Carole O'Donnell, 48, of Philadelphia, was diagnosed with gestational diabetes and then type 2 diabetes in 1995. Until recently her life was a "roller coaster" of medications, weight gain, and shame. Today, however, the social worker and mother says life is better than ever. O'Donnell tells us in her own words how she got her diabetes, her weight, and her lifestyle under control.
Carole found a diabetes support group that helped her cope with the disease.(CAROLE O'DONNELL)
When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. It was pretty stressful: I had to inject insulin three times a day, make sure it was refrigerated, and always have something to eat at the right time.
But I was pregnant and I had to do a good job keeping my blood sugar under control for both my baby and me. I knew that for most women, gestational diabetes goes away after you give birth.
That didn't happen in my case. After my daughter was born, the doctors tested me again and I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
I was pretty shocked by the diagnosis. I was 35 years old and activeI used to bike raceand I was at a good weight when I got pregnant. I'm 5'9" and I weighed 195 pounds then. That sounds like a lot, but I never looked my weight. My legs were muscular from years of bike-racing, although I did have a belly because of my lousy eating.
My mother had type 2 diabetes and my sister was diagnosed four years ago. Even though my mother had diabetes, I didn't know much about the disease. She never talked about it. She used her glucose meter all the time, but she never explained any of it to me. She was very private about her daily care, which is why I didn't know anything about the disease when I was diagnosed.
Next Page: Feeling ashamed
[ pagebreak ]Having diabetes made me feel old and ashamed
Two months after my daughter's birth, I went on metformin, a medication that helps keep my blood sugar levels in check. I took it twice a day, with dinner and with my bedtime snack. At breakfast I took Amaryl, and then I switched to Actos. I sat at the table with my husband taking pills. There's nothing sexy about a medicine bottle.
I had to change my diet and become pretty restrictive. None of my friends were on medication; none went to doctor appointments as much as I did. And when I was at the doctor's office, I'd look around and all I saw were old ladies. I felt ashamed and embarrassed. I felt like an old woman, a patient.
Now I realize the reason I felt this way didn't have as much to do with the disease as it did my lack of support at home. When I made healthy meals, my husband would say things like, "Eww, what's that smell?" when I was steaming fresh vegetables. He'd bring home Tastykakes and other junk food. By then I had two young daughters, and fruits and vegetables were just not popular with anyone in my family, so I kept junk food around the house.
Around 1999 I started to gain a lot of weight, and my husband would make less-than-complimentary comments about my body.
I was really struggling to manage my diabetes at that point. I had a change in my schedule to the night shift (I'm a direct-care worker for mentally retarded women who live in a group home). My kids would keep me busy till I had to leave for work, and I never seemed to have time for a healthy dinner.
I'd grab whatever I couldfast food on the way to work or breakfast cereal when I got there. I was so hungry that I'd binge on crappy food during my 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. shift. I also worked a 24-hour shift, from 8 p.m. Saturday to 8 p.m. Sunday. I wasn't getting any companionship or emotional help in my marriage and eating that way was my attempt to treat myself and feel better.
Next Page: Finding support
[ pagebreak ]I turned to the Internet to find a support group
I knew I needed help. I learned that eating that way doesn't make you happy. I gained a lot of weight and my daily sugars were getting up near 160, and they're supposed to be below 130! So I got on the Internet and typed in "diabetes." I wasn't looking for medical information. I wanted real peoplesomeone I could relate to and vice versa.
I weighed 245 pounds at the time and I felt bloated, depressed, and terrible.
—Carole O'Donnell, Type 2 Diabetes Patient
I ran across a diabetes support group called Divabetic and, coincidentally, they were having a convention in Philly at the train station. I had no idea what to expect, but I knew I had to go. The minute I walked into the room, everyone clapped. Not just for me, but for everyone who walked in. I was blown away. This was like a glamfest for diabetics. Free manicures, makeovers, and massages. The women were happy, tapping their feet. I was very surprised to find happy diabetics because I certainly wasn't one.
There were counseling stations where you could freely talk about your feelings and I told the counselor that I was feeling crappy, tired, lousy, and unattractive. Sheand everyone I met therewas very supportive. They gave me hugs and called me a diva.
I learned about a diabetes support group that met monthly at Temple University Hospital in Philly. I went, and since my first meeting in December 2006, I've only missed three meetings. I'd finally found a supportive environmentsomething I didn't have at homewhere I could express my embarrassment and disappointment about my weight and how I'd been caring for myself.
I was learning all these things, but I didn't change anything until I hit rock bottom about a year ago when my brother took me to the King Tut exhibit at a local museum. Someone had taken a photo of us and I was shocked by how huge I was in that picture! I weighed 245 pounds at the time and I felt bloated, depressed, and terrible. That was when I decided to put the things I had been learning into action.
At one meeting a nutritionist from the hospital talked to me about my diet. She told me that I needed to eat a protein with every meal and snack, to choose carbs smartly, to prepare foods ahead of time, and to eat a healthy meal before I went to work so I wouldn't munch on junk all night longthings I hadn't been doing.
I took her advice and started eating healthy foodson schedule. In May 2007 my doctor put me on Byetta. Since then I've lost 40 pounds! I've been exercising, too, and my sugar, my cholesterol, everything is down. My goal is to get down to 180 pounds.
When I learned I had diabetes, I never talked to anyone about it, including my own diabetic mother who never spoke of it either. Whether you want to admit it or not, this is a lifestyle disease. When you eat the wrong foods, don't exercise, and don't take care of yourself, it only hurts you. It's hard to talk about. But since going to the group, I now talk about everything with my daughters, who are 10 and 12 years old.
I recently separated from my husband, and I feel free to serve fruit and vegetables to my daughters because no one is criticizing me for preparing healthy meals anymore. Since diabetes runs in my family, there's a 30% to 50% chance that one of my daughters may get it. I want to set a good example by eating nutritiously and exercising and especially by showing them that I'm content. I don't feel the weight or shame of having diabetes anymore. I speak about it often now and it's no big deal.