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[OPINION] World Diabetes Day: The dreariness of the disease

Sugar is sweet and so attainable and it’s a problem, but it can’t always be blamed for the dreaded and dreary disease that is diabetes.

Take my sister, for example. She was diagnosed at a young age and diabetes is actually just a 'side effect' of a much larger glandular problem. Sure, it happened just after we got to Switzerland and all we could afford to eat was copious amounts of chocolate, but let’s be serious, two days of a Lindt binge can’t really send you into a long-term insulin hell.

Much of the education around the disease is geared toward the lifestyle disease – the act of living 'dangerously' and contracting type two diabetes, but no one ever talks about type one. The type that has nothing to do with how much you weigh or what you eat.

If I have firsthand experience with watching someone living with the disease, why would I be so brazen as to call it dreaded and dreary? Well, because I’ve seen the tediousness of it, and I have also noticed how no one wants to talk about that. No one wants to talk about diabetes fatigue or what some refer to as 'diabetes burnout'.

This week saw the celebration of Diabetes Day. A day like any other chosen, one out of three hundred and sixty-five selected to raise awareness, talk about escalating rates of those who suffer from such and illness prevention. Because you know, everyone needs at least one day a year to force themselves to become aware of the worries of the world with a Twitter hashtag. So, the 14th of November in the case of diabetes is when we get to learn that more than 180 million people worldwide live with diabetes, and that this number is likely to double by 2030.

Few tweets, however, talk about how of those 180 million people, a lot of them, the majority of them in fact, are bored. Bored with living with the monotonous disease, and perhaps, if anything, what the day could offer them, is a break - some time off. Now wouldn’t that be a cause for celebration?

Over and above watching your diet, or in my one of my best friend's case, daring to party a bit, throwing up a kryptonite-coloured liquid and being rushed to intensive care the next day, diabetics also have to pay a lot of attention to their feet, the risk of other infections, bladder problems, gums, stress levels and doctors' waiting rooms become a second home. Then, of course, there’s the constant self-management that is the insulin pen. Constantly jabbing yourself in the lower abdomen is not fun. I’ve seen areas bruised beyond belief, and all diabetics can really do about it… shrug and sigh. And I get it.

Let’s not forget dietary restrictions. The minefield of the meal - constant carb counting, glycemic index calculations – what if you’re not great at math? I, for example, am a word person, yes the numbers would reveal the seriousness of my condition at any given moment, but what would they mean really? To me, nothing, I’d probably need science tuition classes just to get through the day. Then there are the hypoglycemic episodes, sleep interruption because you have to wake up real quick to have a sip of Coke so you survive the night. It’s exhausting.

Exhaustion breeds mood swings, mood swings breed depression, depression breeds stress, heightened stress levels mess with glucose levels and on top of this, you have to worry about your feet so you can walk through a difficult and dreary diabetic life without losing a foot.

The friend I mentioned above and my sister are now flatmates and they have coined this awesome term - diabeauties. I asked them what it means, they said nothing. It means nothing. It’s a silly term. I haven’t asked them what they think of the term diaboring instead. But perhaps I should, because I think that’s a question we don’t ask often enough.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.

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