Diabetes Type 2
Getting the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes
Finding out that you have diabetes which is a long-term illness, can prompt all sorts of emotions. Though some people took the diagnosis in their stride, many felt shocked and angry; others said they just couldn't believe that they had diabetes. People can feel overwhelmed when they realise that diabetes lasts forever, requires long-term medication, and needs to be actively 'controlled' by a combination of diet, exercise and medication. Some of those we interviewed who had had diabetes for some time recalled how they were 'in denial' about the disease in the early days.
Helen recalled how all-consuming her condition became until she had settled into a new routine.
And I think initially you'll spend the first three months, every minute of every day, this is what your thought is. And you're waking up in the morning and you think about, 'Oh, I've got diabetes' or, 'I've got this problem to deal with or I've got that.' But it gradually gets, when the shopping's easy, and you know what you can eat is easy, and you know the timing and it's easy, and you know how much exercise you're doing and that's, becomes part of your life, so that's how you should do things. You start to get and as the days go by and you don't give it another thought, other than taking this wee pill in the morning.
It took two or three weeks before Paul felt he had taken his diagnosis on board.
And I thought to myself, 'Ahh'. And it is because obviously it is like, it's taking, you're taking away the things that you probably most enjoy, or you look forward to. It's... When you sit down and you think to yourself, 'Oh I can't have that'. Or I have never taken sugar in my tea. But a lot of people sort of go for it, and then they go, 'Oh I can't have sugar in my tea no more. I am diabetic'. Well you can but you go to different sugars. You go to sweeteners or something. It is exactly the same thing, you have, you have this tea then'It's the initial shock of somebody coming and telling you, you're diabetic and it's' you get over it, it sort of sinks in with you eventually, but it is the initial shock. I think you do think, 'Aw, I'm the only one', at that specific time. But you will, once you sit down, and sort of think about it, then set your mind into it. It does come round.
It helped some people accept their diagnosis if they knew others who had diabetes or where there was a history of diabetes in the family. Several said they had no problem accepting the diagnosis because they knew what was involved having seen other people managing to live a normal life with diabetes.
Adrian didn't feel particularly surprised by his diagnosis because his father had had heart...
I don't recall being traumatised really, at all, I know a number of people who have diabetes and who manage it perfectly sensibly and successfully, and perhaps that helped, but they we were, it just seemed to be something that was going to have an impact on lifestyle and possibly life expectation, but it was reasonably marginal. I think possibly also I was not totally surprised, because my father had had a heart disease and diabetes, they were probably connected. He probably had undiagnosed diabetes for donkey's years, but, there we are so, I wasn't altogether surprised because I can readily understand that there might well be some hereditary aspect to that.
For others however, the knowledge of a family history of diabetes had not prepared them and they felt taken aback by the news that they too had developed the disease.
Although his father was diabetic Mike didn't understand much about it. Initially he felt very...
Tina was diagnosed in her early thirties and felt angry with herself because she had known all...
Quite angry because I'd, although I was angry with myself, though not angry with anybody else because I knew diabetes was in my family and I was overweight and I knew that I could get maturity-onset diabetes 2, type 2 diabetes, and so I, and I knew all that and I still didn't do anything about it.
So, by the time I got to the point of thinking well maybe I should do something about it now, because I may be getting, you know, I might, because I'm getting to that age, and it was already too late. So I was angry with myself really, yeah.
The fact that diabetes can be a “silent” disease - one that does not immediately display physical symptoms - can make it hard to accept at first. Some felt they were too young and too fit or active to be diabetic and felt complete disbelief.
Stuart felt anger, shock and disbelief at the diagnosis because he'd always been healthy and fit.
I was quite surprised and quite shocked and a little upset when I was told, because, you know, I'd been very healthy, very fit, you know, nothing wrong. I'd had no illnesses or anything in the past. So it came as a bit of a shock and a surprise. And I suppose I was, I was a little bit angry too that somebody had told me this and, 'How dare they tell me I'd got this illness and, when I'm so fit and healthy and felt absolutely fine.' I mean even with the nosebleeds I, there'd been no other indication of anything wrong. So, you know, I had a very fit and healthy lifestyle.
Andy had felt as though he was young and invincible and says being told he had diabetes was one...
Because of my chronic pain, I think as a defence mechanism to that, I had convinced myself, irrationally but I had, that I would never have that kind of illness. I was going to live forever. You know, yes I'm going to have sore joints, but I'm going to live forever. And to all of a sudden to feel very mortal and very vulnerable. This was worse than [when] I went through a divorce a few years ago - which was unexpected - this was worse, far, far, far worse. This is' I don't think I've ever felt so bad as that day.
What was it about the diagnosis that that upset you to that extent? Can you just explain?
Just the fact that I'm mortal. You know, if I'm honest. I just never expected to have anything like that. It's not going to it's not that it's not going to happen to me, I just never expected it. I always knew that I was going to have pain and that I've got orthopaedic problems, and probably have to have my knees and my hips replaced and, yeah okay, that's fine, you know it's, it's just stuff that you're going to see the doctors and the surgeons and they sort it out for you and you get, you know, you use your walking sticks or your wheelchair or whatever and you just get on with life.
This is totally different. This is my body not working properly inside and it's going to be like that for the rest of my life. All of a sudden I've gone from just having pain to I've got' I'm hypertensive badly. I'm 200 and something over 100 and something. I've got high cholesterol, and I've got diabetes which is sort of 17 or 18 or some huge enormous figure, when I'm supposed to be down in the 3s' And it can't be cured.
Nicky knew she was overweight when she got the diagnosis but she felt so fit and healthy she didn...
Rubbish - of course I haven't. You know, I know diabetic people, you know, have got missing legs and you know, they can't walk properly and, all that kind of stuff, and that doesn't apply to me at all. And of course I eat this nice healthy low fat diet, you know, hey, of course I haven't got diabetes. Don't be stupid. And, in fact, it wasn't until the doctor had taken an A1c test, to confirm, that you know, I believed it at all.
So what was your weight like at that point. You said you'd been?
Weight was high. I'd gone up to about 115 kilos, just after the birth of my daughter (and don't ask me what that is in stones, I'm sorry I don't think in those terms). And I'd got that down to about 105 kilos at that time. That was a BMI of 33ish. But you know hey, I was eating healthily. I was reasonably active. We went for walks every weekend. Holidays were, and still are, (assuming a husband with a good back), mountain-walking type holidays, and couldn't possibly be diabetes. Ridiculous.
The other, the other part alongside the disbelief, was complete denial, because one of the first things my darling GP said to me was, 'This is going to knock 15 years off your life.' Gee thanks, doc, you know, sod off!
And the other thing is that I had these two young kids. I think they were about 8 and 10, maybe 8 and 11, at the time. You know, it was inconceivable to me that I was having a degenerative disease that was just going to tail off until, poof, there wasn't going to be anything there. So, no, that was definite denial.
Also what he told me to do was to lose weight. Well, you know, like every other damn woman in Britain, I'd been trying that for some years without any success. And to take up squash. Squash was going to sort my obesity problems. Okay, right!. You know' [laughs] bloody ridiculous. So my first reaction to anything is to go and learn about it so I. Oh and 'don't look on the internet because the internet is full of rubbish'. So, went on the internet, as you do, you know, [laughs].
Others had received the diagnosis when they were getting treatment for other health conditions or at a time in their lives when they seemed to have other more immediate problems to cope with.
Gugu was in hospital for fertility treatment when her diabetes was discovered and at first she...
I just wanted, all I heard was well you've got this thing and it was just because, it was irritating me at that time because it's stopped me doing what I'd initially gone to the hospital for. So I was just irritated more than anything else, and I mean I don't think I really got, at that time, that much information. You know, it was more, like I said it was more like the biological reasons why one would have diabetes, but it wasn't, yeah'which I just think I needed someone to sit down and explain the impact that it could have on your life if left, one, untreated. Secondly, neglect, you know, neglect of your, you know, your eating habits and things like that, yeah.
Because I thought, 'Oh, what now?' You know, I, yeah it's just another sort of blow that I didn't really take it seriously because it didn't mean anything, do you know what I mean? I was irritated because I just didn't know what, oh God, just something else to deal with that, or will be gone in a couple of weeks' time, you know.
For some, diabetes didn't seem that big a deal until they were confronted with physical proof that the condition was affecting them, for instance the loss of eyesight or physical strength were the kind of signs people said had triggered a change of attitude.
Pamela recalls how casual she was about her diabetes until she discovered that it was affecting...
I have high blood pressure. Anyway, and I went to my doctor. And as I was leaving the appointment, I said, 'Oh, by the way, I seem to be very thirsty. Do you think there, do you think there might be a problem? You know, should I have a test?' And he said, 'You might be diabetic. You know, how long has this been going on?' etc, etc. Anyway I had the test, and I got a phone call from the, from the nurse saying, 'Would I please go immediately because it was, it was high.' It was something, I think it was 19. It wasn't, I mean I didn't think it was sort of like outrageously high. I've heard of people being much higher. So I thought, 'Oh, well, it's, okay. It's not a bad diabetes' knowing really nothing about it.
Anyway I had got it into my head that I really didn't want to be diabetic. I didn't want to have a chronic illness. You know, discovering that I could get my medications free didn't really highlight for me just how, how serious a condition it is. So I went on for several years just, you know, thinking, 'Oh, well, one day, one day I'll take it seriously, one day I'll take it seriously.' And it took me actually three and a half years to take it seriously. And there were two things really that, prompted me. Are you all right with that? [noise outside] that prompted me to take it seriously. One was I was beginning to get very painful feet.
And the other was I went for a retinal screening, I think it's called retinal screening, for my eye. And the den-, the, the optician said, 'Oh, I can see you've got diabetes. You've got a small aneurysm.' And my heart just stopped. It actually, I thought, 'Oh, my goodness. You know, it's going to rupture. I'm going to go blind.' So he reassured me that it was very small and, but they'd have to keep an eye on my eyes just to make sure that it wasn't. So I came out of the, I came out of the optician's determined that I was going to change my lifestyle.
I'd been very, it was very silly really, because I kept making excuses. I was working in London, and I ate a lot of processed food. I ate a lot of prepared food or I, you know, I don't often get on the train until half past six, seven o'clock at night, and I was starving. And I'd have, I'd have a baguette or, or something. I'd always have, and I'd have some chocolate. And I did find that actually, just before I was diagnosed, I could eat three or four bars of chocolate in one go. I just felt the need to eat that kind of sweet thing. So it was, it was... My lifestyle did not lend itself to being diabetic.
Wasim realised how serious diabetes was when he was still in hospital and felt too weak to lift...
I suppose it didn't really hit home until the first night when my son came up to the hospital that I'm in, and I couldn't even pick him up because I was that drained. I couldn't literally lift anything. I don't like showing emotion but at that point it was, it was pretty gut-wrenching and' I, felt like if I've got to do it, I've got to do it at least for my son. You know I've got to be quiet not selfish this time so, that's how I found out basically it was first time ever.
Some said they were unsurprised by the diagnosis because they knew that their lifestyle had put their health at risk. Several suspected they might have had diabetes for years before being diagnosed.
Duncan thinks he may have had diabetes for years before being diagnosed because he was overweight...
Many people who had, at first, felt overwhelmed by the diagnosis were reassured by the support and information offered by specialist nurses, pharmacists or support groups (see Looking for information and support).
Last reviewed March 2016.
Last updated September 2010.