It’s common knowledge that Christmas through New Year is mating season for viral bugs (at least in the northern hemisphere). Everyone crammed into shops and onto trains and buses; the coughs and sneezes that spread diseases while we’re busy buying presents and that ‘must-have’ Christmas party dress. So it’s no surprise this last Christmas-New Year I contracted a viral infection. (Don’t ask me its name—sneaky little bug, I don’t even remember signing the contract.)
I’m not often ill—and I laugh as write that since, as some of my readers know, some years ago I was diagnosed with CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). The tiredness is the least of it. It comes with persistent pain in the limbs—and a hyperactive brain that zooms into high anxiety state at the slightest wag of a red flag. Moreover, in recent years it’s been deteriorating. Significantly. But I’m not whingeing. It has its up sides—unable to work, I’ve all the time in the world to pursue my two loves of writing, and historical research. (Alas, I’ve since discovered I love to move. There is no thrill more satisfying than the endorphin-buzz of pushing the body to the extreme.)
However, New Year’s Eve found me slumped on the sofa, appetite gone, barely able to move. Apathetic, perhaps describes it—and for me, despite the CFS, that is a rarity. This semi-comatose stage of mostly sleeping lasted three days—during which I ate one small tin of mandarin oranges in juice, and drank two small bottles of Lucozade. It took another five days to recover sufficient to pop out for much needed supplies of groceries and shopping.
I have two steps up from my living room to kitchen. I barely could make it, and that with a walking stick. It wasn’t the pain, or not only that. The virus had pumped my legs full of lead—and that on top of the CFS just wasn’t on.
I managed, with an effort, to reach the supermarket (I don’t have a car, I’m not on a bus route, but at least I live in a town). I couldn’t carry the shopping home; I used a taxi.
I then couldn’t stand long enough to prepare and cook a meal (something which had already become a problem because my back muscles have atrophied to next to nothing). So I bought ready-meals and exercised the microwave instead. Problem is, ready-meals tend to lack veggies (even the ‘be good to yourself’ variety have only 2 veg) so I snacked on fruit and drank lots of juice. All healthy stuff, yea? No, but we’ll come to that.
Another week later, and another, and still no improvement. So I thought, well, that’s it. I might as well get used to life in the snails’ lane.
This abysmal state continued through to mid May. Medication review due. Blood tests required. Off I crawled to see my GP (we share a surname but we’re not related; she married into hers). Happy with blood pressure. Awaiting results of blood tests.
Oh dear. Sugar levels up. No, not just up. Rocketed, now orbiting the Milky Way. I have type 2 diabetes.
Actually, this came as no surprise. Those blood sugar levels had been creeping up despite (before the virus) I’d been eating the recommended daily portions—you know, the food pyramid thing. But, CFS you see, insufficient exercise. Well, that’s what I thought.
Lovely lady doctor immediately prescribed Metformin. But I hate medications. I don’t want it. “It’s this, or insulin, later.” I accepted her gift.
Metformin works by sensitising cells that have previously been insulin resistant—and apparently every cell in my body had been insulin resistant.
Wow! It was like I’d given the insulin a key to unlock all that trapped energy, energy I’d not been able to access for . . . how long? (First signs of CFS 2002: that’s when I had the triggering virus.)
Now perhaps you’re thinking, as I certainly thought, that the CFS was a misdiagnosis. It’s been metabolic syndrome from the start. The symptoms are remarkably alike.
Yet, no, that’s not possible. The only diagnostic for CFS (when I was diagnosed; maybe it’s since changed) is ELIMINATION. I had something like 26 different blood tests to eliminate every ailment this could possibly be.
The most telling was the test for thyroid function. If I’d had metabolic syndrome (at that time) the blood test would have shown my thyroid function as low. But that wasn’t the case. If it had been, I wouldn’t have been diagnosed with CFS. What’s more, it had been normal all the way through to this last blood test.
Same with triglycerides and LDL Cholesterol. Normal. No problem.
I did have a problem with high blood pressure—or rather, as we’ve since discovered, I had a problem with doctors taking my blood pressure. It’s called white coat syndrome. One look at a doctor and the blood pressure’s off the dial. I’m now allowed to take my own. Three times a day for three days before the appointment. I’ve come off one bp medication. I’ll probably soon come off the other. I tell you, I hate medications. THERE ARE TOO MANY SIDE EFFECTS, and with CFS you don’t need anything more..
So, I did not have metabolic syndrome at the time of the CFS diagnosis. It was not a misdiagnosis. Yet it’s hardly surprising I’ve developed diabetes since.
It’s not that I was eating fast foods (in my entire life I’ve only had one Big Mac—I didn’t like it. And it’s years since I’ve had good old British Fish & Chips).
I wasn’t boozing (alcohol’s not a good idea with CFS).
And neither was I hitting the fizzy drinks (except, towards the end with one Lucozade a day, not exactly a mega intake).
I wasn’t eating fried foods (with the exception of the occasional chips, I never have, and since having to cook them, which with CFS I can’t, I don’t).
I wasn’t eating a diet heavy in fat (I don’t like fat, at least not fatty meats. I remember vomiting up a fatty beef dinner at school, forced to eat it by a teacher. It went all over her shoes, which serves her).
I wasn’t pigging out on cookies and cakes (my sweet tooth runs to Christmas pudding, and that’s the lot).
So what was it? Those last six months I can understand, what with guzzling fruit juice and eating ready-meals, absent a good variety of veggies. But why were the sugar levels creeping up before then?
For one thing, it was lack of exercise, a perennial problem for anyone with CFS.
Then again, it was following the recommended food pyramid with its wide base of carbohydrate-heavy grains (which incidentally Diabetes UK still recommends for diabetics never mind that you really should be on low carbs.)
It was eating too much bread (yes, I admit it, I was wheat-addicted. I’ve since kicked it).
It was insufficient quantity and quality of sleep (another ‘can’t escape’ side effect of CFS).
After just three months on said medication—and a low carb diet—I am now back to . . .
30 mins dance aerobics on days I’m not shopping
30 mins brisk walking—which neatly slots in with supermarket trip (taxis now have been kicked into touch)
20 mins resistance training alternate days (and to think, I was going ‘bin’ my weights! So glad I did not)
A weekly out-of-town walk—surrounded by greenery and bird song and sweet smells—and no traffic pollution. (Check out the photos from my Marriot Way walk.) I’m working on the endurance. I used to easily walk 15 miles, then run up a hill at the end, then go clubbing and be on the dance floor all night. Will those days ever come again?
I have another blood test due at the end of the month. What will the blood sugar levels be then? Diabetes is reversal. I’m not being as disciplined as perhaps I could, but I have discovered one or two tricks. Half a teaspoon of cinnamon a day. Fresh lemon and ginger infused water. If you must have carbs (not easy to avoid) then eat it was protein, and something acidic, like a vinaigrette dressing. Well, I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I don’t really want to miss out on the Christmas Pudding (favourite part of Christmas!)