I can't remember where I read about a man who was a diabetic and living without medication, but I do remember when I read about it. It was shortly after I was diagnosed and left hospital. Discovering the information gave me a glimmer of hope (especially after someone replied to my blog "there is no cure for diabetes").
I started searching for more information about diabetics living a med-free life. I even posted in a diabetes chat once..."Hey, can anyone tell me about life as a med-free diabetic?" Sadly, I got one reply from a very kind lady, "I don't think med-free diabetics tell their stories like the rest of us." With that answer, I didn't know where to turn, but I figured that I would find out once I became a med-free diabetic.
I remember in one online group, there was a guy who decided that he would quit his meds cold turkey and update us daily. He had read something about the horrible effects of medication and how it's a prison, blah, blah, blah. It made as much sense as anything else to me at the time, so I cheered him on while others called him a fool. I figured if he could make it, then maybe I could too. He survived about 4 days before his glucose skyrocketed. Unfortunately, he did binge on regular coke and every unhealthy food choice he could find. His failure taught me something important...if I was going to try it, I better do it the right way.
With my goal set to become a med-free diabetic before the year ended, I was ready! Frankly, I wasn't quite sure if it was even possible for me to become a med-free diabetic (It is not always possible for Type 2s to live without medication), but I was certainly going to try. I became strict about my carb intake, meal times, and my exercise routines. Then, it happened. One by one my medications started being reduced then eliminated and in December 2011, ten months after being diagnosed, I was given the green light to stop all medication. I first stopped taking the short lasting insulin, then the long-lasting. I was put on Metformin and Byetta after being taken off insulin. Then I said goodbye to Byetta and lastly the Metformin. The determining factor in getting the green light to stop all meds was having three consecutive A1C scores that were less than 5.6.
So, I write this blog for the people who were like me--curious about life in the med-free category.
Here are 7 factors that I experience as a med-free diabetic.
1. My Mind is Less Consumed with Diabetes. I honestly didn't think this would be possible when I was first diagnosed. Although people kept telling me that it would be, I didn't see a way out of ALWAYS thinking about carbs, medication, needles, etc. The decrease consumption probably can be attributed to the fact that the longer you are diabetic, the less you panic about something going horribly wrong. But, I also listed this first because perhaps this is the reason med-free diabetics aren't as active in Diabetes Online Communities. I am a part of a group on Tudiabetes called "A1C Below 6.0 on Diet and Exercise ONLY" and the group is very quiet. When I had my first low as a med-free diabetic, I posted in the group for insight to no avail. I think the woman was right, med-free diabetics just aren't as talkative as people who take medication and have to think about diabetes more frequently. So, while I think about diabetes daily, it doesn't consume me hourly like it did when I was on medication (especially injections). I am less consumed, but still consumed.
2. I Still Have Lows. Having a low is my biggest fear as a diabetic. I thought that being med-free would eliminate lows altogether, but it doesn't. I don't get as low as I did while taking insulin, but I've had a couple lows around 68, 70, 72 since I quit my meds. I now that 70 and above is not low, but it's on the border and I experience the onset of certain symptoms (clammy hands, shakes, irritated) all the same.
3. I Still Count Carbs. Being off medication does not give me a license to eat like I use to eat before being a diabetic. I'm still a lean mean crab-counting machine. My thoughts are: what I did to get here is what I have to do to stay here.
4. I Don't Have Room to Cheat. We all have done it, right? We've had too many carbs when our numbers were in the right place. We have drank the orange juice that is in the back of the fridge saved for ONLY those times when we are experiencing low glucose. We have more than our portion of our favorite dessert. And what do we do when this happens...crank up the insulin. We counter our indulgence with the medications we're taking. But, what happens when their is no medication??
This has perhaps been the most challenging part of being a med-free diabetic. I have to keep being a lean mean crab-counting machine even when I don't feel like it. I guess I could go run a mile in 14 minutes and burn off the extra glucose...but that idea seems like torture. I'd find that I have to avoid the extra carbs altogether.
5. The Hole is My Wallet MUCH Smaller. Managing diabetes is expensive! Between the co-payments for doctor visits (I pay 70.00 for each visit), the strips, the needles, the pills, the pens, the medical alert bracelets, etc....I felt like my wallet had a hole it. As quickly as a dollar was placed into my wallet, it went out. Now that I am no longer on meds, I can save a few bucks. And, I'm SO very thankful that the 200.00 a month I was spending on diabetic medication can go toward other things...like the credit card bills I used to purchase medication when I didn't have the funds.
6. The Pharmacist Doesn't Know My Name Anymore. Before becoming a diabetic, I couldn't name a pharmacist for a million dollars. However, diabetes changed all that. I found myself on a first name basis with my local pharmacists. This took some adjusting, but after a while it felt oddly good to be one of those people that is asked about my weekend and other things. I was what is called, "a regular." Now, I am not. I come in only to get strips and the relationship I once had with my local pharmacists is fading.
7. My Fingertips Don't Feel Like Sandpaper. As a diabetic on meds, I would often test my glucose 5 times a day. Five times, Five fingers on one hand, equals a hand a day. My fingertips were ROUGH. I actually hated shaking people's hands because of it too. I'm not a total germ-a-phobe, but as a former nursing student, I can't help but realize that each prick is a hole in my hand and that gives me a different exposure level to the things I touch. Now, I don't have to test so often, so my fingers get a chance to heal. There was a time when I thought that my fingers would always feel like a Brillo Pad.
Each day I wake, I consider my ability to manage diabetes with diet and exercise only a TREMENDOUSLY blessing. I understand that many diabetics will not experience a med-free life before a cure is found. Type 1s require insulin and many Type 2s cannot live without medication for various reasons.
I don't know how long I will be able to live like this. I have an older cousin who was med-free for 15 years; Bob (another type 2 blogger) shared with me that his brother was med-free for over 40 years; and a younger cousin of mine was med-free for 5 years. My goal is to make it one year and then another and then another and perhaps I'll be med-free for the rest of my life. It might be possible. I'm hopeful. With each new story I hear about a med-free diabetic, I become inspired.
At times, however, I get anxious. Because I feel like I'm in a race to see just how long I can remain off medication. I've already been warned that diabetics have weaker immune systems which makes us more susceptible to catching the flu and the flu can cause require insulin injections. Most days I don't worry about that, I take it one meal at a time because in the end I understand that whether I am on or off meds, I'm still a blessed diabetic that is diagnosed, but NOT defeated!