to man­age the bal­ance, while also learn­ing to cut her­self some slack in case she slips up. “The most im­por­tant thing is that you get back on af­ter you slip up,” she as­serts. Di­a­betes has taught her not to take her body for granted.

“In a way, I have to thank di­a­betes for get­ting me back on track to­wards bet­ter health! If I had not had this ‘wake-up call’, I would not have done some­thing about the state of my health.

To­day, I feel much health­ier and fit­ter than when I was first di­ag­nosed!”

“My mum had di­a­betes but I never knew it was ge­netic or that I would need to watch my own diet and life­style,” says Pooja Jain, 40, who is a free­lance learn­ing de­signer. All she knew at that time was that her mother’s di­a­betes was a side ef­fect of the med­i­ca­tions she was tak­ing for some other ail­ments she had.

Al­though she found out she had di­a­betes when she was preg­nant, it wasn’t just ges­ta­tional di­a­betes, “as my doc­tor in­formed me, it was wait­ing to hap­pen and found preg­nancy as a ve­hi­cle to man­i­fest it­self”. Add to that was the fact that Pooja had a dif­fi­cult preg­nancy, which in­volved a few hos­pi­tal­i­sa­tions prior to de­liv­ery.

“Our fo­cus at that time was to fol­low the doc­tor’s ad­vice and not over­think any­thing,” she says “I stuck to the pre­scribed diet but since I was on com­plete bedrest, it was ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to man­age my blood sugar lev­els with diet alone. I had to be put on in­sulin in­jec­tions prior to ev­ery meal.” This meant tim­ing her meals and in­sulin shots, and care­fully watch­ing what, when and how much she ate, she says.

A learn­ing curve

Al­though Pooja strug­gled with be­ing over­weight, Dr Ben Ng at Mount El­iz­a­beth Spe­cial­ity Cen­ter told her that her di­a­betes was more a re­sult of her un­man­aged and un­tamed blood sugar lev­els and had less to do with her weight.

“The oral medicines he pre­scribed turned my life around. As you know, weight man­age­ment is a cru­cial part of fight­ing di­a­betes. His pre­scrip­tion helped me shed weight and start lead­ing an ac­tive life,” she says.

I started walk­ing ev­ery­where

Find­ing the bal­ance

“The big­gest chal­lenge was to keep a level mind and not get over­whelmed by the num­ber of changes re­quired to bring a sub­stan­tial change,” she says. It started with her diet – Pooja re­duced her por­tion sizes, which meant no pro­cessed foods and less carbs as well, and in­creased the fre­quency of her meals – this was com­ple­mented by prac­ti­cal ex­er­cise.

“I started walk­ing ev­ery­where. It was killing two birds with one stone: Get healthy and re­duce my car­bon foot­print. In­stead of tak­ing buses or taxis, I would walk to the the­atre, to the li­brary, to the mall… lit­er­ally, ev­ery­where. Places that were too far to walk, I cut them out of my to-do list,” she says.

As a re­sult, her fit­ness and en­ergy lev­els have in­creased and she has man­aged to bring down her blood glu­cose lev­els (Hba1c) from a whop­ping 9.5 to 6.7. But it’s a work in progress: ”Reg­u­lar health checks are a must. We women of­ten tend to rel­e­gate our needs, but it’s cru­cial to mon­i­tor Hba1c ev­ery three to four months and plan changes that are eas­ier to sus­tain,” she says.

Find­ing the bal­ance also meant man­ag­ing fam­ily and friends’ of­ten wellmean­ing, but some­times un­so­licited ad­vice on how much ex­er­cise was too much. “As long as you know your body and mind can han­dle the changes, don’t let fam­ily and friends bring you down,” she says. “They don’t have di­a­betes. You do. Con­sult your doc­tor and do what you think works best for you.”

Annabel with her hus­band Wilf.

Annabel Mid­dle­ton found out she had di­a­betes quite by ac­ci­dent in 2002, at the age of 28.

Pooja with her hus­band Mayank.

Pooja Jain found out she had di­a­betes when she was seven months preg­nant.

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