In 2014, I was selected for my second BlogHer Voices of the Year award nomination, but more importantly– my husband was nominated for his first! Of course, that same month marked the beginning of my journey in jail. We missed the festivities.
This year, I was honored to be selected again and I am excited to say that it will be spittin’ distance from my stompin’ grounds. I really hope to see you there. You can click the badge to find some amazing posts that I am humbled to be listed amongst.
In the meantime, with a heart full of grief for the giant signboard of his words that I never got to see– the one he never got to see because he was taking care of me– here is his post that was selected in 2014.
A Portrait of a Diabetic
Written by Grayson Queen
My life revolves around sugar, despite the fact that I can’t have it. It’s everywhere and in everything– stalking, hiding, begging and tricking me into eating it.
I can’t really eat carbohydrates either.
No fruit, bread, rice, carrots, tortillas, candy, ice cream, sauces, noodles, tomato sauce, milk, juice, etc, etc, etc.
Today I’m standing in a fast food restaurant staring at the menu, trying to decide what to order. A simple task like this requires an acute amount of attention. I can’t have any burgers because of the bun, so I strike them off the list– that’s items 4 to 12. The dressings on the salads have too much sugar—there goes items 13 to 15. I have to settle on a lettuce wrap even though I usually tear off most of the lettuce. It costs about the same as a burger. I’ll leave hungry, but the point was to satiate myself before the party. See, everywhere I go I have to make sure there’s something to eat. If I go too long without food my blood sugar will spike, and I can’t assume there will be food I can eat at any event.
The immediate effects of high blood sugar: Mood swings, ranging from rage to depression; paranoia, to varying degrees; and extreme thirst and urination.
Earlier this week I decided to try something different. Usually there are only three or four places I can eat at while out. I passed a fried chicken shop, the big grinning face staring down at me in his fancy mustache– too enticing. Sometime after my third chicken nugget, I realized something was wrong. My body was already starting to feel the sugar in my veins. I stopped eating, leaving most of my ten dollar meal on the table. For the first time in awhile I let my guard down and made an assumption that they didn’t put sugar in the breading. Driving away I became angry at myself and the restaurant. I should have checked, and they should have mentioned it. That was the end of my day. At that point, I needed to head straight home. The only non-drug related solutions to high blood sugar are fiber, cinnamon and water. Lots and lots of water. I started drinking it by the bottles. By the time I hit bottle number five, I finally needed to pee and then the peeing and drinking wouldn’t stop. From there on, it would be nearly impossible to go anywhere or do anything.
I don’t use drugs to control my blood sugar. My aunt is also diabetic. Recently she had to increase her medication. Eventually diabetics become tolerant to the pills prescribed, which then requires higher and huger dosages until they no longer work. The stage after that is daily dialysis.
Still dealing with the three chicken nuggets, I plan to isolate myself for as long as possible. Soon the chemicals in my brain will begin to act irrationally and by then I won’t even notice that there is something wrong with me. Everything will make me angry and the rage will seem valid. I’ll start blaming people for intentionally trying to make me angry. My wife watches with a worried expression on her face. There is nothing she can do.
When the diabetes first kicked in, we didn’t understand what was happening. I had no appetite and was quickly losing weight. I went from one-hundred-and-seventy pounds to one-hundred-and-twenty. Cinching my belt to the last hole was barely enough to keep my clothes on. Towards the end, I could hardly get out of bed. The times I did get up and out, I was rushing off to the bathroom in a desperate panic. In my mind, everywhere I turned, someone was following me. People stared, plotted and watched my every move. The doctor, when we finally went to see one, said that with my blood sugar level, I should have been in a coma.
If a coma isn’t enough to scare me about diabetes, there are plenty of other things.
Going shopping for food is fast because most of what is sold, I can’t eat. I have to keep to a strict high protein diet, especially now after the sugar I accidentally consumed.
This is my life and I’ve become an expert on cooking meat. It takes me a while to choose a steak. I analyze the fat, cut and size. Slabs of meat day-after-day can be boring, so I wander down to the seasonings and pick up a dry rub. As my wife and I are on our way out of the grocery store, we pass a large man in a mobile scooter. My wife nods her head in his direction to point him out to me and whispers, “Diabetes”. His foot is a swollen, callused mess. The sole of his un-shoed foot is dry and cracked to the final layer of soft pink skin. I can feel my stomach turn and slip into my throat.
My wife works with a kid whose father has diabetes. They either don’t understand or don’t know anything about the disease. A month ago the doctors had to amputate his father’s leg. This is not uncommon in diabetics who don’t take care of themselves. The limbs begin to lose blood circulation and die. It’s hard to imagine not noticing your leg is dying right underneath you. Symptoms include: numbness, itchiness and a severe burning pain. Your nerve endings scream at you to do something. When the kid’s father came out of the hospital, they celebrated with cake. A few days ago he had to go back into surgery.
After eating a steak lunch and dinner, I look at the dry rub and see it has sugar in it. One gram per tablespoon. Rage consumes me. I’m going to write a letter to the company, maybe post something about it online. It’s my fault, but I’m angry. I consumed at least six tablespoons of that stuff. Who puts that much sugar in a dry rub? Why? There’s less sugar in some desserts.
The muscles in my back and arms start to get stiff. It’s my blood thickening. Oxygen can’t get where it needs to go and it’s painful. I have to make sure my blood keeps moving. A bath would help, but if I am too hot my blood pressure rises. If my blood pressure rises, so does my blood sugar. If either goes up, my anger is fueled. My impulses tell me to smash something. My laptop takes too long to load and I grab it by the screen. I’m shaking almost uncontrollably, trying to stop myself from throwing the two thousand dollar machine across the room. All I can really do is lay down and try to fall asleep. My body hurts, my head hurts and depression takes hold. I try my best to eat well and then something like this happens. What’s the point?
But there’s still tomorrow and the rest of my life. Food has become a conscious effort. I struggle every day to eat enough calories. It’s disgusting when you think about how much weight people gain from eating all those things I can’t eat. And it’s not just sweets– it’s breads and sugars put into everything for no apparent reason. There’s a popular chain restaurant that sprinkles sugar on their salads. I found that out the hard way. I try to eat two pounds of steak a day– it’s the quickest, easiest and most cost-effective way to get my calories. I buy them daily and I can see people looking at me, thinking I’m not eating very well.
One positive thing about my diet is that I’ve lost all my excess weight. With my high protein diet and the regular exercise I need, I’m covered in lean muscle. Still, the cashier feels the need to comment on how unhealthy my purchases are.
The day after the dry rub, I spend going back and forth to the bathroom. My stomach is twisted in knots and I’m breaking out in cold sweats. I have almost no control over my emotions. At times like these, it’s easier to go out to eat rather than try to deal with me and cooking. My wife and I sit down at a restaurant. I order the usual. Instead of a diet coke the waiter brings me a root beer.
I know he’s done it on purpose to mess with me. He doesn’t care about hard it is to live like this. He’s just trying to make my life more difficult. My wife puts her hand on top of mine. It’s a silent signal not to act, that I’m thinking irrationally. I frown because she’s right. I never notice. It always seems so normal until I look back and can’t fathom why I was acting that way.
There are many variations of diabetes beyond type one and type two. Diabetes can come from obesity or genetics; it could come in childhood or adulthood; and some need insulin and some don’t. As the outsider, the only thing you need to know is that you don’t know anything. Your comments and beliefs don’t make it easier, and– believe it or not — we’ve probably heard it before.
“Doesn’t everyone have to eat some sugar?” “It’s just a little bit.” “I’m sure this one time won’t hurt.”
Don’t get me started on not accepting food. If I’m not sure exactly what’s in it, I can’t trust it because people don’t always know what is good or bad for me. “Oh, I didn’t know that had sugar in it.” “Corn is a carb?” “You can’t eat pasta?” It’s why before attending an event or party, I eat first and research places nearby where I might be able to find something to eat. Often times what’s being served at someone’s home is inedible to me– from the strawberry vinaigrette to the pigs-in-a-bun.
On the weekend, we’re going to my father’s house for dinner. I spend the next few days trying to get the sugars out of my system. It’s arduous, time-consuming and filled with ups and downs. Before driving down, we stop to pick up something to eat, just in case.
It was the right decision.
Dad’s made a salad with slices of mandarin oranges mixed in– can’t eat that. There’s a basket full of fresh baked garlic bread– can’t eat that. For the main course, my father has barbequed some ribs. He hands me the large plate of meat slathered in barbeque sauce. I raise my eyebrow at him, but he doesn’t seem to understand. My voice betrays my frustration, “I can’t eat that,” I say.
Barbeque sauce is loaded with sugar. My father is also diabetic. He takes drugs to manage it, though I often see him eating like this– Ice cream, fruit, corn, and on and on. I notice that his legs are beginning to swell from it. I mention it to him but he doesn’t seem to hear me. As the child, it’s not my place to lecture him about what he should be eating, though he often lectures me.
Even eating right, I have to be careful about the amount of protein I consume. It can build up in my joints and kidneys, so I have to drink a lot of water. My life also revolves around water. Drink it when I’m doing well. Drink it when I’m doing badly.
Water, water everywhere.
It’s annoying, but I put it in perspective—it’s not as bad as amputation, blindness or a coma.
My life revolves around sugar, but at least my life revolves.