It’s been one year since I was diagnosed with diabetes and depression. It’s been one year since I started my new normal: checking my blood sugar two to three times a day, keeping a food journal, seeing a therapist once a week, and doing my absolute best to just get out of bed and exist in the world.
The diabetes was hard. But the depression was harder.
And after a year, I’m finally sharing my story. It’s not an extraordinary one. It’s not even a unique one. But it is the truth. And if my truth can help even one person out there prioritize their physical and mental health, then I can feel happy with just that.
From having a cancer scare, to non-stop tests and bloodwork, to finally settling in with my diagnoses and accepting my new normal, here’s what my journey’s been like.
The Day I Found Out
On February 6, 2018, I finally dragged myself to see my primary care physician for an overdue annual check up. (It had really been two years since my last check up).
Therapy had really been on my mind a lot and I finally decided to ask my doctor for a referral to see one. I looked at it as counseling more than anything; just someone to talk to about things I can’t find myself talking about with those closest to me. I didn’t even think about depression as a part of the equation.
But my doctor did. He had me fill out a questionnaire and asked me to be 100 percent honest with the test. I didn’t realize it was a standardized screening that determined the severity of my depression.
I still remember the sound of his voice and the look on his face when he said:
“You’re depressed. And this isn’t mild depression. You’re severely depressed.”
Now I have to be a hundred percent honest here… I didn’t believe in depression. I always thought that it was a choice: Be depressed, or be happy. To me, a person could choose.
But boy, was I wrong. Depression is NOT a choice. And it took me a very long time in therapy to understand that.
People are always so quick to say “I’m depressed” and “I’m anxious” and I admit that I wasn’t all that sympathetic. I wrote it off as millennial melodrama. But the whole time, I was actually knee-deep, battling it.
But my depression didn’t present itself as sadness as people often think it would. In fact, one of the hardest things about depression is the inability to feel and deal with sadness.
Depression is numbness. If there’s anything I want you to take away from this, it’s that.
My depression showed as numbness. But also, pure anger. Random outbursts, where I would just lash out, scream, and cry. It wasn’t pretty. And it was a very ugly side of myself that only my family knew about.
So my doctor agreed that I needed treatment; but therapy wasn’t the only one he suggested.
I had to start taking an anti-depressant.
You can imagine my confusion, my unwillingness, and my anger when he told me this. I immediately argued against being on any kind of medication so it took a lot of convincing and explaining on my doctor’s end.
I finally obliged after he explained that depression isn’t a choice. Yes, it can be circumstantial; but it can also be a chemical imbalance in the brain where there’s not enough serotonin being produced. That was the case with me, and the medication would help balance that. At least that was the goal.
I left the doctor’s office to go get my bloodwork done and ended up getting some more results.
I found out I was also diabetic, had an extremely high white blood cell count, and had an increased build up of fat in my liver.
I literally felt my whole world crashing that day. I felt so much shame and went through a lot of self-blame.
My white blood cell count was through the roof that the nurse practitioner I spoke with warned me that I may have to go to a hematologist, eventually get a spinal tap and get tested for Leukemia. (Fortunately, my white blood cell count normalized after two weeks.)
I wasn’t and I’m still not allowed to drink any alcohol or even take Tylenol because it can lead to further liver damage. (A fatty liver is often found in people who have Type II Diabetes and for people who drink excessive alcohol.)
I was at higher risk for having a heart attack or a stroke because I got diabetes, and these conditions were all part of my family history, so it was already a valid concern for my doctor.
It was a vicious cycle. My depression made me not want to do anything, and that led to a lot of weight gain; which led to the diabetes and the fatty liver; which made me even more depressed.
So nipping the depression in the butt really was the key for me. I knew that if I fixed that, the rest would go with it. And I’m happy to say that it did.
Medication and Therapy For My Depression
I’m sure it’s hard to understand the fact that I’m on anti-depressants for a lot of you. But the reality is, there are times when your body needs medication. My body needed it at the time.
It was a very hard pill to swallow (pun intended), but it was something I needed to do for my overall health.
I was already doing alternative medicine (strictly using essential oils to treat myself, going to my reiki master for energy healing) and it just wasn’t enough. My reiki master and I came to the conclusion that it was OK that my body needed more. It was OK that it needed a different kick start.
I began the anti-depressants the night I got my depression diagnosis, and within three days—THREE—I was so different; but the same. I became the old me again.
I wasn’t screaming at my little brother, or giving my parents the silent treatment over petty things like I used to. I wasn’t just binge-watching Netflix from the moment I woke up to the moment I slept. I actually wanted to function. I wanted to see and talk to my friends, and go out to the movies and go to happy hour. I wanted to read a book, and write in my journal (which I hadn’t done in about a year prior to when I was diagnosed).
I found myself again. And that’s when I started to understand that medication couldn’t possibly be “bad” if it helped me be me. Of course, I didn’t want to be depend on it. So therapy was the key to making sure that didn’t happen.
Therapy was life changing. It was the extra fuel that kept my inner fire burning. I went every single week to see my therapist, who started me on a form of therapy called ACT (also known as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy). It was much more intimidating to start ACT rather than what I originally wanted, which was cognitive therapy where a therapist would listen to me and my problems, but ACT was what I needed. Granted, my therapist still does listen to my problems, but there’s a whole other level of engagement attached to my therapy that I never fathomed I would need.
I eventually graduated from weekly sessions, to every-other-week sessions, to once a month, and now, only when I feel the need to see my therapist. I read “The Willpower Instinct” and “The Mindfulness & Acceptance Workbook for Depression” whenever I need an extra boost and can’t get in to see him.
I can also function without my anti-depressants now because of everything I learned in therapy. I have better control of my behavior when my depression and anxiety come up.
Oh yeah, I have anxiety, too. But that’s because most of the time when you have depression, anxiety’s there too. Like my therapist says, they go hand-in-hand. Distant cousins, he likes to say.
Medication and Lifestyle Changes For My Diabetes
I started to take medication that helps lower my blood glucose levels for my diabetes. I had to start checking my sugar everyday, 2 to 3 times a day, to make sure I stayed within the normal, preferred range. Thankfully, I didn’t have to start on Insulin.
I did have to see a dietitian and got myself on a stricter diet, with low carb intake. (Coming from a Filipino family, this was extra hard as literally since birth, I’ve been fed rice with every meal!) I started a food journal. I started to drink gallons of water. I gave up soda altogether, but I would treat myself to one cup of juice a day—half in the morning, and half at night.
I also started to go for walks three times a week. Which led to running three times a week. I started out at 15 minute intervals, gradually going up, and got to a point where I’d do a 25-min arm and leg workout, then run and watch a whole 45-minute episode while on the treadmill! (I still love binge-watching, what can I say?)
But did any of this work?
Yes. I’m happy to say it did. In December, I found out that I’m not diabetic anymore. My A1C level went down a whole percentage (which is huge for me!!) but I’m still technically considered pre-diabetic.
My doctor and I’s goal was to manage the diabetes. By next check up, he wanted to make sure it didn’t get worse. I never imagined that it would improve at the extent it did though.
When I asked my doctor what our next goal was, he said, “You’re at your goal.”
And I had never felt such pure happiness and accomplishment in my life.
Now my job is to just keep it up. And maybe, get my A1C level another percentage lower so I won’t even be pre-diabetic!
I came such a long way, and I’m very excited at the improvement my mental and physical health has undergone in a year. But while this battle’s done, the war’s not over.
My depression will always be there. The diabetes can always come back. And I have to share that it’s not always a good day.
It’s hard for me not to tear up as I write this, because although I’ve improved from last year, things still get really, really dark. There are days when I can’t even get myself to get up. My body physically shuts down from functioning. I still get scared that I’ll go back to crying myself to sleep at night for no reason, or worse, having the nights when I can’t sleep at all because of my anxiety.
There are days where I’m so hard on myself for forgetting to take my medication, forgetting to check my blood sugar, for eating like crap when I know better.
There are days when I get so much anxiety about going out with my friends that I need to back out at the last minute.
There are days when I’m still very much ashamed that I even got these diagnoses to begin with. I blame myself for being “fat” and getting diabetes, and I blame that for my depression.
But being ashamed is normal. I actually think it’s a healthy part of the process because it’s a form of self-reflection. But I didn’t want the shame to win anymore. I want to share the truth about myself. Because to any person out there who’s battling depression, anxiety, diabetes, or obesity: you’re not alone.
For those who have avoided getting checked for fear of knowing… Get checked. If you’ve ever suspected that you may have depression or anxiety—see someone.
Prioritize your health. Especially your mental health. Sometimes, that’s the key to unlocking the improvement of your physical health.
Here for you!
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Please call them at 1 (800)-273-8255.