Gaining Control by Letting Go

By Marci Williams

I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes over three years ago — December 14, 2005 to be exact.  In that moment, it seemed like my life was changed in an instant.  Today I understand and accept that developing Type II diabetes was something I had been inching my way toward for at least eight to ten years before I was diagnosed.  At the time I was diagnosed, my waist circumference was nearly 56 inches, I weighed over 300 pounds, I  had high blood pressure, extremely high cholesterol, and sleep apnea as well to add to my diabetes diagnosis.

These additional conditions were layered on top of chronically exacerbated asthma, allergies and most obviously morbid obesity.  As the list of ailments grew so did the number of specialists, tests, and medications which included insulin and two oral medicines for the diabetes alone.   I grew up with a diabetic mother yet I felt like a stranger in a strange land most of the time.  Despite my childhood, I was not bilingual:  I did not speak the language of diabetes with all of its “isms” treated by various “ologists”, so much math – the measuring, the monitoring, calculating unit – it was all so overwhelming.

 

The first referral my primary care physician made for me was to a cardiologist.  As odd as it sounds to say out loud, I was not sure why there was such a sense of urgency about getting a cardiac evaluation.  I had no clue about the link between diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  I had an EKG and echocardiogram at my first appointment.  When the doctor came in to the exam room to discuss the test results, I knew the moment he walked in he did not have good news for me.  After a quick review of my medical history he told me, “If you do not loose the weight, you will not live to see 50”.   Even though I had been given similar warnings by doctors in my past, this time I didn’t just hear the words, I felt them in a profound and life changing way.   I barely remember anything else about that visit except him telling me my rapid pulse, EKG and echocardiogram results merited further evaluation and the cardiac catheterization was scheduled for three weeks later.

Within a couple days of that terrible appointment I had my second appointment with a diabetes educator.  My first one was an individual setting all about learning to inject insulin.   This second appointment was a group setting and more about diabetes in general and nutrition education.  My adult daughter went with me not only for moral support but to make sure I didn’t miss anything.  The most valuable piece of information I have ever been given came out of that class.  The instructor told everyone there “you must follow your eating plan, take medication and exercise every day in order to control your diabetes”.  You can not do one or two of those things; you simply must do all three.  There was special emphasis placed on the need to exercise to control diabetes. 

I completely understood that to save my life I had to get the diabetes under control.  That meant letting go of many things.  I had to let go of the notion that it was not possible for me – a woman in her mid-forties and extremely out of shape to begin an exercise program.  I had to let go of the mind set that it was virtually impossible for an over 300 pound person to get to a healthy body weight without surgery, programs I could not afford, or dangerous gimmicks and such.  I had to let go of the idea that eating appropriate portions of healthier foods would leave me wanting for satiety.  I had to release myself from being concerned about what other people thought or said about the fat girl huffing and puffing along the way, and let go of the humiliation I felt from the stares and sometimes the taunting comments of strangers.

I followed my eating plan exactly as it was designed for me.  I ate exactly what I was supposed to and when I was supposed to.  Initially, my exercise plan consisted of parking a little further from the entrance to my office and taking the stairs a little more often; that was the full extent to which my body would allow me to move.  By the time my heart catheterization results were delivered to me and I was released to unrestricted exercise I had lost almost 20 pounds and could walk about one block at a time.

In the months to come, I would continue to closely adhere to my eating plan and kept adding in more and more exercise.  Although walking continues to be a regular part of my exercise regime, I have added weight training, jogging, biking and my true passion – yoga.  It took roughly 16 months to loose just over 180 pounds and most importantly my A1C has been under 6.0 for almost two years on one oral medication.  I completely believe that I am living proof of my diabetes educator’s formula:  eating plan + medication + regular exercise = controlled diabetes.  My asthma is very well controlled and the other ailments have all disappeared.

 

Last May the American Heart Association honored me with The Lifestyle Change award at the 2008 Guilford Heart Walk.  The reaction of the some 3,000 people in attendance that day inspired me and gave me the courage to become more open about my struggle.  Since then I have had the privilege of speaking to hundreds of people sharing the story of my journey to wellness in the hopes that other people will know that small lifestyle changes do in fact result in big health rewards.  I also want others to know that if I can do it, any one can do it.

Marci Williams can be reached at marci4heart@yahoo.com.